Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Editorial - Half-Life and its Sequel

So as many of you have guessed from my recent batch of posts, I've been playing a lot of the original Half-Life (PC) and its expansions lately.

Prior to picking up Half-Life 2 (Xbox), I replayed through Half-Life and started on its first expansion, Half-Life: Opposing Force. A few days ago I got around to finishing Half-Life: Opposing Force and yesterday, I played through all of Half-Life: Blue Shift, its second expansion, which I downloaded via Steam the day before.

All I have to say is wow. The original Half-Life and its add-ons have held up so well, especially considering that Half-Life was released in late '98. It was the 1990's that brought about the first person shooter, and I must say, as much as I love Doom and how it essentially started the genre as we know it, Half-Life is the game that modernized it and is truly the best shooter of the '90's. That makes it all the more unfortunate that Half-Life 2 couldn't live up to its predecessor.

Now don't mistake me, I enjoyed Half-Life 2 but when all is said and done, it falls flat of Half-Life. Half-Life took the story of Doom and not only modernized it for its day, but also presented us with a true, interactive first person perspective to such a level of immersion, such a realistic living and breathing world, it was something that no one had experienced before.

Half-Life also modernized level design. Rooms and locations had purpose and weren't simply monster closets. Weapons and ammo were in logical places instead of just being placed on the floor for the player to find. Many items and objects in the game world, including non-player characters, were interactive.

There is also the AI revolution, mostly with the Soldiers you had to fight. They actually worked as a team to try and flush you out while flanking you and they'd rarely rush you to simply die. Instead they'd wait you out and take cover when under heavy fire. The Soliders were also quite capable of dishing out punishment without needing over-powered weapons or mounted turrets.

The above is a brief glimpse at what Half-Life did for the Single Player FPS. All of this was so new, so revolutionary, that all FPSes since are measured up to Half-Life.

Now we have Half-Life 2. There is no question that it is a technical marvel, with a beautiful graphics engine, excellent facial animations, and the most realistic physics ever seen, however its achievements stop there.

Half-Life 2 retains the style of immersion from its predecessor, but the story itself is much more indecisive and half-baked. The level design itself is, once again, great, though not as revolutionary as before. The game's AI, however, is awful, worse than Half-Life's. This leads to boring, repetitive gameplay with enemies who are too stupid to take proper cover and who pose no real threat or challenge; not to mention the game's arsenal, a staple of any FPS, is a near complete rehash of the original's with little innovation. Oh, sure there's the Gravity Gun, but hucking radiators at brain-dead enemies gets old fast considering the game's length and lack of challenge/reward system. The rush of combat found in Half-Life is simply not present in Half-Life 2.

I honestly found the more I played through classic Half-Life, the more disappointed I am with Valve for not only failing to live up to the master-piece they created before, but for missing the mark entirely. 'Cause in the end, it doesn't matter how beautiful a game looks, if its gameplay and execution are simply bland and boring, the game ends up being another in the pile, and really that's what Half-Life 2 is. It gives us a glimpse of the tech that future titles can be based on, what future titles might be able to do and greatly surpase with better design. However at present this remains just a glimpse, and while in its current form Half-Life 2 is fun to play, we still need to wait for the title that will once again revolutionize the FPS genre.

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