Author Topic: Half-Life series [1998-2007 -- Valve]  (Read 1097 times)

Offline Doc_Brown

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Half-Life series [1998-2007 -- Valve]
« on: September 29, 2015, 12:48:42 AM »
Half-Life/Black Mesa
Now that Black Mesa has finally been completed, I can offer my thoughts on the full game in comparison to the original Half-Life.  Back when Black Mesa was still just a mod, I noted that its two shortcomings were the artificial intelligence of the enemy soldiers and the absence of the Xen levels.  Both of these points have now been rectified, and while I can safely say that I prefer it to Half-Life, it’s not without its faults.

One area I consider it to be superior to the original, however, is in the early goings.  Half-Life didn’t have a physics system or advanced lighting, but Black Mesa takes full advantage of these Source engine features.  They really play up the survival horror feeling of it, delaying giving you your crowbar in favor of having to move obstructions out of your way and fight enemies by throwing flares to light them on fire.

When the action does pick up, the soldier AI is now much more compelling.  They won’t stupidly rush toward you, they’ll try to flush you out with grenades, and they now even have medics that will patch up their comrades if you don’t take them out.  My only real complaint about the midpoint of the game is that it drags on for too long, despite how prettily some of the surface areas of the world have been rendered.

I also noticed around this point that there are several sequences you can just tank.  A fully charged HEV suit will let you simply run through some of these set piece battles, either avoiding them entirely or charging straight at the enemy until they’re eliminated.  If these sections didn’t overstay their welcome in the first place I wouldn’t have tried such a tactic, but I’m not sure slowly slogging through them as intended is any better.

Once you reach the Lambda Complex, you’re treated to an improved teleportation scene (you no longer have to protect your fellow scientist) before finally reaching Xen.  First and foremost, I will say that the Xen levels are amongst the most beautiful in the game.  They also give you more time to slow down and enjoy it, unlike the original game which only featured a single small map before throwing you into a boss battle.

And yet, there is something as too much of a good thing.  Between the Gonarch and Nihilanth fights, there is a lot more to Xen than the original game.  Many of these areas feature limitless healing pools, charging crystals, and ammo for your energy weapons, and thus the design shifts to “throw overwhelming odds at the player because we know they can fully recover afterwards”.  At least the final battle is a fitting spectacle.

Half-Life 2
While I’ve already reviewed Half-Life 2, I wanted to offer a few insights after having just replayed it.  First and foremost, I cannot overstate the importance of the gravity gun.  Great games are those that either introduce a new kind of gameplay, or take an existing one and simply do it better than everyone else.  Half-Life 2 wasn’t the first to implement physics, but the gravity gun remains the best means of interacting with them.

Not as apparent, but just as important, is the game’s use of variety.  Every chapter or two you’ll find yourself in a new location with a different gameplay focus.  You go from the city to the canals to a zombie-infested town to the coast and back again.  One minute you’re playing ‘Hot Lava’, the next you’re leading an army of antlions, and after that you’re holding off an assault with reprogrammed turrets.  You’re never bored.

The one style of gameplay that falls flat, however, are the squads you command late in the game.  I feel like we’ve been spoiled by later developments in friendly AI (specifically Left 4 Dead), because here all they do is get in your way.  It’s a good thing they’re absent from the final two chapters; otherwise, Half-Life 2 would have repeated the original Half-Life's mistake of ending on its lowest note.   

Half-Life 2: Episode One
Episode One isn’t a bad game, by any means.  It’s just a disappointment compared to the rest of the series.  Consider mods as a reflection of popularity.  At the time of this writing, ModDB shows that over four hundred mods have been released for Half-Life 2Episode Two, by comparison, has one hundred (which is still impressive, considering it’s not a full game).  How many does Episode One have?  Just five.

The reasons for this mostly have to do with Episode One’s reuse of locations and gameplay.  The first two chapters take place in the Citadel and feature a super-powered gravity gun--same as chapters 12 and 13 of Half-Life 2.  The last two chapters have you fighting alongside the resistance in City 17’s war torn streets--same as Half-Life 2 chapters 10 and 11.  Its one original locale is, frankly, generic.

Which isn’t to say that there isn’t some new gameplay on offer here, it just isn’t all that impressive.  There’s only so much fun to be had from the few times you reprogram roller mines, seal antlion burrows, or spot enemies for Alyx in the dark.  The few good bits--the new Zombine enemies, Alyx covering you with a sniper rifle--show up again in Episode Two, so why settle for less?

Half-Life 2: Episode Two
Episode Two does everything right that Episode One did wrong.  You get to visit new settings, encounter new characters (both enemies and allies), drive a new vehicle, and even fight with a new weapon (in a manner of speaking).  It’s also longer--Episode One is a third of Half-Life 2’s length, Episode Two a half of it--and a lot more happens over the course of the narrative.

The one complaint I have of Episode Two is actually one I had of Episode One as well: the final battle can be frustrating.  Sometimes you’ll die suddenly and unexpectedly, which comes off feeling cheap, and at other times it’s the sense that you have no chance to avoid taking damage even if it’s not life threatening.  In both cases, there’s a loss of player agency, the sense that there’s nothing you can do.

In my recent playthrough I actually skipped over Episode One completely, and I don’t think the overall experience suffers too much for it.  The Vortigaunts teleport you to safety at the start of Episode One; why not pretend they teleport you straight into Episode Two?  Outside of a few narrative hiccups (when you acquired the data, how everyone else got out of City 17 in time), it works pretty well.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2020, 09:28:10 AM by Doc_Brown »
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Offline Starfox

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Re: Half-Life series [1998-? -- Valve]
« Reply #1 on: October 10, 2015, 04:14:09 AM »
Well I don't know about Half-Life 3. They already missed a couple of great occasions. The tenth anniversary of Half-Life in 2008 -- they issued Portal instead -- and now they appear to miss a second great occasion: the release next month (which is also Half-Life anniversary month) of the Steam hardware, with the Steam Controller, Link and Machines. Unless they successfully kept it under wrapped and decided to surprise the Hell out of everybody by releasing an unannounced Half-Life 3 on November 10 that's another mark missed. Maybe they'll wait until the Steam VR is ready.

The point is, considering what Steam is doing now, I can't imagine the release of HL3 not being tied to a special Steam event. It would be foolish not to take advantage of HL3 to boost another of their products (like they took advantage of HL2 to launch Steam). The Steam Hardware launch would have been a great occasion but instead they offer a copy of Portal 2 (which possibly everyone already has at least once) and Rocket league.

I could have imagined a "Get the Steam Controller and a 50% discount on HL3" and "Get the Steam Controller AND Link and a free copy of HL3" while "Get a Steam controller and a free copy of Portal 2 and Rocket league" seems a bit weak to me.

Sure you can see me has an awful materialist but hey, that's what our Western societies taught us to be, right? (well, in my case they failed to teach me, if they properly did I would be inviting Bill Gates to a Sunday golf by now)

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. -- A. Einstein

Offline Doc_Brown

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Re: Half-Life series [1998-2007 -- Valve]
« Reply #2 on: June 10, 2020, 12:38:34 AM »
Since Black Mesa was finally released in its completed form, I've gone back and updated my QuickView on it above. 

As far as Half-Life: Alyx is concerned, I don't have a VR headset so I cannot comment on it at this time.
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