I’m about one and a half hours into it, and so far here are my thoughts.
First, the game is gorgeous, and creates a sense of place I’ve rarely seen in a game before. City 17 feels about as real to me as a computer-generated environment can. Marvellous little touches like birds flocking around the Citadel just do wonders for bringing an environment to life.
Second, the whole “Gordon doesn’t talk” thing doesn’t work nearly as well in this game as it did in the first. Keeping Gordon mute in the first game was a great way for the designers to allow players to “fill up” the character of Gordon Freeman – Gordon never did anything to break that connection between the two. But in the first game, there weren’t many people to talk to, and the ones you did meet either died quickly or were just as confused as you were, so questioning them wasn’t really necessary.
But in Half-Life 2, within ten minutes you’re going to meet a whole bunch of people who have been in City 17 and the Resistance much longer than you have…but you cannot ask them any questions. You can’t say, “How long have I been away?” or “Where exactly are we?” or “What is happening in the rest of the world?” or “Doesn’t ANYONE have a gun I can use?” You’re forced to take what the game gives you, when if you were REALLY there you’d be able to find out stuff for yourself. So I think Valve misstepped there.
Still, I’m thoroughly enjoying it.