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Half Life 2

Half Life 2 is a First-Person Shooter developed and released in 2004 by Valve Corporation. It is a sequel to Half Life, and features a scientist controlled by mystic powers, trying to rid earth of alien overlords that are in charge now. In contrast to most Kill-All-Alien games, it is set on earth in a time frame somewhere near right now, and features a general eastern european setting. The game has been praised by critics and gamers, receiving more Game-Of-The-Year Awards than one can easily count, and has spawned a new series of episodic sequels, starting with Half Life 2 Episode One. Besides all of this, there are also trains in there.

Trains

The game has an eastern european setting, with railroads probably influenced by soviet and later russian trains. I am not very familiar, if at all, with them, so I won’t report a lot of things that look suspicious, but which I can’t prove wrong here.

At the beginning

All trains are based on a general russian or soviet look.

You start the game, after a cryptic introduction, riding on a train to a station of what appears to be the suburban railroad network of City 17. Nobody really knows or cares to explain what City 17 used to be before it got the number, but it does not really matter much anyway.

You are one of three citizens on the train.

The train is a rather peculiar one. It consists of a locomotive, a single passenger car and a single box car. The passenger car has only a single door, so you can board and leave only on platforms that are on the right side of the train. Even if there were more cars, there is no way to enter them from the car you’re in, so if the station you need to get to has the platform on the wrong side, you’re screwed. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen here.

The car is moved by invisible forces.

You step out on a platform that is too low for your car, but thankfully, someone built a smaller platform right where your car was going to stop. A closer inspection will reveal right away that something is wrong with the world: Your car doesn’t have any couplings. In fact, it doesn’t even touch any of the other cars.

If all that isn’t odd enough for you, the platform can hold a maximum of two and a half cars, one of which is taken up by the locomotive. This would be extremely short for for suburban trains, but dialogue later even suggests that the station is used for long distance transfers, an impression that is reinforced by the general look of the station. When moving on, you will briefly face…

The Razor Train

It is a  huge, blueish structure, featureless and imposing

This is a train built by the game’s evil alien overlords. It is used for moving dehumanized humans, and possibly lots of other stuff, too. This is the best look you will ever get in the game, so savor the moment while it lasts. Never mind the bad guys waiting around, they’re patient.

The train makes several appearances during the course of the game. The odd thing about it is that it is nearly twice as high as all other trains, suggesting that the evil aliens have not only took most of earth’s water and attacked resistance members by blazing them with creatures that will turn them into vile, mindless zombies, but that they also messed with earth’s railroad tunnels. Truly shocking.

Out of the town

A train line shortly after you start the game

Your first assignment will be to find a crazy scientist. Then you will hear lots of talk, which is actually pretty interesting, but you either already know it or might still want to play the game, in which I case I don’t want to spoil it for you. The end of it all is that you will have to leave the city, and doing that, you will follow a lot of railroad tracks. During this time, you will notice that a lot of train cars are more or less destroyed, lying around in dark corners and alleys. You will also notice that some of the tracks are just plain, flat 2D things with some reflection thrown in there to hide it. Oddly enough, other railroad tracks during other parts of the game are 3D, not correct shape, but at least cuboids.

Overhead line equipment without the actual equipment is the closest to electrification this game has to offer.

Overhead lines are not an issue most of the time, but one train yard you will pass very shortly after starting to leave the city has some bits and pieces of such a system. However, this system does not actually make sense. No actual wires are present except for the headspan construction, but given the high value of copper, one can easily assume that evil aliens took it. What is really problematic is that a bridge and some tunnels nearby are actually too low to allow such a wire to pass through under them, let alone with a second messenger wire above (as is standard on all railroads except trams). The construction of the headspan wires is odd, too, as there is no obvious way to attach any wire at all, and even if there were, the messenger wires at the edges would have to be mounted higher than the ones in the middle. Finally, clearance between the hypothetical wire and the cars is way too low to be realistic. Had Valve just not put up the poles here, there would not have been any problem at all.

Most of the time, the game suggests that trains and railroad pieces are actually much longer than what you see, but tipped over railroad cars and force fields will keep you from actually looking there. Also, moving trains that pass you will usually be long enough to be plausible. While there isn’t much variety all in all (there is only one type of locomotive, two types of box cars and a tank car), the overall look and feel of the railroads seems right and suggests a soviet environment to someone who doesn’t really know soviet railroads.

On and on

The only flat car is a weird construct, with a grid in the middle and a single panel standing around for no particular reason

At the end of it all, you will get out of the town, enter the secret lab of a scientist that isn’t all that crazy and flee through a town infested with your worst nightmares. Then, the game gets interesting again as you will be back to trains. This is the only time you ever meet a flat car, which turns out to be much wider than all normal cars. Weird. After that, you still encounter trains, but they cease having the important role they so clearly deserve.

Other Transportation

Most cars you will find are not just broken or defect, they're down right destroyed

Cars are never seen running, except for some weird alien cars used by your enemies and a rather odd buggy clearly built by people without a lot of money, which you will drive. It’s a fun thing, by the way, although it tends to spin a lot. All other cars are either alien technology built for the evil alien invaders, or wrecks in various stages of decomposition. It is still possible to make out what they used to be, though. You will find Trabants, IFA W50 (a truck from eastern germany that was widely exported to communist countries), Zaporozhets and, for some odd reason, VW Golf Mark 2. What they are doing there is not entirely clear. Although a bunch of it’s predecessor reached the GDR, the Golf 2 never did so. Even the ones that reached the GDR staid there, and it was a rather low amount of them. While the game’s location is never given in detail, the cyrillic alphabet used makes it clear that it’s not the former GDR. Apart from the Golfs, the only other indication that the iron curtain ever fell are the computers lying around, making it practically impossible to tell where or when the game actually happens.

Fun fact: Like all other cars, the Trabants will make a metallic sound when you hit them with a crowbar. Apparently the guys at Valve didn’t know (or care about) that the real Trabant was made mainly out of plastic…

Crates are some of the most frequent items you will find.

Crates are the most infamous item you will ever find in any game. So infamous, in fact, that I wrote a section about them. According to Wikipedia, Valve was fully aware of that and frightened of how Old Man Murray, a video game commentary website (now practically defunct) that hated crates would react. In the end, they made a crate one of the first things you manipulate, effectively announcing defeat. This tactic might be called questionable, but Valve found an even better way of dealing with that site: They hired both of it’s writers.

Pallets can be found, as you should, everywhere, and they are destroyed rather easily. Usually, they lie around with crates. You hardly ever find a place where anything has been loaded on them, and if you do, it’s mostly crates.

The Game

Notice: This section does not play in the final rating.

For reasons unbeknown to mankind, there are also parts of the game which do not deal with railroads. This would be a serious design flaw if they weren’t this good.

Story

Your allies are very different characters, with convincing performance most of the time.

Normally, Kill All Aliens™ with Mysterious Background™ sounds like a rather boring game. However, this is not fair towards this game. While the overall story is really nothing more than that, it’s the details and characters that bring it all to life. You will likely become attached to the various persons you interact with, and you will want to know how it continues. It’s not a game that can survive only because of it’s story by any means, but the story is certainly a very strong point.

Technology and Graphics

It looks nice. Really.

The game was made in 2004, and I reviewed it only now, so it’s really not fair. On the other hand, however, my computer was built before 2004, and it wasn’t good even then, so I’m still in a position to review it. It looks very good on my computer and it plays very well. If you knew my computer, you’d know that this is the biggest compliment I can make to any game.There’s nothing really more to say to graphics. Not all of what you’d expect from normal games (like shadows) are present, but what is present is done well.

My biggest problem are the extremely long loading times. Those are extremely annoying. While they aren’t frequently, they still appear multiple times through a level, and are a huge disruption every time.

Stability wasn’t much of an issue, although I did have the occasional crash.

Playing

The gravity gun is the coolest thing since whatever was the coolest thing before.

There isn’t that much difference as to how first person shooters work. You run around and shoot enemies. You do not need to care about tactics on Easy mode (yes, I am a wimp. Stop picking on me) at all, and usage of the weapons is rather straightforward.

However, all of this is turned completely around with the physics system and the gravity gun, which allows you to lift and fire anything. It is obvious how to use it, but you will be surprised for what you can and will use it. You can throw enemy robots in the sea, build bridges over dangerous sand or cut through your enemies with giant saw blades. If all else didn’t exist, the gravity gun would still be more than enough reason to buy the game.

There are also some vehicle sections (an airboat and car. No train, unfortunately). These are as you would expect them from other games like Battlefield 1942: Good controls, lots of fun, sometimes a little challenging but not really. Not what you’d expect from a racing game, but still nice.

Result

Half Life 2’s trains are difficult to pinpoint. On a larger scale, they fit in the setting and are more or less plausible. While a lot of train wrecks along the way would not fit in with normal railroad operation, the post-apocalyptic future easily explains all of them. Most of the time, appropriate sizes and dimensions are suggested. You can always look around and see that the railway goes on for much more, you just cannot access these places right now or at all.

However, when looking at sometimes minor and sometimes major details, many aspects are questionable, such as short platforms, couplings that don’t touch and, of course, crates. Sure, it’s not a game about railroads, but a little more attention to detail would have worked wonders.

For this reason, I give the game a “mediocre” rating. Even if you are a railroad fan, the errors won’t disturb you so much that you will stop liking the game, but you will notice that it’s very far from perfect.


All trademarks, patents and property related to Half Life 2 belongs to Valve Corporation. Other trademarks belong to their respective owners. All screenshots are from Half Life 2 and are used for review purposes only.