Sunday, 7 November 2010

Day 312, on which John plays Half-Life 2 [7.11.10]

Dag tre hundrede og tolv. Gar, I be havin' Sunday-evening-itis. The whole 'dammit, the weekend's right around the corner, life sucks' thing. But I know you don't want to hear about that. You want to hear about what I did today. Well, apart from playing Half-Life 2, very little. A buttload of homework, plus I listened to 'The Suburbs' a lot. The Sprawl II is now one of the top songs on there for me. It's so ABBA-ish, I could just see Benny Andersen playing the piano for it. D'aww.

OK, enough about my strange ABBA/Arcade Fire fantasies. We all know they won't happen, the two women in ABBA have run off to live in windmills in the middle of the Swedish countryside or something like that. Benny's too busy growing his beard and Björn's too busy buying more glasses for his head.

OK, Half-Life 2. It's the third Valve game I've bought, because I've heard a lot of good things about it, and the last two Valve games (Portal and Team Fortress 2) have been very much worth it. Half-Life 2 is one of those cult games that you'll hear about no matter where you go. There are references everywhere, even in Portal (in the final song, GLaDOS mentions Black Mesa). So do I buy the first Half-Life game? Nah, that was made in 1998 and from what I can infer from the YouTube series 'Freeman's Mind' it's pretty samey. Whereas Half-Life 2 looks much more rich and varied. Also the graphics are better.

So I started playing it this evening. Right from the start, you're thrown into an incredibly rich world, with all the details you could ask for in a virtual environment. Faultless AIs, brilliant speeches from the people, great backdrops, freaking scary Combine soldiers and so much more. You walk round the world yourself but somehow you manage to follow the path the gamemakers have set out for you. You can talk to almost anyone (not Combines, they just zap you), and they'll talk realistically with full-movement mouths that I really didn't expect.

Then you meet up with Barney, then Alex, and you follow her through the world to some doctor's laboratory. It's amazingly done, it's a whole narrative that you can walk around and interact with. Then there's the action scenes at the start - for example, the Combine invade a building and everyone's screaming "get to the roof! Get to the roof!", so you get to the roof, but every time you look behind you, you can see the Combine killing the people. Scary stuff.

After a brief rooftop chase, you get to the doctor's lab and proceed to take part in a great conversation between the doc, Alex and Barney. You get reintroduced to your HEV suit, do a teleport thing that doesn't really work out and is brilliantly animated, and they you're off to some other doc's lab. Barney throws you your trusty crowbar and, before you know it, you're smashing crates and whacking Combines and generally having fun in the environment.

You walk into some underground pathways and encounter Combines torturing a man, then kill them, then pick up their guns. Now you have a gun! Wahoo! But sadly, for me this is where the game began to show its few faults. You encounter a few more Combines and, satisfyingly, blow their freaky heads to bits with their late counterpart's gun. That's fun. Then, after a few more scenes, you're just in any other game. There's an almost endless queue of Combine soldiers waiting to pounce on you and shoot the hell out of you. It's really dull and samey. Just another sewer, another few mutant tongue things, couple of Combine soldiers to shoot, move on. You don't run out of ammo, either. It totally ruins the initial joy of being able to blow the heads off some of those freaky dudes that kept zapping you previously. Plus I don't like the mutant tongue things. YUCK.

Well, that's where I am at the moment. I stopped playing for this evening because I'd had enough of being tongued by mutant tongue things. Maybe the next stage in the game will bring some new gameplay, and more of Alex. She seemed nice.


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