Half-Life 2 is still one of the true ‘experiences’ of my life. It matters more to me than you… probably. If it matters even more to you then do not hesitate to throw this article out of the window. That’s physically impossible, I understand, but give it a shot anyway. There’s a straight reason why Half-Life 2 is a true ‘experience’ of my life and, if you’re a long-time reader, you’ll understand it’s for one simple reason. This is a game that, technically, lasted me seven years. It’s a game that haunted me. Cursed me. I had a meta-experience with Half-Life 2 beyond any other video-game but… it’s gone now.
I am covering Half-Life 2 in my Workshop column over on The Gamer Studio right now, for the month of February, so expect me to post that here when it’s done. I do come to similar conclusions of critiques here but, I have to get this out of the way, I only lightly touch on the game’s themes, ideas and artistic materials. Valve created a fundamentally Orwellian and dystopia picturesque image of the world that, quite frankly, is the very definition of ‘chilling’. I’m talking icicles of emotional reaction and the mood here becomes so palpable you can almost chew it like some pixelated gumbits.
Half-Life 2, however, is not a ‘fantastic’ video-game by today’s standards. It was, I feel, the first ‘next-gen’ video-game experiences. Graphical fidelity and such reaching its final potential, technology evolving to finally cope with new means of play and a whole new horizon of experiences to crack open. Half-Life 2 is a great game. A really well-paced, well-directed, finely tuned and excellently scored piece of work. A solid piece of work. Nothing more, nothing less. I still absolutely revel in its commentary on the nature of ironic non-interactivity, as we covered with another Valve game, but… as a sequence of mechanics…
It’s nothing that special. I don’t see what the fuss is about. Brilliantly designed and probably one of the best first person shooters, if not the best, but it’s not something I would throw at Roger Ebert without caution. At the end of the day it’s a game which includes the most perfectly designed shotgun in video-game history. It’s a game which has weight to its guns, weight to its character and weight to its driving sequences. Weight being an expression of ‘kinaesthesia’, the ‘game feel’ if you will. That tight grip on the interactive reality. Half-Life 2 is the perfect soup of mood and atmosphere, storytelling and breadth, level design and technical craftsmanship and core-orientated mechanics. A solid experience.
Nothing more, nothing less.
That’s my critique of Half-Life 2. That it’s special, to me, but as a video-game it doesn’t have that ‘special’ that makes it worth fighting for. I actually find Episode Two to be much more interesting in both a pacing and mechanic approach sense. Elements of Episode One (confinement, escape; those sorts of things) are done more strongly too. I think Half-Life 2 has been upstaged but by the only people who could truly do it: Valve. Portal 2 is their tour de force of game philosophy but, I think it’s best to appreciate the origins of that philosophy. Where it truly came from.
Half-Life 2 is the solid foundation on which Valve have placed their house of 21st Century endeavours. The Source engine was shown as a technical marvel, a truly adaptive animal capable of absolutely anything. This was the beginning of something special and the fact that it is a solid game makes this all the more potent. Because, if it was absolutely remarkable then it would leave massive amounts of hype for its little brothers and sisters. Not to say it isn’t ‘remarkable’ or not considered ‘remarkable’ at all but it isn’t Portal 2 is it? I’m comparing entirely different genres but I hope you get what I’m grasping at.
Half-Life 2 is a game I will end up coming back to. Just to experience those moments and hypes and moments of pacing where I felt absolutely in tune with the game. It really is one of the most immersive (that word gets way over-used but so apt for Half-Life 2) games ever constructed.
I love it.