I just saw what Half-Life 2 should look like in 2024, and I've changed my mind about Nvidia’s RTX Remix tool

The Half-Life 2 key art with the Nvidia logo covering Gordon Freeman's face.
(Image credit: Valve, Nvidia)

In a darkened room at Nvidia’s ‘Future of Gaming’ showcase at a fancy London hotel earlier this week, I was ushered before a bank of computer screens showing live gameplay from a very exciting game: Valve’s Half-Life 2.

Alright, HL2 isn’t a new game - in fact, it turns 20 this year! - but it’s still a timeless classic that has topped many a list of the best PC games. And while Valve will probably never release Half-Life 3, the mega-hit second game still has plenty of life left in it, thanks to Nvidia’s incredibly clever RTX Remix tool.

Announced way back in September 2022 at Nvidia’s GTC showcase, RTX Remix is an AI-powered tool for remastering old 3D games with updated graphics and fancy modern features like ray tracing. Remix entered open beta earlier this year, and is primarily targeted at modders looking to visually upgrade their favorite games; it’s built on Nvidia’s AI-focused ‘Omniverse’ platform, offering a comprehensive box of tricks for making the remaster process faster and easier than ever before.

Screenshot of Portal with RTX on. A blue portal with an orb of light emerging from it can be seen in a corridor with a Weighted Test Cube in front of it.

Portal with RTX looks fine, but Portal already looked good - Half-Life 2 is a much better showcase for RTX Remix. (Image credit: Valve, Nvidia)

Nvidia worked with official developers to create a showcase for Remix in Portal with RTX, a shiny new remaster of the legendary 2007 puzzle game, but Half-Life 2 RTX is a passion project being produced by modders with Nvidia providing some background support. And can I be honest? It looks f*cking awesome.

Giving new life to Half-Life

The live demo I was shown by Nvidia showcased one of the game’s most iconic locations: the run-down, zombie-infested town of Ravenholm, where protagonist Gordon Freeman ends up after a less-than-fortuitous series of events. Two displays were set up side-by-side to show both the original game and the Remixed work in progress - and the difference was phenomenal. For all its accolades, classic Half-Life 2 does very much look like a game made two decades ago, while the work-in-progress remaster looks great.

RTX Remix allows for modding in real-time - in other words, you can have the game running while also having the dev environment open in a different tab, and changes you make are reflected (after a short delay) in the live game. An Nvidia staffer gave me a brief walkthrough on using the tool, and it’s a remarkably streamlined process. You can generate an asset library by simply walking around in-game and letting Remix capture your surroundings, and use generative AI tools to rapidly produce improved textures and 3D models.

Two PCs running Half-Life 2 and Half-Life 2 RTX side-by-side.

While the ray-traced lighting and reflections are the most immediately noticeable difference, the improved texture detail and remodelled assets are good too. (Image credit: Future / Valve)

One scene displayed during the demo saw me walking through a dimly lit courtyard beset with corpses - including a dismembered pair of legs hanging from a tree. Despite the grisly setting, I couldn’t help but be impressed: the legs swing from a rope and cast realistic dynamic shadows in the Remixed version, while the original features no shadows at all. It also highlighted the improved ground textures, and Nvidia pointed out in a different scene that Remix’s generative AI capabilities can be used to 'uprez' textures and create PBR maps that ensure assets react properly to light sources (although it's worth noting that in this instance, the 4K textures in Half-Life 2 RTX were hand-crafted by the modders working on the project).

CONTENT WARNING: You can see the clip below, but please be aware that it contains some 2004 gore as described above, now with added ray tracing! I do wish Nvidia had given me a slightly less gruesome example.

Another standout example (albeit a rather mundane and less gory one) was a simple 3D object asset of a broken engine. I lined up both versions of the game to view the item’s original and Remixed models, and the new model is massively more detailed. And I do mean massively: not only does the ray tracing work wonders to more realistically illuminate the object, but it actually looks like a 3D asset from a 2024 game, not a 2004 one.

Two PCs running Half-Life 2 and Half-Life 2 RTX side-by-side.

The same 3D game asset looks incredibly different in the Remixed version of Half-Life 2. (Image credit: Future / Valve)

A change of heart - and art

I’ll admit, when RTX Remix was first announced, I was pretty cold about it. I liked the look of the (still in development) Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind remaster, but I had fears that Remix would become a blunt implement for major publishers to churn out low-effort remasters that threw the important art direction of classic games in the trash. I wasn’t the only one, either - my colleague Allisa James had some major reservations about Remix too.

But I’m relieved that two years on, Nvidia is putting power in the hands of modders rather than shareholders. When I asked Nvidia GeForce ‘Evangelist’ Jacob Freeman (amusingly appropriate name, I know) about RTX Remix, he explained that the tool would be available for official game dev projects, but had been created with modders - not profits - in mind. It’s certainly a refreshing change of pace, and it helps that some of these Remix projects look pretty fantastic.

Comparison shot of a building interior in The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind, with 'RTX off' on the right hand side and 'RTX on' on the left.

Morrowind is another good example of a game that definitely could benefit from an AI-powered remaster using RTX Remix. (Image credit: Nvidia, Bethesda)

I still maintain that some games might suffer from AI-infused remastering. Mirror’s Edge is a good example. For starters, it still looks pretty good today, but more importantly, it’s a game where color and lighting are used very carefully to inform the gameplay - meaning that a Remixed version might impact the delicate intersection between art direction and game mechanics. But for games like Morrowind and Half-Life 2, which have decidedly not aged well from a graphical standpoint, it’s perfect. I can’t wait to see what talented modders create with it.

If you’re interested in RTX Remix, you can download the beta version from Nvidia’s website. Bear in mind that right now, Remix only works with DirectX 9 and some DirectX 8 games - so in other words, you’re currently limited to a pool of games released between 2000 and 2006. Of course, the tool is still in development, and Nvidia has said that it would like Remix to work with a much broader spectrum of PC games, so in other words: watch this space!

(I still think ‘Omniverse’ is a dumb name, though.)

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Christian Guyton
Editor, Computing

Christian is TechRadar’s UK-based Computing Editor. He came to us from Maximum PC magazine, where he fell in love with computer hardware and building PCs. He was a regular fixture amongst our freelance review team before making the jump to TechRadar, and can usually be found drooling over the latest high-end graphics card or gaming laptop before looking at his bank account balance and crying.

Christian is a keen campaigner for LGBTQ+ rights and the owner of a charming rescue dog named Lucy, having adopted her after he beat cancer in 2021. She keeps him fit and healthy through a combination of face-licking and long walks, and only occasionally barks at him to demand treats when he’s trying to work from home.