Half-Life 2 Xbox
Published by Electronic Arts
Developed by Valve
Release Date: Out Now
Half-Life 2, an introduction.
If Deaf Gamers were to close tomorrow at least we can say that we reviewed one game where the developer has gone flat out to make the game deaf gamer friendly. From the many games we've reviewed in nearly 6 years of existence Half-Life 2 on the PC (you can read our review of the PC version here) is the only one where the developers took note of the needs of deaf gamers. Valve took a hell of a lot of stick for not providing subtitles for Half-Life (widely considered the best FPS of all time, at least before Half-Life 2 anyway) and their answer was to make Half-Life 2 as deaf gamer friendly as it could be. I was delighted then when the Xbox version of Half-Life 2 arrived for review. Could the Xbox version (that is confined to the low resolution of a TV) be as deaf gamer friendly?
What's the game about?
Half-Life 2 puts you back in the role of Gordon Freeman. The Earth is being ravaged by the very evil alien creatures that Gordon himself unleashed in Black Mesa. Only one man can rectify the situation and that man is Gordon Freeman. The game begins with Gordon arriving in City 17 by train. He's eventually ushered by a civil patrol officer into a security room. It turns out this officer is Barney from the Black Mesa in disguise. Barney doesn't have much time but he manages to contact Dr. Kleiner to let him know he has rescued Gordon from being sent to Nova Prospekt . Gordon manages to shrug off the pursuit of the civil patrol units and makes his way to Dr. Kleiner albeit with having to be rescued by Alyx Vance, the daughter of the Black Mesa administrator. It's here the game begins in earnest.
What's good about the game?
Unlike most FPS games Half-Life was not simply about picking up a weapon and shooting everything in sight. You had to think and there were times where progress was not possible unless you made the most of your environment. Half-Life 2 with its advanced physics engine (which the gravity gun really showcases) takes this to a whole new level and allows you to interact with the environment like never before. The Xbox version manages to capture all of the magic and the fantastic atmosphere that the PC version had which is pretty amazing. The challenging AI and all of the puzzles are here too and the game as a whole feels very good on the Xbox. The game controls really well too and Valve have done a good job in utilizing the controller. The gap between the release of the PC and Xbox version of Half-Life 2 may have been a long one but a year later the game is still an incredible experience that deserves to be enjoyed. The game has 3 difficulty levels as well as letting you save your game anywhere which helps avoid having to backtrack a lot of the time. The game also lets you switch to a southpaw control system, which is great if you happen to be left handed.
What's not so good about the game?
Half-Life 2 on the Xbox comes with no multiplayer content which means no Counter-Strike: Source for Xbox gamers. In most cases this would be a complaint. However, the single-player game is excellent and worth every penny so we can't really says it's much of a problem. Those who like a multiplayer element to every FPS game might do though.
How does it look?
You wouldn't expect the Xbox version to be as detailed as the PC version. We played the PC version at a resolution of 1280x1024 with the settings set at maximum, so we were expecting visuals that were not quite as impressive. However, whilst the resolution is lower and the textures are not quite as impressive, Half-Life 2 look absolutely fine on the Xbox. The big question for most people is probably going to be how the frame rate fares in the game. To be truthful it does dip when the action gets frenzied. It's not disastrous by any means but slowdown is very evident. Load times are on the long side which does seem a little strange although the load times on the PC version weren't exactly zippy. The load times and the occasional inconsistent frame rate may disappoint some but to be perfectly honest it is bearable and a small sacrifice for being able to play Half-Life 2 on the Xbox.
How deaf gamer friendly is the game?
Of course the question we asked at the top of the review is can the Xbox version of Half-Life 2 be as wonderfully deaf gamer friendly as the PC version? On loading the game for the first time we popped into the options menu to find a captioning option. By default the captions are turned off but the choices here are No Captions, Subtitles and Closed Captions. The full options are here from the PC version, which is fantastic. The subtitles and captions are in a bold white text and are placed on a darkened overlay for maximum clarity. Of course the subtitles and captions are more obtrusive than they were in the PC version due to the smaller resolution but it's a tiny price to pay for the game being so deaf gamer friendly. The subtitles are colour-coded for the important dialogue, which again is most welcome. Tutorial messages are exclusively in text.
Xbox gamers have definitely had their fare share of great shooters over the last few years but even with the Halo games and the Tom Clancy Ghost Recon/Rainbow Six titles etc., there still hasn't been an experience that's anything like what you get from playing Half-Life 2. Of course deaf gamers won't have had the kind of support from an Xbox shooter that Half-Life 2 gives. We may have only a single-player experience with the Xbox version of Half-Life 2 but it's a single-player experience of the highest order and every Xbox owning fan of FPS games that hasn't or can't play the PC version should definitely pick up a copy.
Overall Game Rating: 9.3/10
Deaf Gamers Classification:
(Click the letter or here for details)
Half-Life 2 on the Xbox may lack any form of a multiplayer game but the single-player experience is so enjoyable and deaf gamer friendly that's it's very easy to forgive.