Thursday, September 21, 2006

Half Life 2: 11 hours and Game Over

After now 11 hours, maybe a bit more due to frequent die&reload cycles, Half Life 2 is now finally over. The good news, it had some more nice in-game cutscenes. Running around with Alyx through Nova Prospekt was somewhat fun, so was controlling the Antlions, who obviously where heavily insprited by Starship Troopers.

One thing that Half Life 2 really got right where those in-game cutscene, the lack of speech from Gordon was much less problematic then I had imagined, due to the fact that most of the actual interaction happens between different NPCs and not NPCs and Gordon. Most of the time he simply stands there to observe and doesn't have anything todo. One nice aspect of those cutscenes, and basically the whole game, is that they feel pretty realistic, its not some spectacular special effects fest, but for most part simply NPC interacting with each other in a normal manner.

However Half Life 2 also had a ton of negative sides. First of all there simply were far to few of those in-game cutscenes, most of the time one simply was alone had to see how to find the way, since there only is one way, that however wasn't that difficult. The lack of cutscenes was especially problematic since the game is virtually purposeless, sure, tons of characters run around and talk every now and then, but almost never in the whole game does one get a clear mission to accomplished, its just run around and shoot stuff for most of the time, without even knowing why or how or anything. So Gordon did blow up the Cytadel, but why? Why did it came from? Who are the Combine, those other Aliens that the Combine fight every now and who are the Vortigaunt, who seem to be friendly? None of that is ever answered in the game to a satisfying amount.

Now to something more technical, while the AI presented by the game was enough to make Antlions believable, it totally failed with the human squad members. Keeping those together required far more effort then it was worth it. If you don't keep constantly track of them they will die very quickly and they will do whatever they can to run into every obvious danger. Every now and then they actually tried to dodge an attack, but more most part with little success. While having characters completly invulnurable like Alyx and Barney might not be such a good idea either, NPCs should at least be able to dogde very simple predictable attacks (ie. sniper, that beam in front of the Cytadel), the way it is those NPCs really caused a heck of a lot frustration and annoyancy.

Now to the controls, while this might be specific to the XBox version, it annoyed alot. Most of the weapons don't make use of secondary fire, which means that the button is for most part wasted. Instead of mapping a button to the crowbar or to granate throw or let the user decide it, its wasted for a function thats hardly ever used. This is problematic since there are tons of situation where that forces one to either try to change weapons extremly fast or simply ignore some of the available weapons, granates for example are simply useless, since one can't access them quickly enough.

So now to the conclusion, for most part Half Life 2 did hold up to my expectations, which however weren't very high to begin with. The start of the game is certainly great and athmospheric and every few hours into the game there will come another short sequences that looks great. Alyx is very well done and an interesting character to interact with, but most of the game is really more annoying then enjoyable, since the gameplay is just way to outdated to suprise these days. It feels like been there done that, sure, this time it might look a little prettier then usual, but shooting everything that moves really doesn't get any more interesting over the years. Squad control was also rather catastrophic, which did its job to ruin some of the remaining fun. The linearity of the game is also rather awefull, since it ensures that one never gets a feel for the environment, one never knows what one is doing, but simply followes the preset path. Especially in the squad section this annoys, since instead of thinking how to best attack a Strider and doing some tacticts, its just run&gun, your squad will be dead in a few seconds anyway, so you can simply forget about them right from the start. Games with a more free environment (DeusEx, Operation Flashpoint) can produce much more interesting and exciting fights then those experinced in Half Life 2. When it comes to gameplay Half Life 2 was really far more flash then substance. One of the biggest downpoints of the game is however the ending, instead of presenting anything close to an ending cutscene, the game simply ends once the Cytadel is destroyed, it ends right on that spot, literally, you don't even get to see the destruction take place, time freezes, G-Man comes says some meaningless words which have pretty much nothing todo with the rest of the game, then credits roll. This is really one of the worst endings I have seen in a long while in video gaming, especially in such an otherwise polished game.

All in all Half Life 2 was an ok game, thanks to its linerity its a game that you can easily pick up and run through without ever having to think for a second, as long as you keep your health up there is really nothing you can do wrong. For most part Half Life 2 is however a pretty unoriginal game, well polished for sure, but the core is as unoriginal as it can get. If you have played Half Life 1 you pretty much know what to expect, since beside some prettier in-game cutscenes, nothing has changed much. If you are looking for a game that pushes some fresh wind into the FPS genre go and look elsewhere, Operation Flashpoint or Riddick would be some for example, Half Life 2 is really just a pretty looking standard FPS, nothing more, nothing less.

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