Half-Life 2 on Shield tablet

Playing an action-packed FPS on an 8-inch screen—amazing experience and memories

Ten years old and still fantastic, one of the best games ever has been ported to An¬droid and Nvidia’s Tegra-based Shield tablet. The game is a whopping 2 GB and takes about an hour or more to download. When it’s finally loaded, you use the Shield wireless controller to play the game on the Shield’s 8-inch 1920 x 1200 screen, which is better than an HD experience.

If you’ve played the game on a console, you won’t have any difficulty adapting to the Shield-tablet controller combo. If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool mouse-keyboard FPS player like me, it takes some getting used to, but the game is so compelling it’s worth the effort.

It turns out that with auto-aim and some other compensation mechanisms, gameplay is perfectly workable. However, targeting things like the airborne cameras or police drone in mid-air was almost impossible because you can’t move as fast and precisely with a joystick as you can with a mouse-keyboard. So thanks to almost unlimited ammunition, you have to spray and pray, which did work, just not very elegantly.

Half-Life 2 Episode One, released in 2004 (after a delay in 2003 due to a source code leak), was a breakthrough game. It was/is one of the best-conceived games, from the blurred-out loading page to the music, the eye tracking of the characters, all done in DirectX 9, but with Valve’s special magic added. The facial animations are still the best, with the characters’ eyes that focus on objects in the scene or meet your gaze. And their faces change smoothly from one expression to another. Valve carried all of that over to the Android port of the Linux version of the game using OpenGL.

The tablet gets hot running the game, but you’re holding the controller so you aren’t aware of it. However, as good as the resolution of the tablet is, it’s pretty difficult playing an immersive 3D FPS on such a small screen. The quality of the game gets you through most of the frustration, but I did get tired of correcting and compensating for the controller and squinting at the screen trying to spot enemies. That’s not a criticism of Nvidia’s tablet Shield, or the game—it’s just not the right form factor for such an experience. However, younger console players may not be bothered by it. NVIDIA TABLET and controller running Half-Life 2.

Alternatively, you can put the tablet in Console Mode and connect it to a larger screen via HDMI. If you don’t do that, Then there is the issue of what to do with the tablet to make it sit up straight. One trick is to use a cookbook stand, which you can get for $12, or you can make one with a coat hanger.

Even playing Half-Life 2 Episode One in such a constrained environment brought back such great memories that I’m thinking about loading it on my main gaming machine and having a go at it with a 4K screen and a GTX 690. Just as one hangs pictures on the wall and looks at them day after day, or plays music from years or decades ago, or re-reads a favorite book, why should enjoying an older game be any different? To that point, I still have Fallout New Vegas on my machine; I have, however, taken the 12-step program and managed to stop playing all the mods of Stalker; it wasn’t easy.

What do we think?

Half-Life 2 Episode One proves the point that you can play a world-class 3D FPS on an Android tablet very well, and that such devices are not limited to roll-and-scroll 2D games. The game also highlights Nvidia’s Tegra T1 SoC as being a very capable 3D FPS processor, which, of course, is what Nvidia said all along. Well, now there’s living proof. We would suspect Nvidia will empower other Nvidia-based tablets to run the game as well; the obvious choice would be Google’s new Nexus 9 with its 8.9-inch 1536 x 2048 display and optional keyboard (for us K-M players). Half-Life 2 all versions will undoubtedly be part of Valve’s Steam machine library too, which is based on the Steam-Linux OS.