Friday 28 December, 2007
This is probably the first game for which I have written the first post after already finishing it! Oh well. However, there isn't really that much to say about Episode One other than it continues what Half-Life 2 started. Pretty much literally...in story, weapons, gameplay, etc.
I did enjoy a few new "scenarios", for example the areas where you are fumbling in the dark with Alyx firing away at the encroaching zombies. A nice twist on the "you don't have a weapon, what do you do?" type of scenario.
Overall thoughts? On the one hand, I've really enjoyed this Episode and I'm glad I played it. It helps put some more meat on the overall setting/story of Half-Life 2. There is a lot of stuff going on in the background that is just starting to settle in... For example, I hadn't made the connection between the lack of children in the city (though there was an area with an old unused playground in HL2) and the fact that the combine invaders have implanted a reproduction suppression field (or something like that). It's an elegant way to explain why there are no kids around and helps make the setting more believable and the combine oppression more real. Nice.
I also really enjoyed having Alyx tag along. Yes, there is more to her as a character, but I think what I enjoyed most was her feedback to my actions in the game. Her congratulating me for quick kills and clever ideas definitely made the experience more enjoyable.
The gravity gun is still fun and I think I'm finally starting to get the hand of it...and I think I understand why it sometimes shoots and other times doesn't. Basically, it only works on little things. Sort of. Headcrabs, yes. Antlions, yes. Soldiers, no. Zombies, no. What I don't really get is why I can use it to push cars around, but not enemy soldiers. :-(
While I didn't particularly enjoy the physics puzzles in HL2, I felt they were more interesting this time around. I especially enjoyed having to push cars around on top of the antlion dens. I have to confess I felt quite good about myself when I figured that part out!
The next area after that was, again, filled with antlions. My first thought as soon as I entered the area was "oh man, I hope I don't have to do the same thing again!". And yes, I did. This time it was 3 cars. Woohoo. Not.
Why did I have such a negative reaction? I'm not really sure. Maybe its because I felt I had been so clever in the previous section that having to do the same thing again (although 3 times) diminished the value of what I felt I had achieved. Maybe it's because I felt that I was simply being asked to do the same exact thing again, and I was looking for something fresh.
Now, that last statement is curious in the context of games in general. A typical approach to game design is to slowly introduce different elements of gameplay to the player and then, once the player has learned them, combine them with other elements in new ways. So, make things more challenging by mixing things up. Super Mario does it, Zelda does it, Metroid does it, and so on.
But this time, it just didn't work. Do the same thing as before, but while 3 antlion dens instead of one is obviously a greater challenge, maybe I just didn't fell that it had been "mixed up" enough? Maybe, however, it's more of an issue of representation. I think that part of what might be going on is that the realistic representation (including the physics) makes the "obvious" gameplay elements less abstract and more "real", thus, when faced with the same puzzle, albeit more difficult, I wasn't able to suspend my disbelief and focused on the gameplay over the "realism".
I'm not sure that I expressed that all that well... but I might be onto something.
One last note.. Alyx might be in love with Gordon! Hehehe! ;-)
At the very beginning of Half-Life 2, Dr. Breen explains the suppression field via answering a (probably fictitious) letter. It's easy to skip though, so I can understand how you didn't know about it. It's worth listening to, though, and all you have to do is start a new game and wait in the room just past where the guard makes you throw away a can - it really establishes Breen's character, and there's a rather deliberate contrast between his rhetorical style and Dr. Kleiner's speech in Ep. 1.
Friday 25 January, 2008 by ajrich