Half-Life 2 is a 2004 first-person shooter game developed and published by Valve. Like the original Half-Life (1998), it combines shooting, puzzles, and storytelling, and adds features such as vehicles and physics-based gameplay. Players control Gordon Freeman, who fights the alien Combine with allies including resistance fighter Alyx Vance, using weapons such as the object-manipulating gravity gun.
The game was created using Valve’s Source engine, which was developed at the same time. Development lasted five years and cost US$40 million. Valve president Gabe Newell set his team the goal of redefining the FPS genre, focusing on advanced physics systems and non-player characters. Valve announced Half-Life 2 at E3 2003 and released it through its new distribution service Steam after delaying it by over a year. A year before release, a hacker stole an unfinished version and leaked it online.
Half-Life 2 was released on November 16th, 2004 and received acclaim for its advanced physics, animation, sound, AI, graphics, and narrative. It won 39 Game of the Year awards, and has been cited as one of the greatest games of all time. By 2011, it had sold 12 million copies. Valve released a deathmatch mode in 2004. Half-Life 2 was followed by a free extra level, Lost Coast (2004), and the episodic sequels Episode One (2006) and Episode Two (2007). After canceling several further Half-Life projects, Valve released a prequel, Half-Life: Alyx, in 2020.
Like the original Half-Life (1998), Half-Life 2 is a single-player first-person shooter in which players control Gordon Freeman. It has similar mechanics to Half-Life, including health-and-weapon systems and periodic physics puzzles, except with the newer Source engine and improved graphics. The player also starts without items, slowly building up their arsenal over the course of the game. Despite the game’s mainly linear nature, much effort was put into making exploration rewarding and interesting; many optional areas can be missed or avoided.
A diverse set of enemies is present, which usually require being approached with different tactics: some coordinate in groups to out-maneuver or out-position the player; others, such as the Manhack, fly directly at the player through small openings and tight corridors. Others use predictable but powerful attacks, while others hide before swiftly attacking the player. Gordon can kill most enemies with his weapons, or make use of indirect means, exploiting environmental hazards such as explosive pressurized canisters, gas fires or improvised traps. For some portions of the game, Gordon can be joined by up to four armed Resistance soldiers or medics and can send his team further from him or call them back.
Many of the game’s new features utilize its detailed physics simulation. Two sections of the game involve driving vehicles. Instead of button-oriented puzzles from Half-Life, environmental puzzles are also introduced with makeshift mechanical systems, revolving around the player’s new ability to pick up, move, and place objects. Solutions involve objects’ physical properties, such as shape, weight, and buoyancy. For example; In chapter three, “Route Kanal”, the player is required to stack cinder blocks on a makeshift see-saw ramp to proceed over a wall. Alternatively, the player can build a crude staircase with the blocks, so the puzzle may be solved in multiple ways.
Part-way through the game, Gordon acquires the Gravity Gun, which allows him to draw distant objects towards himself or forcefully push them away, as well as the ability to manipulate larger and heavier objects that he cannot control without the weapon. These abilities are required to solve puzzles later in the game, and can also be used to great effect in combat, as any non-static object within proximity to the player has the potential to be used as a makeshift defense, such as a file cabinet, or a deadly projectile, such as a gasoline can or buzzsaw blade. The player can learn this through cleverly placed hints in the environment.
The game never separates the player with pre-rendered cutscenes or events; the story proceeds via exposition from other characters and in-world events, and the player can control Gordon for the entirety of the game. Much of the backstory to the game is simply alluded to or told through the environment. Even tutorials are mostly placed in the environment or the dialogue. The few pop-ups that actually appear only tell the player keybindings for actions.