Where to begin? Half-Life 2 is possibly the most momentous game to hit the PC since the original, oh so many years ago.
The hype was huge. After the first game, people were expecting Half-Life 2 relatively soon, along with Team Fortress 2. While the latter obviously didn't pan out, Half-Life 2 received so little comment from Valve that interested faded relatively soon. News from Valve was so slow that the E3 2003 demonstration was almost a surprise to everybody.
More surprising than the appearance of Half-Life 2, was the appearance
of Half-Life 2. It immediately drew comparisons to Doom 3, and although it lacked the sophisticated per-pixel lighting of id's game, it possessed an advanced physics engine. More than that, the physics weren't just a cosmetic effect for when you shoot an enemy and see his corpse fall realistically, or to see barrels fly far and wide. They were integrated into the gameplay as never before. The biggest shock was left for the end of the demonstration, when Gabe Newell announced to attending press at each session that the game would be ready for September 30, 2003.
Of course, we all know about the hacking of Valve and theft of the source code and game data. Rumors flew around the internet that the supposedly complete stolen version showed how unfinished the final game was. Though we'll never know for sure, Valve announced that the game would be delayed indefinitely until they went through and fiddled with the code.
In the meantime, a golden opportunity was lost. Deus Ex: Invisible War, Thief 3, Far Cry and Doom 3 were all released. Each, in its own way, took a shot at Half-Life 2's mystique and promise. While none of the games offers everything Half-Life 2 promised at the same time, they each had a piece and sometimes more. Though Valve suffered from the loss of time and prestige, ATI arguably suffered more. NVIDIA's graphics cards in late 2003 were incapable of running Half-Life 2 with full features, and certainly at nothing compared to the speed of ATI's Radeon 9500, 9600, 9700 and 9800 line. Half-Life 2 could have been a stepping stone, a way for ATI to launch itself far out of NVIDIA's reach.
And yet, the Half-Life 2 craze continued unabated. ATI cards continued to outsell NVIDIA's, no doubt because they had Steam keys to refund for downloadable copies of Half-Life 2, and in the short term: Counter-Strike: Source. Possibly the only reason that CS: Condition Zero copies left store shelves was because they were a cheaper way of getting your hands on a CS: Source beta.
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