I finally got to play Half-Life 2! (Spoilers)

The game’s been out over two years, but I only managed to get around to buying it a couple of days ago. I’ve been playing it off and on since then, and although I don’t like it as much as the original, it’s been a lot of fun! My observations from a couple of hours of play follow… it’s been out for a while, so please be advised that spoilers are unboxed.

The good :

It has beautiful graphics, even compared to most modern games. Something about the facial animations seemed unrealistic at first, but now that I’ve gotten used to them I don’t notice.

It makes extremely good use of three-dimensional audio. Audio is still underexploited in a lot of games, but HL2 is one of the few games where I feel comfortable relying on the audio to help keep track of what’s going on behind and beside me.

The terrain is varied, and in general extremely fun to walk through. So far (I’ve only just gotten to Highway 17), they’ve done a good job of changing settings before I get too sick of looking at the same stuff. There’re a few obvious exceptions to this rule, such as the fact that every single wrecked boat in the game looks identical (seriously; they could afford to make oodles of wrecked cars, but they only had enough money left over to design one boat?)

The gravity gun rocks the house. Seriously, they could’ve just called it “Half-Life 2: screw around with physics,” and I would’ve been in. :smiley:

The bad:

While the controls are pretty tight, Gordon Freeman’s body isn’t. In a game that relies heavily on agility puzzles (climbing/running/jumping/crawling but especially jumping), I think it would’ve been worth it to actually give Freeman a body. In Thief 3, Oblivion, Rainbow Six: Vegas, and a host of other newer games, your body was proportional to the map, and it made the controls feel much tighter. Everybody and everything in HL2, however, seems to be significantly smaller than you are, and it seems as if the whole game takes the old “Gun and amputated hands” approach to player design.

Speaking of which, I thought that the firefights could’ve been a lot more dynamic than they were. The physics engine was out of this world, and there was no shortage of stuff to take cover behind… so why couldn’t Gordon crawl, crane his neck around the corner, hug the surface he was on, or do any number of additional things to keep himself concealed? The game wasn’t built with those tactics in mind, so the actual experience didn’t suffer without them… but I’m so used to the mobility and options afforded to players in most modern tactical shooters, that HL2’s “stand, shoot, run, shoot, crouch, shoot, run” approach seemed kind of limited.

Speaking of running and crouching: what on earth was wrong with hit detection? After a few stints of the game thinking that I’d run into the immobile Barnacle/Roof Alien tentacles when, in fact, I was a good several feet away, I just started shooting the barstards before I got close… the same applies to climbing and jumping, really. The physics are great, but I found precise maneuvering to be hard and extremely unintuitive.

The gravity gun was fun, but I’m having some issues with a lot of the other firearms. With a few notable exceptions they all seem to run together; submachine gun, pulse gun, shotgun, pistol… they’re so generic, after a while I just started randomly selecting one to clear each room with.

Finally, the story seemed like it had been really neat during the design phase, but in the finished product it felt uneven and hastily assembled; the first two hours were extremely engrossing, but nobody ever bothers explaining anything to me! It’s devolved from a gripping narrative to “Oh gee, look! Gordon Freeman, squee! Could you sign this autograph and wait here for about two minutes, so a deus ex machina can whisk me away and send you running for your life before expediency obligates us to expand the plot?” I mean, good god people: Gordon makes a new friend, who I’m guessing is supposed to become his love interest later down the line. She appears to really worry for him when a teleporter accident seperates them and forces him to dodge military and police dudes to meet up with her. They meet up, but oh noes it’s the military! They split up to do their seperate hero stuff, and in parting she goes “Oh, by the way, there’s this place that we never, ever go. You’re gonna have to go through it. Toodles!”. Granted it’s an emergency, and she only has a few seconds to talk… but in retrospect, perhaps a better way to part would’ve been by saying “I’m sending you into a town full of zombies. Find the insane Russian preacher with a shotgun and have him show you out”. Or, I dunno, maybe just “Gordon! Zombies!”. Anyway, I survive the zombies, contact her, and does she apologize for sending me into a town full of the undead without any warning whatsoever? Nope! Does she even mention the zombies? Nope! She just turns on the radio and goes “Bitch, break my dad out of prison! Bye!”.

Anyway, that’s my take on things. I’m really enjoying playing, no matter what my sarcastic take on the game’s problems may be. :slight_smile:

Can’t you just enable thirdperson mode? I’ve tried it and I prefer an unobstructed firstperson viewpoint.

I had the same experience, but I think I might be blaming the camera for an issue that’s related to the comparative lack of maneuverability: Freeman just feels really, really blocky when he moves, and I think a lot of that has to do with the lack of the fairly dynamic cover-seeking options that a lot of more recent FPS games have gotten me used to; I just don’t feel right stepping into full view to shoot, when I could (theoretically) be flattened against the wall, leaning around to snap off a few shots and jerking back before I get (too badly) shot.

I still have nightmares about that town.

I hear ya … in real life, one person would probably tell the other what they were about to get themselves into so they were prepared for it, but in the realm of storytelling it’s much scarier to go into a foreboding environment not knowing what sort of situation you’re about to face. It’s frightening because you have no idea what to expect, and people wiser than myself have often said that the scariest thing in any story is the fear of the unknown.

I know the first time I went into Ravenholm, my heart was thumping in my throat. I think it was thumping in my throat the entire time in Ravenholm, actually. :smiley:

Just wait for the citadel.

Mild spoiler

Super Grav Gun for the win!

Ravenholm was a giant middle finger to id. “Our B plot levels managed to out-zombie all of your Quake till present games combined. Suck it, bitches.”

My main gripe with Half-Life 2’s presentation is the mute Gordon gimmick. It worked in Half-Life 1 because that game had two simple plot points:

  1. omg aliens
  2. get out alive

Everyone Gordon met was cannon fodder or irrelevant to the plot. And it was based in present day, so no explanation was needed. But in Half-Life 2, Valve got so busy spinning a fantastical yarn that they forgot that Gordon’s speech impediment might not make sense any more. A strange interdimensional man in a suit wakes you up from an induced coma, the world is now enslaved by an all seeing dictatorship, and there are fucking aliens communing with humans. Any normal human being would start asking questions right off the train, such as:

  1. Where the fuck am I?
  2. What day is it?
  3. So I noticed we had an intergalactic war. Elaborate, please.

It’s ludicrous to force the player into getting whatever little story details they can find off of newspaper clippings when there are people STANDING RIGHT THERE. People that are giving you orders and demanding that you undergo quests when you haven’t even had time to take a shit. When Half-Life 3 rolls around, they really need to give Gordon a voice. Perhaps even some dialog trees so that players can skip the story elements if they want.

Damn, yeah. The first time I got to Ravenholm, I was unfortunate enough to be playing well past midnight with the lights down and headphones on.

I was so freaked out, that at one point I found one of few illuminated rooms without big, breakable, zombie-jumping-through windows, used the gravity gun to build myself a fort out of cardboard boxes, and refused to leave it for probably fifteen minutes.

Please tell me I’m not the only one to have done this.

Shoulda come in one level earlier, against the Striders as they blew the City apart around you and you scurried from one disintegating apartment block to another: as it was, it made the Citadel a stroll in the park.

Poison headcrabs. There should have been a flamethrower in the game just for them. Isolated area? Check. Darkness? Check. Quiet? Chec…what’s that noise? OMG OMG OMG GRENADE

Obligatory Link to hilarious webcomic about Half-Life 2. To the OP - it’s full of spoilers, so you may want to stop reading when you reach a point parallel to where you are in the game.

I don’t know if I ever went that far, but I refused to walk around without a sawblade constantly in tow and ready for launch.

As for the poison headcrabs, I recall emptying entire magazines from the machine gun into them. Irrational, considering they only needed about a dozen shots to kill, isn’t it? :smiley:

I’ll flat out say it: Alyx is the first video game character I actually fell for, even a little bit.

I loved, loved, loved Half-Life 2. The story was somewhat odd in the presentation, but I thought it worked in a way. The only thing I got frustrated with was the way in which I felt so disembodied at times. Try this: walk up to a ledge and look down, then rotate the mouse so you’re facing down and back towards the ledge. Now you’re pretty much floating there, a disembodied gun hovering just past a cliff edge. Aside from that very, very minor nitpick I had almost zero problems with the game.

Soul, I concur on the appreciation of how the HL2 universe is presented. The level of detail and gameplay balance still beats shooters coming out three years later. It has that extra level of polish that truly makes it a memorable, interactive story. It’s a fantasy, yet realistic enough to take place in our time, which is where so many shooters fail for me. I can’t get into Unreal or Crysis or Bioshock because, while they look incredible, I just find them weird and perhaps overly complicated because they aren’t realistic. HL2 is simple, straightforward and fun, with balanced controls, virtually no learning curve, and very smooth gameplay with a story that just continues unravelling a little bit at a time just like ‘Lost’. The “disembodied” aspect of HL2 is something I see in a ton of shooters, and while I agree it’s probably not “realistic”, it’s very common in shooters, so I’m always wondering why people are often piling on HL2 about it.

So long as we’re on the topic, the “Concerned” comic which muldoonthief brilliantly referred to had a very funny strip early on about picking things up and putting them down. I read that entire comic ages ago, and it’s still hilarious. :smiley:

That’s exactly what I’ve been having trouble with! I tried to describe it badly above, but the disembodied feel really throws me off.

This will probably sound odd, but at least for me the reason it struck me in HL2 more than in other games (say, Halo) is that HL2 really made me think about physics – because of the gravity gun. More in this game than in others, I really considered the interaction between objects and the way collisions worked. The gravity gun made me think about physics in-game more than usual, and that made me notice the quirks of Freeman’s physical non-existence than I might have otherwise.

Thanks for the link, I got up to the Sand Traps and bookmarked my spot.

Umm… Carnick, have you been following the HL2 “episodes” they’ve been releasing over Steam? I’m pretty sure they’ve said that’s the only HL3 they intend to make (as in, that series is supposed to finish out the franchise). So, no dice on your talking Freeman wishes.

As for why they’re doing it, it’s to “make it more immersive.” It’s kind of an old-school line of thought, that if you don’t have the hero talk, the player can imagine them however they want to.

That’s all fine and good, but the Half-Life franchise screams movie adaptations in my opinion (assuming that once, just once, Hollywood would actually invest a decent amount of money and get capable writers and directors for a video game adaptation, mother of god!) and for that Freeman’s gonna need to talk. I’ve always imagined him as being exasperated, and coping with things through a sort of grim determination. I also imagine him having a very dry, british wit. But not saying cheesy one-liners after each action peice (a pet-peeve of mine).

PS. Another thumbs-up for the comic muldoonthief linked. I remember reading through that around the beginning of this year. Very very funny.

H3, I know that the subject of a film adaptation has crossed Gabe Newell’s desk more than once. They’ve had a few scripts tossed around, but he’s been acknowledged as saying Valve wouldn’t go into such a project unless all the right parties were involved, and as most anyone knows, this never seems to be the case with such adaptations. He knows it as much as fans do, and knows better than to pursue it half-heartedly. I’d love to see the HL story told onscreen in some manner as well, but based on what we know of such films, I don’t think it could ever live up to your expectations or mine. Most of the big talent in Hollywood simply doesn’t want to be attached to such a weighty project. I’d imagine that budget constraints and artistic/creative differences count for the majority of problems in getting such adaptations beyond development hell.

If HL2 ever were to become a film, I’m not sure what kind of film it would even be, but I’d like to see it filmed something like ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’. Gritty, realistic, with certain shots washed out, and a sort of handheld look to it that makes it appear as if they got it all on the very first take. The way I’ve imagined Freeman would be a blend of characteristics from Bruce Willis’ John McClane, Robert Patrick’s T-1000, Richard Dean Anderson’s MacGyver, and Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne: a strong silent type who looks easily perturbed, yet keeps his cool when things get nuts and has a knack for coming up with unique ways out of bad situations. After all, it couldn’t all just be a shoot-em-up movie. That would be stupid. If Gordon was crafty and cunning like MacGyver, I think that’d be pretty cool and a good example of how smart he is, setting up elaborate traps and then escaping while they unfold. And just like McClane, he’d always be the reluctant anti-hero, a somewhat ordinary guy thrust into extraordinary circumstances, coming out bruised and beaten each time, rather than completely unscathed like some invulnerable superhero.

Now the real question is, who in the world could pull off such a role? As much as I’d love to see it go to an unknown rather than an big star, such a casting choice might be a big box office draw. I know it sounds really crazy, and maybe some people don’t like Matt Damon, but one of the reasons I used his Bourne movies as an example was because I think he has both the athleticism and acting chops to pull it off. Just look at one of the trailers, or the poster for The Bourne Ultimatum, and picture him in a goatee and some thick-rimmed glasses pulling off some of his Jason Bourne moves in an HEV suit with a crowbar in hand. I dunno, I think it could work. :smiley: