Monday, August 22, 2005

Off Topic: Half-Life 2

OK, so I bought Half-Life 2. I'm not sure what chapter I'm on -- chapter 7, I think. It's the one where you're driving up the coast.

Overall, I like the game. It runs better than expected on my PC, though there are these annoying hiccups (in this and other games in the past) that occur in somewhat regular patterns. These hiccups usually cause the game to completely freeze and get stuck on a piece of sound, playing over and over, until about 5-10 seconds go by, and then everything's normal again. I don't think these hiccups are load-related; I've had them in other games before and was somehow able to make them go away, but I can't remember how. I think it had something to do with a network service. In Process Explorer, I see spikes in HL2.EXE's kernel usage, but no corresponding spikes in any other process, so I can't figure out what's contributing to it.

So though I like the game overall, I have these little pangs of something that I'm not sure how to qualify. I feel disappointed that the game can be so formulaic -- firefight, puzzle, firefight, puzzle, interact with friendlies, firefight, puzzle, firefight puzzle, interact with friendlies, etc. But though I'm disappointed with this, I can't imagine it any other way.

The game is very linear. Free-form gameplay only exists in as much as you're able to explore some of your surroundings for supplies, but only rarely do you find anything and take pleasure in just having found it. Though I must give credit to the, uh, "cameos" that appear when you do venture to the far corners of a level and look somewhere at just the right time. (Those who've played the game should know what I'm talking about; don't want to spoil anything.) Anyway, that's a fun element. I pat myself on the back whenever I find one of those spots; it's almost a fair trade for having not found supplies.

Anyway, you feel like you're playing a movie; everything is very scripted and event-driven, and you aren't given any choices like you were in Deus Ex. I suspect the designers favored fast-paced gameplay, and I think it works. It's just not my favorite. I much prefer to be able to sit concealed in a corner and spend minutes planning an approach vector that will alert the fewest number of guards. :)

The physics are, of course, awesome.

Voice acting is top-notch.

Some of the puzzles are clever, but might be a little anticlimactic.

Graphics in general, even without a native DX9 card, are just plain cool. The outdoor environments are very immersive.

No complaints about the AI. The City Protection forces are actually intimidating, but make for very satisfying kills. The creatures are not terribly bright, but can make for some very frustrating dogpiles.

Not enough stealth gameplay for my tastes. Too many times the enemies just "know" where you are and come right to you. You can't seem to evade them; I'd be happy with them just changing to a more defensive, inquisitive stance.

The music isn't as impressive or... relevant, I think... as other games like Deus Ex or Thief. I'm kind of ambivolent about it. I'm listening to the soundtrack for Deus Ex right now, and I can always remember exactly where I was in the game when I hear a particular track.

Weapons are great, but there's not near enough ammo in some levels, even on easy difficulty. I want a sniper rifle real bad; I suspect I just haven't found one yet.

The animation is probably the best part. The character animation is fluid even between "moves," and the facial expressions are a marvel. The first thing my brother noticed when I showed it to him were how expressive the characters' eyes were. That's always been missing from games like these. The lack of eye detail was very distracting in games like Deus Ex and especially Thief III. God, the characters in Thief III are so emotionless; they look like they're interested in everything. Every one looks like he would be more comfortable to be in a Vitruvian Man pose.

I'm looking forward to playing more. After I finish Half-Life 2, maybe then will I finish Thief III. After that, I don't have any more FPSs on my list.


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