Half Life Squared

I just beat Half Life 2 (“squared”, if the 2 stylized as a superscript means anything). Since it’s fresh in my mind, and because it was quite striking, I felt like saying a little bit about it. I wouldn’t call this a review... but maybe you would. I dunno.

Aside from just being a really good game all around, it had a number of things I felt made it stand out.

The graphics. Actually, the graphics weren't above and beyond what you see in other games. Well, maybe they were for their time, but nowadays with games like Halo 3 and Gears of War, this fell somewhere in the middle of the pack. I'm willing to cut it some slack, since it was originally made for PC several years ago. Anyway, I hardly care about graphics if the game is good in other areas.

The voice acting was good. This is surprising, because most voice acting in games, frankly, sucks. And it's not just that the voice acting was good. The dialogue was good. The lines weren't cheesy. They weren't dripping with machismo or gratuitously cursing. Heck, at one point you hear some squad captain berating his soldiers for ineptitude; he uses the words "upbraiding" and "provocateur" in his little speech.

The gameplay was solid for a first person shooter. I think this is a well-established genre on consoles now, so it takes something special to get it wrong. Still, you sometimes get FPSes that just aren't polished well and which have sloppy controls. Thank god this wasn't one of them; I wouldn't have bothered to beat it.

You get a decent variety of guns through the game, though the balance was a little off. I basically stopped using my pistol once ammo for my machine guns and shotgun were readily available. The crossbow was mad cool, but ammo was so rare that I felt the need to hoard it instead of use it.

Oh wait, I was supposed to be talking about things that stood out.

Platforming. This is an FPS with platforming. In case this isn't familiar to you, platformers are games where you need some amount of precision and timing when jumping from place to place, usually involving some amount of moving platforms. With responsive controls, this works reasonably well from a side-scrolling point of view. From a first person POV, though, it's tricky to get right. If platforms are too small, your character runs too fast, or your character doesn't land onto other platforms when you feel they "should have," the player gets frustrated easily. The player being me, of course. HL2 did a solid job all around of making these parts hard but rewarding. For comparison, another FPS with good platforming is the Metroid Prime series.

The fact that it has platforming leads to another interesting characteristic. The route that you are supposed to take through a level is not always obvious. Sometimes it is frustratingly difficult to find. Sometimes you go right by it (several times) without noticing it. Sometimes it's in some far corner. Other times it is hopping across narrow cliffs. Sometimes it's going down some hole in the floor. I'm making it sound like I don't like it, but I actually felt pretty cool finding the way. In some strange way, it felt more like it "would be" if I were actually there. In real life, nobody lays out an obvious trail for you to follow... I think. Along these lines, the level design was pretty brilliant in terms of variety, scenery, exploration, vantage points, and so on.

Finally--and this isn't really anything to do with the game itself--I thought the ending credits were awesome. The Valve logo scrolled up, followed by roughly a hundred names in alphabetical order. These were all the developers, artists, sound guys, etc., but with no categorization, job titles, or anything like that. The estimable Gabe Newell's name was right in the middle with all the other Ns. Those were followed by about 50 other names/studios for voice acting and such. They finished in about 2 minutes. Compare that to something like Gears of War, with every one of the executives' names, titles, and quotes. I guess neither is necessarily better than the other, but you tend to find fewer like HL2's.


leah said...

i have been playing the sims cubed

Taisha said...

The other day I watched the square root of terminator. I'm not good at math jokes.

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