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June 9th, 2013, 18:12
Half-Life 2 + Episodes 1 & 2

The first part of the previous decade was probably my most busy period in terms of video games so this time I could compare the incredibly highly rated HL2 with both its contemporaries and the original.

All in all it was a much more well-rounded experience with diverse and at times unusual gameplay and an actual story with about half a dozen noteworthy characters which was a huge step-up from the original and (I guess) the mainstream FPS of the time.

Technically the game still holds up quite well (I played all 3 unmodded) and I was kinda surprised by the impression the physics engine made on me. While all mainstream shooters make quite a big deal about how realistically their physics engine imitate real life collisions HL2 was the only game I played that got a step beyond barrel shooting (there's lots of it) and actually integrated a fair amount of physics based puzzles to its core gameplay.

Another notable departure from the design of the original that was only emphasized by the contrast between the scale and its scripted nature was the way the game treated the player. While I don't consider myself to be great at shooters I played through the Half-Lifes on Hard and consider the 2nd being much more challenging than the 1s both in terms of shooting and puzzles despite neither ever making me regret my choice. Having said that there's a fair bit of handholding that is probably its most "modern" feature in comparison to the original even over the technical aspects. It's certainly a scripted ride but still a very good one.

The episodes were pretty decent overall although the 1st one felt a bit like filler. By the end of Episode 2 it looked like the existing gameplay mechanisms weren't (good?) enough for Valve as they started introducing a few one-off "Tower Defense" situations which almost always end up being rather "gamey" than valuable to the game's story or it's own gameplay.

While I couldn't imagine myself buying into the best game ever reviews before playing HL2 and still am nowhere near agreeing I can see how it affected the industry. In some ways, the high production value scripted sequences with first person drama or even the driving sequences has been repackaged and served in a more appealing to the mainstream setting too many times to count despite being at times vain imitations. The Call of Duty series are the main offender the comes to mind. As for Valve, looking past the embarrassment that their handling of Episode 3 has been, they haven't done too bad in distilling some of the great(est) parts of HL2's gameplay into standalone games. The similarities between the puzzle-solving and the zombie-shooting of HL2 and Portal and Left 4 Dead respectively are striking and I wouldn't be surmised if the shooting parts have basically been repeated in Team Fortress 2.

Having now played though the series, if I had to name what I liked the most about them I'd name the world/setting the games take place and the forces driving the events that Freeman witnesses. The game uses the all-too familiar mechanism of dropping the player in a world which he has no clue about but instead of spoon-feeding him the lore the story and the motives it's is at best cryptic despite featuring events/characters that are bigger than the known world, the dimentions or even time. The G-Man or his employers, Nihilanth, Xen and the Combine have tremendous potential which has so-far been underutilized by Valve.

PS. I need an editor.
I'd just like to interject here and point out that I'm not going to say anything to spoil the mood, Chief. I'll just float here and watch. Don't mind me, just sitting here, floating and watching, that's me.
Last edited by Kostas; June 9th, 2013 at 18:40.
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