Spoiler Warning: Half-Life 2: He Doesn’t Want Any

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Jul 19, 2011

Filed under: Spoiler Warning 262 comments

Mumbles couldn’t make it to Spoiler Warning this week, for reasons that had nothing to do with costumed crimefighting. She was busy at her mild-mannered job all day and has no idea what happened to the biker gang that tried to rob the Quik Stop. I believe her. I mean, Mumbles wears glasses. People who wear glasses can’t fight crime or they would break their glasses.

Anyway, glad we could clear that up.

In the meantime, we didn’t want to record more episodes of New Vegas without her. So, we did Half-Life 2 instead. For those of you who say that all we do is bitch and moan about games, well…

Link (YouTube)

This was just a one-off block of episodes. Next week we’ll be back with Mumbles, wishing for a nuclear winter in the Mojave Desert.

I will say our episode naming system sucks. What will the title look like if we ever decide to tackle the Half-Life 2 episodes? Spoiler Warning: Half-Life 2: Episode 1: Part 1: VortiGONE! Ugh.

As I said in the above episode, comparing the intro of Half-Life 2 to the intro to Homefront can give you a very clear picture of where games have gone wrong over the past seven years. In Homefront, they cram their entire reveal of the enemy into a single city block. You see people being shot in the street, being beaten, kidnapped, more people being shot, and so on. This all takes place in broad daylight, and it sort of makes you wonder what the whole “police state” thing is for. I mean, if the bad guys want to just shoot everyone they’re going about it in the most expensive and time-consuming way possible. And if they want to control the populace for slave labor, they’re going about it in the most inept way possible.

Then once you pull away from all of that, an NPC on the bus whispers to you that he heard about mass graves. This is such a goofy and sideways thing that I still wonder how that line ended up in the game. After watching a couple of parents being summarily executed in front of their toddler in broad daylight on a street corner, is the player really supposed to be amazed at the rumor of mass graves? In Half-Life 2 you feel like you’re facing an insidious and powerful enemy. In Homefront, the game makes it clear from the start that you’re facing an army of dumbasses.

You can make these comparisons with almost any modern shooter. Crysis 2 and Homefront are just obvious examples. It all goes back to basic storytelling principles: Pacing. Foreshadowing. Compact dialog. Consistency. Showing instead of telling.

Later in the episode we talk about the can cop. I looked it up, and 13.8% of all players (who own the game) have put the can in the trash, and 9.1% have thrown it at the cop. Note that these achievements were added a few years after the game was released, which is why we’re seeing such low response numbers here. This is really only a tally of new players, or those who have gone back to play the game again.


From The Archives:

262 thoughts on “Spoiler Warning: Half-Life 2: He Doesn’t Want Any

  1. You know, I always snickered at the people who managed to get hit with the video being private, their dreams shattered as they tried to view more Spoiler Warning goodness. “Never gonna happen to me!” I said.

    And now here I am, with egg on my face. Curse you, Youtube. Curse your very digital soul.

    1. SyrusRayne says:

      T’is the cruelest of fates, my friend. Alas, for we are the Privated. Alas for those who came before, and those who come after.

  2. kaljtgg says:

    Best episode ever, jus’ sayin’, no offense mumbles.

    1. Piflik says:

      You saying this while Youtube still considers the video private?

      1. kaljtgg says:

        I was watching it as I posted that actually. I am now too.

        Uploaded by SpoilerWarningShow on Jul 19, 2011
        …Wake up, Mr. Cuftbert. Wake up and… smell the ashes.

    2. Eärlindor says:

      Agreed. This is one of their best.

  3. Elethiomel says:

    Says here the video is private.

  4. peter says:

    vid’s private.
    amazing how well half life 2 holds, it still feels fairly current in the points that matter.

  5. Mike says:

    Yup. When you click to play, it goes black and says ‘This video is private’.


    1. Shamus says:

      It’s set to public, YouTube is just slow to realize it.

      Give it 5 mins and try again.

      1. Mike says:

        Cool – it works now. Thanks!

  6. X2-Eliah says:

    YAAAAY Half-Life 2! Even though this is a week-block only without the condensed awesome that is Mumbles, I still love you guys (and Rutskarn. Especially Rutskarn.) for doing this.


    Edit – heh.. now only to find out that Shamus, Josh & Skarn secretly hate HL2 and are preparing an unholy slam-fest upon it.

  7. Fantastic. I keep meaning to do my own commentary of this game within the same developer commentary system that Valve uses for the episodes, I’d even written most of what I thought I’d say out before stopping somewhere around anticitizen one due to exams.

    Nonetheless, It’s a project I really want to come back to in some form. I could start with TF2 maps or something – it’s a rather simple process when you know how, but a 10 hour game is a lot of writing and subsequent recording.

  8. Fists says:

    Saying that it’s “the best shooter ever” suggests that it is the shooting thats good but I always found the combat fairly clumsy, the atmosphere of the game is amazing though and that is what makes it brilliant

    1. Rax says:

      My thoughts exactly, it’s a great game, but not a great shooter, although it doesn’t do this “oh, this game is so realistic, you’re only allowed to carry two guns and one of them’d better be a pistol!” it has a nice variety of guns, not just “generic automatic rifle 1 to 14”, “generic sniper rifle 1 to 5” and so on, but shooting them is not as much fun as it could be.

    2. Yar Kramer says:

      Yeah, I have to agree. I’ve never felt really good about the combat, and none of the weapons really have that visceral satisfaction you get from, say, L4D2’s katana or combat shotgun. It probably doesn’t help that all enemies die in a comically-nonviolent way no matter what weapon you use (except for antlions and zombies under certain circumstances); I mean, I’m not saying that blood and gore would automatically make things better, but it would be nice to have something besides “red splotches appear on their body, and then they flop around as invincible ragdolls when they die.”

      1. Jjkaybomb says:

        I thought the combat was just fine… and from reading these comments, I guess I’m in the minority. There was a lot of different ways to take down enemies. The guns all felt like they were for different play types, and there was always a lot of environmental objects to toss around when you get bored. Even useless objects. You could throw paintcans and they would splash paint everywhere.

        I dont think splatter gore really adds to anything but the level of ridiculousness. This isnt a game where you’re supposed to enjoy the visceral fun of combat, its a game where you feel the corruption and destruction of a world you once knew. Its fun sometimes to see body parts fly all over the place, but its all just spectacle. Would it really add to the horror of Half-Life to see the screaming headcrab zombies explode with every bullet? Would it help you feel like there is some level of conciousness and pain in them, or would they just be another splatter funbag?
        That would be the big immersion breaker for me.

    3. Lalaland says:

      I think the lack of locational hit modelling is what put me off. I loved the Soldier of Fortune games because they pioneered this with both aiming for ‘weak’ spots and good hit animations. It’s not a patch on the overall game that was Half Life 2 but it handled the shooting of things much better.

      That’s what left me feeling underwhelmed by the sequel compared to the original. The original had it all good mechanics and great story telling, for the sequel they pushed everything else bar the mechanics forward. Emptying an entire clip into someones head to watch them shrug it off just breaks immersion for me.

      I finished it but I haven’t been bothered with the episodes, do they add headshots?

      1. Bret says:

        They have headshots in core 2.

        It isn’t a graphic explosion of viscera, and lighter guns can’t one hit kill tougher enemies, but a magnum round to the noggin drops anyone.

        Also, the Combine is wearing heavy armor all over. A little resistance to bullets seems fair.

    4. bit says:

      I actually really enjoy the shooting mechanics in HL2 and HL. Especially once you ramp up the difficulty, and enemies take a little while to take down, it gets really satisfyingly strategic. I specifically remember this one instance from my most recent play through, where you ambush a guard in a small, open house looking through a pair of binoculars at the future site of the lighthouse gunship fight.

      Okay, his back is turned. He looks alone, but that can’t be true. There’s a big building off to my right, where most of the combine have to be. I could head in there; But the door’s closed, so I’m at an immediate disadvantage. There can’t be more than a few in the small house with this guy, and I can use it for cover; However, I’m at a disadvantage going into that room, as anyone waiting to ambush me has a very clear shot wherever they are. And sniping him from outside could easily fail and leaves me with no cover if I succeed; However, I can’t be specifically ambushed, and can get a good feel for all enemy specifics even if it means taking a few bullets.

      Even if it’s not as visceral as some games, the environmental freedom and the swathe of weapon options make things tactical enough for me; I’m too focused on “Where will I need to be soon” to focus on “How does this feel now.” It’s a bit like playing chess. Which is a side a lot of modern shooters are missing, methinks.

    5. ehlijen says:

      It’s not a shooter in the sense that it doesn’t toss 5 enemies at you after every door you walk through, but I find that’s the brilliance in it. There are sections where you can just have your cruel fun (the crane for example, or the tripod fights) but there are also sections where you have to think or explore to solve puzzles or get past enemies without fighting them.

      I loved that variety.

      As for why it lacks blood and gore, probably because they wanted the game released in Germany and other violence in media sensitive countries without too much extra effort. The robot for soldiers HL1 was were met with fan dislike there despite the amazing effort Valve went to to mollify the age ratings agency.

  9. Alexander The 1st says:

    For the record, although I’ve heard of Half Life 2 and all its awesomeness…

    …*Prepares Flame Shield*

    …I’ve never actually *SEEN* the game before. I wish I was joking.

    I blame the ESRB. and Half Life 1 – when I saw a friend start that game, there was the endless opening scene of the lift (IIRC), which felt more boring than FF XIII. As I’ve heard, it apparently gets better, but I wasn’t sold by the gunplay at the time either. So I was completely turned off by the series from that.

    *Watches video*

    EDIT: So…the carousel…the lack of a gun…you know Duke Nukem Forever does the same sort of things, right? Just saying. :p

    1. SyrusRayne says:

      You really need to remedy this problem. I kind of wish I could warn you to fix that problem /before/ watching the video.

      1. Alexander The 1st says:

        I don’t know – I’m still kind of put off by the fact that, while a lot of the story is presented optionally…none of the motivation for doing is really shown. There’s that one part with the G-man (Do you guys do subtitles later? Seriously, could barely hear him, except the part I remember people quoting about Freeman’s not quite done.), but…*Why* exactly am I going down this linear corridor without a roof?

        So far, Mass Effect 1 and Fallout: New Vegas had the best openings I’ve seen from games you’ve done.

    2. Simon Buchan says:

      The intro to Half Life 1, up to the experiment serves a similar, though far more limited purpose as Half Life 2’s first hour or so: to show you where you are, that Black Mesa is a place with history, a place where people work. Given that it’s contemporaries are games like Quake 3, Half Life’s focus on creating a sense of place, or versimilitude if you have the budget for the word, was a huge differentiator that was probably the main or even only reason it became so popular. In short, Valve and everything they’ve made, including Steam and the huge effect it’s had on digital distribution and the resurgance of PC and Indie games, might have hinged on that slow opening.

      PS: Half Life doesn’t hold up overall anywhere near as well as Half Life 2 – there’s a lot of platforming and I feel it spends too long on each setting. I really, *really* love the midpoint: finally getting to the surface, and realizing that no, those soldiers are *not* there to rescue you. Another high-point are the boss-fights, which changed up the gameplay significantly after so long shooting headcrabs – in particular the blind tentacles in the rocket chamber.

      1. Hal says:

        Indeed, it’s actually a very common story-telling mechanic. If you want loss to be significant to the reader (or in this case, the player), you have to show what is lost. Show how life is idyllic in a town, let the player get attached to it . . . then burn it down. Or give them an opportunity to meet and get attached to an NPC before they are killed. If you just open with a burning town or a dead NPC and tell the player, “This is meaningful,” they might try to take you at your word, but it’ll always seem contrived.

        1. Naota says:

          If you want a good example of a game failing to do this, look no further than Mass Effect 2 and its abducted colonists. You see exactly three of them for about 10 seconds in one cutscene before they’re taken, and Ashley, who you do actually know, inexplicably doesn’t get taken away with them despite being paralyzed just like the rest. Oh, and later on it’s strongly implied that the only reason the Collectors chose that colony to attack was because they wanted her.

          That aside, I never got to see the effect of these people vanishing or anyone in the setting who was even bothered by it aside from maybe a single brief conversation between random crewmates (it literally went “My [relative] was one of those colonists.” “Oh, I’m so sorry.”). If they wanted us to care, they needed to let us get to know some of these people and become invested in their survival before they were abducted. Let players see the stark, hollow, abandoned shell of a colony after the Collectors came through, then once they know the stakes, have that happen to some place they know and love.

          Oh, and don’t reveal what is actually abducting them until much later in the story. Make it creepy, foreboding, unsettling in the way that exploring the fresh scene of a murder is – an actual goddamn mystery.

          Logically, tactically, and pragmatically the entirety of the colonist-saving plot can be written off as not important enough to bother with in light of the bigger threat of the Reapers returning and Shepard’s need to rally as large and cohesive a force as possible to face them. If completely ignored, the worst that can happen is the Collectors somehow amass billions of humans without ever being noticed by any major faction and build one ridiculous-looking Reaper in order to go up against the same odds that crushed Sovereign the first time. If Shepard spends all his time thwarting the Collectors instead of unifying races on the other hand… you have a completely unprepared galaxy up against thousands of Reapers.

          Which is the plot of ME3. Ugh.

          1. aldowyn says:

            I agree with 90% of that, my main issue is what you said about the crew talking about their relatives and stuff.

            I actually really liked that, it was one of the best ways to establish the atmosphere I saw in ME2. If you pay attention, the same crew members are in the same places every time, and that particular conversation comes after a conversation where the guy is talking about his family – thus introducing us to the characters involved, thus making us feel a little sorry when I hear that they were taken.

            The normal crew in ME2 are probably the only characters that are more fleshed out than those in ME1…

            1. Naota says:

              Oh, don’t get me wrong about the conversations you overheard from the random crew members, because as added exposition and characterization they’re great. The problem I had was that the only exposure you get to these supposedly horrible life-destroying mass abductions is in the third person through a snippet of an overheard conversation.

              It’s a little detail that would have worked a lot better if the player also had a character they liked or cared about gone missing, allowing them to sympathize with the NPC crewman lamenting over his missing relative. Without that context it was just one man you barely knew being sad about a made up person you never met disappearing. In a vaccum like this his loss is no more poignant than that of the grieving made-up widow of the thousandth Blue Suns commando Shepard butchered in the last mission.

              Poor sap… he was only doing his job.

              1. Alexander The 1st says:

                In a vaccum like this his loss is no more poignant than that of the grieving made-up widow of the thousandth Blue Suns commando Shepard butchered in the last mission.

                Poor sap… he was only doing his job.

                I want to see a game lampshade this.

                Some family member of the main character gets killed mid action scene, and the character goes Heroic Blue Screen of Death:

                Then their crew mate tells them to snap out of it, people die all the time in combat. They then gun down five enemies, and say “I just killed five brothers there. You’re not along in your grief.” Or something to that sort. Maybe it’s a little cold, but…someone’s got to get that message across.

                Death in video games as plot/characterisation…just doesn’t really do it for me. Especially when you single-handedly wipe out an army the size of the population of Russia over the course of the game.

      2. Matthias says:

        Oh my god, the tentacles in the rocket chamber… I still hear them banging sometimes…

    3. Shamus says:

      And if Duke had interesting characters, tight pacing, intense atmosphere, inventive puzzles, and solid shooting mechanics, it would be as good as Half-Life 2.

      1. Alexander The 1st says:

        Yeap. No argument there. Just saying that as amazing as interactive FPS stuff was then, it’s not a guarantee of a good game. :p

        Though I’ve heard from enough people that Half Life 2 is good, so I’ll take it on their word. I’ll have to see more, I think though.

        1. StranaMente says:

          I might have a spare copy of that game on my steam account, I think, if you want to give it a try?
          EDIT: I confirm, I got a spare copy of hl 2.

          1. Cezar says:

            I always wanted Half Life 2 and once a community I was part of had this giveaway and I missed it. And then there was the STEAM giveaway with the ATI cards and I missed that too! And now I have no credit card or funds to buy it!

            (I don’t mean to steal Alexander’s gift, I was just expressing frustration…)

            I had Half Life a long time ago when I had a roommate, liked the story, and I still managed to avoid any Wikis that talk about it! Because of you Shamus I have to find money now!

            1. StranaMente says:

              Ok, then. Alexander will get his hands his hands on this game by other means, that means that the copy is yours!
              I got that sitting in my account for quite some time, since I bought the orange box on a sale or something.
              My mail is mlaudonio at gmail dot com. You can add me as a friend, and I’ll give you the game.

              1. StranaMente says:

                Thinking about it, maybe it’s easier if you look for StranaMente. I have the same avatar for steam, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find me.

                1. Cezar says:

                  I heard about the kindness of the internet, but I thought it was only a myth created by the Goverment to hide the imminent threat of a Reaper invasion.

                  Today, I was proven wrong!

                  Thank you kind stranger man of the internet!

          2. Alexander The 1st says:

            I should be okay without getting a copy of Half Life 2 – at my university, they have a copy for rental, I think, so I’ll just try it out there when I get back. Maybe once I finish playing the games*, they’ll finally announce Half Life 2: Episode 3!

            Thanks for the offer though.

            *I also hope they Half Life 1 as well, given that I prefer to play games in order – chronologically (Such as with the MGS series) or sequentially (1, 2, 3, etc.).

    4. Exetera says:

      Duke Nukem Forever and Half-Life 2 are both old-school shooters. Weaponless openings are not atypical of shooters in that style or from that era. Other games which start you off without a weapon include the original Half-Life and the original Halo.

      1. aldowyn says:

        whenever I replay Halo 1 I’m like “gimme a friggin gun I wanna shoot stome grunts!”

        You can’t even melee!

      2. Rutskarn says:

        Duke Nukem Forever? Old-school shooter? Tell that to the 2-weapon limit, regenerating health, and cover-based gameplay.

        1. X2-Eliah says:

          Get with the times, old man – coverbased weapon-limited health-regenerating corridor crawlers ARE the new oldschool. Referring to the days of pre-oldschool, you’d have to talk about the golden era of games, when NEITHER an rpg NOR a shooter were cover-based ….. (cough ME3 cough GoW)

          1. JPH says:

            I’m pretty sure you’re joking here, but I’ll bite anyway. None of those are “old-school” because they’re still the norm. Once regenerating health, cover-based shooting and Two Guns aren’t used in games anymore, THEN you can call them old-school.

            And I will be very happy to see that day.

            1. X2-Eliah says:

              Myeeeah, the point through all that sarcasm was that this rubbish has been the norm for a very very long time now, and there are likely a lot of gamers who don’t even know games / haven’t played games without this junk.

        2. Exetera says:

          My apologies for the imprecision; it started as an old-school shooter.

    5. Entropy says:

      Yeah, Duke Nukem Forever was a very impressive shooter 6 years ago.


      (DNF is basically a microcosm of all the fads FPSes have gone through the past decade or so. The non-combat beginning being a fad started by Half-life. )

    6. Daemian Lucifer says:

      While the original half life still has a great atmosphere(to me at least),I wouldnt want to watch someone else play it.Especially the beginning.Plus,that game really is old,I dont think many could stomach that now.You could start with 2 and not miss much anyway,and that one aged much better than 1.

  10. Joel D says:

    Ever since Spoiler Warning got a page on TvTropes, Mumbles found it “too mainstream”, and just had to leave :p

    1. ulrichomega says:

      I wish you hadn’t mentioned that. I was planning on doing some work, maybe play Terraria for a bit before making a cake for my mom’s birthday. But NOPE. Off to TvTropes.

      1. aldowyn says:

        I’ve actually looked before, thanks for telling me :P

  11. Mincecraft says:

    Rutskarn was the only one able to pull off a full intro there.

    You guys were doing so well.

  12. ksleet says:

    My favorite creepy angle of HL2 is the clocks. There are all these clocks on the walls, and nearly every one of them has the hands deliberately broken off.

    Under the Combine, you don’t get to know what time it is. The Combine know. You don’t.

    1. Just like every payphone without exception has it’s cord cut. It’s never so much as commented on, but not a single one is operable.

  13. Factoid says:

    Re: the can cop. I just went back and played HL2 a couple months ago. I had no idea they’d added achievements until I threw the can at the cop and got one. Incidentally it bounced off of him and INTO the trash can. That was pretty sweet. I could tell for a split second that he was winding up into his “Ima hit you” animation, until it landed in the bin and he moved aside and let me pass.

    1. krellen says:

      Because they made them achievements, I have done both.

      I also put the stupid gnome in the stupid rocket. That broke me of my “gotta get them all” achieveness.

      1. Entropy says:

        I found the gnome achievement crazy fun. The grub achievement would be boring madness slog.

        1. krellen says:

          I found it tedious, because I had to stop the car every thirty seconds to get the gnome again.

          1. kanodin says:

            I found repeatedly punting the gnome with the gravity gun fun, probably because I kept trying to improve my distance.

          2. Entropy says:

            Yeah, the car part was a little bit of a hassle, but trying to wedge him in the car is a fools game. I just grav gunned him around. Got kinda tedious at times, but I really enjoyed trying to outrun a chopper with a gnome.

    2. RejjeN says:

      I do that all the time, it’s the only PROPER way to do it if you ask me :3

  14. Raygereio says:

    Man, Half Life 2. Oh, how I hate thee. No, actually I don’t that game. I just don’t think anywhere near good.
    My main issue was the downright poor combat. It just wasn’t any fun, mainly due to there being no good, satisfying-to-use weapons.
    That and I just outright hated a lot of the leveldesigns and combatencounters.

    However I do agree that the narretive techniques Valve used are downright excellent. I actually can’t think of a single game that takes the mantra of “show, don’t tell” more to heart then Halfe Life 2.
    My main issue with the story though is that in no small part due to valve’s minimalist approach to storytelling, the actual plot that’s being teld just doesn’t get fleshed out.
    That and the bits the game does throw at you just didn’t work for me. I don’t know why, I just didn’t like it.

    Let me just end on an actual positive note. I love Half Life 2’s art design. When you walk around City 17, it really feels like the dystopian urban center that Valve wanted.

    Also, my sollution for the thrashcan-cop dilemma was to throw the thrash at the cop and then run around until he got bored of chasing me. Naturally I hummed the benny hill theme to myself.

    1. Hal says:

      I agree about the “non-fleshed out story” from Valve, but not for this game. Actually, where this drives me nuts is with the Left 4 Dead games. There are mountains of contextual story provided, but very little given explicitly. I find that frustrating beyond belief, because I just want to know something about how things came to be and what’s currently happening, but it’s just not there.

      (I know, it’s not really the point of the games, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting it.)

      1. Jabrwock says:

        Actually, I like the feeling it gives of being swept along with events, without it being blunt and expositing at you. You feel the same confusion and isolation as the characters.

      2. decius says:

        The point of Left 4 Dead is that nobody really knows how things came to be, or how it will end. There are snippets of “other people are in exactly the same situation we are” and the Survivors aren’t particularly special among the immune.

        Messages scrawled on the wall, generators and supplies staged but unused… Who stashed this rifle here? Are they going to need it?

        L4D puts the ultimate moral question into gameplay terms: Do I use the equipment cached by others for my own benefit? Somebody made those pipebombs, and they might still need them. Do I have the right to steal these vital supplies from their unknown owner?

        I hope the third installment implies that somebody died because their supplies were stolen from their safety area while they were scavenging for food.

        1. Jabrwock says:

          That would be crazy. Sort of like that Metal Gear Solid level where you walk past the ghosts of every enemy you’ve killed so far in the game. So if you murder a lot of guards, the jungle is quite full of ghosts.

    2. Moriarty says:

      no “good, satisfying-to-use weapons”?

      I can think of few more satisfying weapons than the gravity gun. Pummeling a squad of combine to death with a soiled mattress never gets old.

      The handgun sound effects are quite weak though.

    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

      I keep hearing people say how combat in hl2 was bad,and I dont get it.I played it when it came out,and it had great ai(though it was mostly due to scripting),and numerous ways in which you could fight out each encounter.It was great,and not surpassed by any of the games at the time.

      But I want to understand this,so please tell me,what is good satisfying combat in a fps?

      1. Raygereio says:

        @Mr. Morningstar:
        That’s funny. I keep hearing from people that combat was awesome in Half Life 2 and I don’t get that either.
        If you want me to give you a detailed list of what makes combat in a FPS fun for me. Then I can’t do that. Not now anyway, I’ll need to seriously think about that.
        That said, I can’t call the AI great. I call it working. Which is actually more then I can say for some games (is playing Stalker Clear Sky).
        My main issue though with Half Life 2’s combat are the weapons. They just weren’t any fun to use. The shotgun was okay, but then you really have to work at it to frell up a shotgun.

        Mind you, I didn’t play Half Life 2 when it came out. I sat through roughly 5 years worth of hype and people telling me left and right about how it’s the damned greatest game ever.
        Now, I realise nothing can actually live up to that (save for the likes of Deus Ex which I played 2 years ago for the first time and while I didn’t think of it as pure awesomonium, it was damned good). But what I’m trying to say is that I don’t compare it to the games that were out in 2004. I compare the fun I had playing Half Life 2, to the fun I had playing any game. Note that I’m not calling it bad, just not good.
        I played Half Life 2 right after I played Fear which certainly has it’s faults, but does have the best assault rifle in a game ever.

        I’ll admit that the possibility exists that if I had played HL2 when it came out, that I would have rememebered it slightly more fondly. Up until I would have replayed it a couple of years down the road that is and realised how it has not aged well, that is.

        @Moriarty: I actually really hated the gravity gun. The thing was okay when they turned it into a one-shot-kill-weapon at the end, but before that point there was nothing but frustration whenever Valve forced me to use it.
        I’m actually having trouble remembering why I hated the damned thing so much, since it’s been so long since I played the game. I think it was the running around looking for ammo part that I didn’t like.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          “I played Half Life 2 right after I played Fear which certainly has it's faults, but does have the best assault rifle in a game ever.”

          Well theres your problem.Like you said,f.e.a.r. has many problems,but combat is not one of them.Also the hype.Hype is never a good thing.Im not sure if any game would live up to the hype if I were to play it for the first time now.Maybe starcraft.

          1. WILL says:

            Somewhere in a parallel universe there exists a version of HL2 where it has FEAR’s combat and AI – and it is beautiful.

  15. WILL says:

    This game has not aged gracefully – mostly because a lot of the things it brought have been used in many games and used better.

    Playing it felt like playing an old tech demo. I hated playing it, and actually fell asleep during some parts, especially the cutscenes. The only interesting character in it is the G-Man (and maybe Dog), every other one feels like filler and incredibly boring. What little story there is barely made any progress at the end of the game, and in general the gameplay just feels weak (might just be the unsatisfying sound and impact some guns make though). Hearing Valve boast about their “design”, especially when the game lacks any good art design (the Citadel is one of the ugliest levels I’ve ever seen) and especially when they fail at some very basic things. Infinite enemies in Ravenholm, with a clear spawning point so the zombies are always travelling in a line? Ugh. Stopping a high speed chase in a boat with some simple puzzles? Talk about killing the pace of the game.

    Episode 1 was an hour long, so yeah, that was pretty disappointing. Episode 2 actually had some story in it, and some character developpement – it was much, much better than the original HL2.

    This is all opinion though, and keep in mind I played this game in 2009, so it really wasn’t as revelating as it was in 2004. Not even the gravity gun was impressive, Bioshock had a better (or at least more fun) one.

    1. WILL says:

      I also loved getting stuck in small buildings while my squad of incompetent rebels blocked the door and reminded me to reload. Having every character treat Gordon like a god got old real fast, too.

      I didn’t hate the ending (hated the boss fight, gave up there because of how frustrating it was), but then I could skip to the episodes right then and there. It must’ve been awful to play a 10 hour game and get such a lame cliffhanger in 2004.

      1. James says:

        you can tell them to move btw, it starts as an unassaigned command but i put it on x so they’d get out the way and maby not get killed and let me who has killed many of these guys handle it. that said least the AI is better then (any bethesda game) ans much better then Sheva Almodava, that girl was stupid

      2. Jabrwock says:

        At least they’re not saying “Excuse me Sir, you’re in my spot…”

        That makes The Spoony One go postal…

  16. Eddie says:

    Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever disagreed with you guys more about a game. You talk about how all this environmental storytelling slowly paints a picture of an oppressive, authoritarian government, but it totally doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny. For example, you talk about how dirty and delapidated everything is, but you’re the one that’s going around throwing garbage on the floor and breaking things and you’ve been harassing people as much as the Metrocops are. This isn’t an alien invasion and an oppresive government, this is the tragic story of a city trying desperately to rebuild itself after the last player character came through, just in time for Gordon Freeman to come in and mess everything up again.

    1. WILL says:

      Everyone is surprisingly cheerful in this game, despite the oh-so terrible invasion.

    2. Peter H. Coffin says:

      Do you really expect Josh to play any other way?

    3. JPH says:

      So, because you have the power to break bottles and throw coke cans at Metrocops, that means the entire alien invasion is moot?

      Yeah, geez, Shamus, what the hell are you going on about…

      1. Thomas says:

        But in a way, I agree completely. Environmental story telling is great, but the player never fits the environment. There is no Gordan Freeman because he doesn’t interact with the world properly and Valve did all this he’s you business. But you’re not the hero either. You’re a player and you’ve been trained to break games, throw around crates and general walk all over the place and crowbar the walls when people are talking to you.

        It’s like they’ve told a story and then replaced the protagonists with a gaping hole through which you can see something alien and a little bit moronic.

        I honestly think, that in some ways, for storytelling to evolve in games, it won’t be about giving the player freedom, but restricting that freedom in a way they don’t notice. Heavy Rain is pretty good at it and Uncharted is very (very) slowly and feebly, feeling it’s way around it. Modern Warefare is probably better at it, actually

  17. ccesarano says:

    Pacing and story-telling is mostly the result of game developers not thinking in terms of the medium, really. Most games try to deliver a theatrical experience which means a lot of cut-scenes, but it also means long levels of the plot making no progress until the next designated story-point, and in those moments events feel rushed in order to create a sense of progress.

    Homefront was the victim of writing a game as if it were a movie, and badly at that. Unfortunately, most studios don’t have the time to carefully craft the story and levels simultaneously. Not in the manner Valve can manage, at least.

    1. Shamus says:

      In Homefront, I would have let the player explore a neighborhood on their own. Like HL2, it would be something you could explore and savor for half an hour and absorb all the little details, or sprint through in five minutes. Start things off slow, then intensify it until they are drawn into the conflict.

      It’s just sad to see thirty million dollars of game mangled by a fumbling ten-minute intro. Particularly since I think they were TRYING to be like HL2. (Maybe I’m wrong, but the bus ride did give me that “Tram Ride” vibe.)

      1. ccesarano says:

        I think the bus ride was partly inspired by the opening of Modern Warfare (CoD4), where the President of Middle-Eastern-stan was tossed into the back seat of a car and forced to watch as his country was torn apart by terrorists. I mean, in truth, this game is basically trying to match Modern Warfare at every step.

        Which is a shame, because there are a lot of missed opportunities as a result. When you first wake up in that room with the Korean Gestapo pounding at your door, my first reaction was “there’s a window. I should jump out of it”. Even though it looked completely possible, there was no such option. Imagine if, instead of trying to railroad the player so precisely, they allowed you to try and run from all these Korean forces. Hell, imagine running past men and/or women embracing their children in fear as soon as they spot you, or even telling the Koreans where you’re going out of fear of their own hide.

        But Homefront was too focused on wanting to tell their story rather than provide a world that the player could experience for themselves. This is where a lot of developers see what Valve is doing, but don’t study it or get it. If that first room in Homefront were developed by Valve, they’d have focus tests that would note players approaching the window, wanting to escape, and think “Okay, we should do something with that”. Even if it meant “get rid of it”.

        In truth, it feels like more game developers should read D&D Game Master blogs to learn about the dangers of rail-roading, and how to lead a player onto a path with bread crumbs while making them believe it was their choice all along (which is hard, but every once in a while I play a game where I feel like I defeated a boss in some clever way…only to later discover I did exactly what the designers intended).

        1. WILL says:

          In contrast, CoD4’s intro was brilliantly done as well, honestly moreso than HL2’s. It’s pretty much the last good Call of Duty game, although Black Ops had an interesting(ish) story.

          1. Fat Tony says:

            No, just no.

          2. ccesarano says:

            I wouldn’t say CoD4’s intro was better than Half-Life’s or HL2’s. They had similarities, but they were trying to accomplish different things and establish the situation in a different manner. It would have been one thing to have seen the President (or was it a Prime Minister? I can’t even keep up) get shot on live TV. What was necessary was to see what the fiasco was doing to the country and establish a sense that, yes, these were some bad dudes.

            Neither Half-Life game had to make such an establishment in the beginning. At least, not quite the same tone. The first Half-Life used the tram-car to introduce Black Mesa in a sterile and pristine condition. That way, when all Hell broke loose, you’d recognize the place as it was…and suddenly you would feel just a twang of emotion at seeing it in ruins. For the time it was effective, but it was a bit fast-paced. I preferred Halo’s method, though I know a lot of people hated that. You basically revisited half the game at a different time, only now all the soldiers were dead and these alien foes that you’ve been struggling with are getting their asses handed to them. That had a much more emotional impact on me, but in many scenes that also had to do with the musical score.

            In terms of Half-Life 2, well, you can say “intro sequence” and mean just the train, but honestly, I’d have trouble defining where the “intro” stops. Maybe when you first step into that transporter that is screwed up by the crab? I’d have to go back a bit, but either way, Half-Life 2 takes a lot more time to introduce the world to you while still putting the player in the driver’s seat. Very different from CoD4 and the original Half-Life, and more in common with gradual world-building that Halo had.

            1. krellen says:

              I think the intro ends when you get the crowbar.

              1. decius says:

                The intro ends when you kill a combine soldier and get a gun. That’s the point where Gordon goes from being a victim (so far) evading the combine to a member of the resistance.

                If you play pacifist, then you are writing your own narrative, and you decide what the intro is.

          3. Daemian Lucifer says:

            The last good call of duty game was call of duty 1.Yeah,the intro to 4 was nice,but the game sucks(in single player at least).I made a mistake once and got the autosave in a very bad place surrounded by enemies,and played through it about 30 times(because Im stubborn and didnt want to reload from the previous part),and theyve always done the exact same thing.Really,by the end I couldve passed through that part blindfolded.And that sucks.

        2. Chuck says:

          I applaud this so much.

          black ops had Reznov, and that makes everything better.

        3. Irridium says:

          That happened to me with all of HL2’s puzzles. I thought I did it a clever and unique way, only to later realize it was the only way.

          1. Except the see-saw puzzle, it has several ways. Once I sprinted and cleared the pit entirely.

  18. Shamus says:

    Man, you people are all so negative about this game. I think you’re just looking for things to complain about. It’s great and you’re just trying to sound cool by hating on stuff because you want to be Yahtzee or something. There’s nothing wrong with this game.

    …No, not really. It’s just that people say this to me all the time and it feels good to be on the other side of things for a change.

    1. StranaMente says:

      Is this in general or are you talking to invisible people, Shamus? I’m worrying.

    2. sab says:

      Wanting to be like Yahtzee…. I guess that explains the bonnet.

      1. acronix says:

        Next step is to swear every fourteen words. Or less.

      2. JPH says:

        In that case we all need to start beginning our comments with “Shamus, you charismatic stallion!”

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Shamus you herculean exemplar!(thats my favourite)

  19. X2-Eliah says:

    So, are you doing this in a progression until the time runs out? Or do we get to see some of the later stuff too (like citadel, ravenholm)?

    1. James says:

      i’d like to see some shows from different places in the game cus we only get 1 week of it, so maby Ravenholm and setting antlions on everyone would be cool.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Id prefer it if they went until the time runs out,then revisit it once new vegas is done.And have Mumbles be the negative one in the bunch,for a bit of a change.

  20. Yerushalmi says:

    The first time I played HL2, I intended to put the can in the trash, and pressed the wrong button and threw it at the cop instead.

  21. Dante says:

    Mumbles leaves….and your viewship drops….actually, I don’t know that, but its just conjecture….

    I never actually finished HL2, I really should get it on Steam…..

    1. Dude says:

      It’s like if Yvonne left Chuck, right!

      1. aldowyn says:

        So does that mean you like Miranda? :D

        1. Dude says:

          Actually, I do. She’s not among my favorite game characters by any stretch, but she doesn’t deserve as much hate as she gets.

          Shepard on the other hand is a brick douche.

          1. sab says:

            Secondeded. ed.

          2. X2-Eliah says:

            Shepard on the other hand is a brick douche

            Couldn’t agree more – the female Shepard is just so incredibly annoying and stale, not to mention sexed up, that you;d find douches of lesser caliber in Jersey Shore. Good thing the male Shepard is at least not as bad.

        2. Daemian Lucifer says:

          I hate miranda but kinda like sarah.So its possible to be bi about that.

  22. Ravens Cry says:

    It is interesting seen you guys ooh, and awe over something instead of ripping it to shreds. You do eventually find something to complain about, but it feels very different from you guys.
    I never played Half-Life 1, but I did play Half Life 1: Blue Shift starring a mute Barney Calhoun, and even then, it had a nice long stretch where you were just doing ordinary things in an ordinary way. No combat. Riding to work on the monorail, been greeted by collogues, talking to, been talked at rather, scientists.
    Just a regular day at Black Mesa. While not as evocative as this, it did work to set up the mood.

    1. Dude says:

      Yes! I’ve been saying this for a couple of seasons; they need to pick a game they’re going to praise a lot more often than rip apart. It’s really awesome when they do.

      Arkham Asylum, you guys!

      1. X2-Eliah says:

        Hm.. I think Shamus hates arkham asylum, though? Might be I’m misremembering, but iirc one of the cast hated that game, and it wasn’t Mumbles nor ruts..

        1. Shamus says:

          No, I thought AA was stellar.

          However, we’ve all agreed that the game doesn’t have enough meat to support 10 hours of commentary. Near the end it would suffer the same fate as BioShock: The bile would be turned up to 11 because there’s lots of combat left and nothing to talk about, and it’s WAY more fun to play than to watch.

          I think AA would be good for a one-week review where we plow through the first hour and leave it at that.

          1. WILL says:

            Ooooh, hey Shamus is Witcher 2 next? That’d be a nice balance of praise/bile!

            Although personally I’d like to see you guys tackle Dragon Age 2 and basically do what you did for ME2 – show and analyze every single thing that is wrong with the game.

            I’m aware suggestions for next seasons are not really taken into account though. :P

            1. Naota says:

              But-… but then what will I do for fun? :O

          2. X2-Eliah says:

            Aye, sounds good, a week of AA would indeed be nice (maybe after you get through F:NV?).

            @Will – Hmm, I genuinely hope they *don’t* do witcher 2, personally.. I couldn’t stomach Shamus complaining about Geralt being a different sort of character than he likes just because of his own choices.. Well, anyway, that’s a different rant, but generally I agree with Shamus on most things, but having read his reviews & tweets about it, I know I would hate to see SW of W2.

            Plus, you know, it’s horribly unsuited to the SW-type of game-display.

            Seconded on Dragon Age 2 though.

            1. Shamus says:

              I actually like the W2 Geralt MUCH better. I still think he’s not very interesting, but I don’t hate his guts like I did in the original. His dialog is better, the dialog is less stiff, and he even gets in a few nice insults, which too few games allow you to do.

              1. WILL says:

                Have you ever thought of doing a blind run of a game? Most games these days give enough clues as to where to go that not a lot of time would be wasted I think. You could play something like Deus Ex 3 right as it releases and that’d be pretty interesting.

                1. The problem with a blind run is, as we’ve seen in Dead Money, they have no interesting or insightful commentary – at least two need to have played it, including Josh before it can work.
                  Hence why Rutskarn’s reaction to the end of ME2 was good, whilst still being for him a ‘blind run’

                  1. Shamus says:

                    Yes, I think we’ve worked out a general rule of thumb: At least two of us needs to have played it, and one of them needs to be the one driving. (Which is usually, but not always, Josh. This weekend we very nearly did Deus Ex, but I would have been the player, and I didn’t have the game installed. I installed it today, so the next time we need some filler episodes I’ll be ready to go.)

                    1. StranaMente says:

                      How about Alpha Protocol?
                      I bought it after the summer sale and I’m playing it right now.
                      Luckly I still haven’t met a bug, and I discovered that it’s way easier to play with a xbox controller, so I’m having quite some fun with it.
                      Besides (until now) there has been the right amount of talking and shoting.

              2. Irridium says:

                Indeed. Instead they seem more then happy to let NPC’s insult the hell out of you, and not let you do anything about it.

                Best example is Little Lamplight.

                1. acronix says:

                  I might be mistaken, but the games that do that (your character is incapable of any worthwile insulting) allow the player to customize the character quite a lot. It´s like the developers are afraid the player will make a player-insert and start using clever insults on all their beloved NPCs.

                  “I might be mistaken”, though.

              3. X2-Eliah says:

                Allrighty, I stand corrected :)

          3. Daemian Lucifer says:

            But combat in arkham asylum is fun and varied.Though I admit,I didnt watch anyone do it,so maybe your right.

            How about a semi-blind run of baldurs gate then?

  23. Some Jackass says:

    Im shocked Josh didnt say “STOP BEATING ME!”
    Though Im sure there will be plenty of “STOP SHOOTING ME!”s to come

    1. Peter H. Coffin says:

      He came really close, though. As though here were torn between saying it and not saying it…

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Its almost like Josh is restraining himself from saying the line.

  24. Fat Tony says:

    Thoose loading screens drag on…. on the FUCKING XBOX

    1. WILL says:

      If you’re playing HL2 on the Xbox you’re not playing HL2.

      On the 360… yes. But not the Xbox. *shudders*

      1. X2-Eliah says:

        isn’t that still an xbox tho?

        1. Inyssius says:

          In the same way that an SNES is still an NES, or a PSP is still a Playstation.

  25. Gravebound says:

    Speaking to the ‘not taking place in New York City’ aspect: I HAAAAAATE New York City. It’s all over movies, and television and videogames. I’ve never visited New York City (flown over it though) and I never will because I’ve already been there 1,000 times over, and it’s stale and tired. Same thing with L.A.

    And on the rare occasion when it takes place somewhere else it’s only the most famous, landmark filled cities. Takes place in France? Here’s Paris and a shot of the Eiffel Tower (so you KNOW it’s France). Trip to England? The only city there is London, right? Oh look, giant Ferris wheel. Can’t go to Egypt without showing the pyramids…..etc.

    It’s all very ridiculous.

    1. Naota says:

      See also: American characters shoehorned into plots and setting they have no earthly business being in. Post-revolution Siberian Gulag escape? Unexplained American prisoner. First World War flying ace movie? Entire cast of American pilots sent over to Britain. Classic European fiction-themed group of Extrordinary Gentlemen? Random inserted American gunslinger with no extrordinary anythings, yet he has the most integral role in the plot.

      Because you can’t possibly have a story with a leading character from anywhere but the good ‘ole US of A and expect the audience to identify with them, right?

      Imagine how utterly ridiculous this looks to me, a Canadian. When is the last time you saw a Canadian character in a movie? I mean damn… I must not be able to identify with any leading character. Ever.

      1. Gravebound says:

        “When is the last time you saw a Canadian character in a movie?”

        ‘Brain Candy’ and ‘Strange Brew’ :D

        1. Naota says:

          The 80’s don’t count. Everyone was Canadian in the 80’s.

          1. Hitch says:

            Well there’s Wolverine. Except in the 80’s when he was inexplicably Australian.

            1. Naota says:

              Being Canadian already, clearly the style-and-taste-murdering xeno-rays of the 80’s kaleidoscopically shifted his nationality to Australian instead.

              Just be glad he didn’t mutate into a giant sentient animal involved in some sort of underground resistance movement. That happened a lot too.

      2. krellen says:

        Well, it’s not a movie, but the lead scientist in Stargate: Atlantis (who is also the best character) is Canadian.

        1. aldowyn says:

          McKay, right? He’s an arrogant jerk, but in a good way.

          Complete with maple leaf patch on his shoulder :)

          1. krellen says:

            McKay is (apparently) significantly cooler and his arrogance less jarring if you’ve only seen Atlantis and not SG1, as exemplified in me.

            1. ehlijen says:

              I suspect the whole show becomes better that way as Shepard won’t be wants-to-be-O’niel and Ronin won’t be wants-to-be-te’alc.

      3. Michael says:

        Wait, are you saying that I can’t identify with a character unless he’s from my home country? I’ve been doing it wrong this whole time!

        I thought it was the character of the character that mattered, silly me! I know now the only thing that matters is their nationality!

        1. Lalaland says:

          You can when they’re well written, when they’re stock tropes it sticks out. Of course this is true for any countries cinema but US cinema is the most widely distributed so it stands out more. I can’t wait to see a Bollywood or Nollywood interpretation of Dublin at some point.

          I think it stands out more in historical films where US characters are often inserted in as heroes often displacing real people or distorting the story. Take Bon Jovi in “U871” he’s a US serviceman inserted into a story about UK sailors who captured an Enigma machine (the plot is tosh historically anyway). Imagine seeing a UK movie where a plucky Brit persuades reluctant or defeatist US soldiers to charge forward and overcome on Iwo Jima.

      4. WILL says:

        I think Modern Warfare 2 gets away with it because of batshit insane the plot is. Also the americans never win in that series – it’s always the brits.

        IE, the prisoner was british, and he had a good reason to be there. Kinda.

      5. acronix says:

        There was a Jackie Chan movie based on the Monkey King (or whatever). They were about to make it about a chinnesse kid who was transported into the world of the book and would find out about his roots or something. Then Jackie Chan stepped and said “Let´s change our chinnesse boy for an american boy!”. The reason? American main characters sell better.

        1. Jabrwock says:

          Instead the plot was about an American boy with unrealistic notions about Asia and martial arts being put in his place and getting slapped around by Jet Li and Jackie Chan.

          Good stuff.

    2. JPH says:

      I visited New York City last year. It doesn’t look bad, but it smells AWFUL. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back, and if I do I’ll probably have to bring a nose plug.

    3. Someone says:

      Can’t believe nobody mentioned Scott Pilgrim yet.

      1. Bret says:

        They didn’t see it because they’re bad people.

        It also is perhaps the only work of fiction with a gay telemarketer as one of the most likable characters.

    4. decius says:

      Try going to NYC. There’s a BIG difference between pushing up on your mouse and seeing some polygons, and turning a corner, tilting your head up 20 degrees, and looking at the clouds obscure the top of a building.

    5. Simon Buchan says:

      Ehh. I liked New York. Wish I had spent some more time there, though not enough to take another trip. Now New York*ers*, (at least Manhattanites) that’s another story….

  26. Fat Tony says:

    Forgive me if I’m wrong but California, thats where ALL of the PORN comes from. Is that why Rutskarn thinks it’s important.

  27. Fat Tony says:

    Wait WHAT! No jazz outro, HOW DARE YOU!

  28. StranaMente says:

    Can’t believe you finally get to make SW for half life. It makes me wish that Mumbles can’t connect more often!
    I’m eager to see the next episodes.

  29. Viktor says:

    You guys mentioned Halo and forgot about it. Came out in 2001, and had very large open areas. Still linear, but individual areas were far larger than that courtyard.

    1. X2-Eliah says:

      Also GTA3. That game had very big open areas. With stuff to do. And shooting.

    2. Naota says:

      Size is hardly the only measure of quality here. Thief, which came out in 1998, had areas reams bigger and more complicated than the ones in Halo, but also filled with more meaningful gameplay elements. I think the point they were making was that at the level of detail HL2 has, an area that wide open with that much graphical fidelity was a new and amazing thing.

      A game like Halo has lots of open space, but nothing inside that space other than a few rather low-poly terrain segments and some prefab structures composed of large, flat surfaces which are easy on the renderer. It still looks good, but only because of the carefully chosen visual style which can get away without any minute detail. It’s not presenting a believable (and populated) East European cityscape full of nooks and crannies, themselves scattered about with little interactive detail props the way HL2 does.

    3. Shamus says:

      Sorry for the lack of clarity. I was talking about “urban areas”, which are a unique challenge.

      1. Friend of Dragons says:

        Morrowind was around this time period, right? Although its graphics were quite a bit less impressive.

        1. WILL says:

          Comparing Halo 1 to HL2 isn’t exactly fair – Halo 2 came out roughly at the same time as Half-life 2 and it had some very big environnements.

          Also it had no loading screens between levels. That was pretty cool.

          1. Jabrwock says:

            And yet games still don’t take advantage of it enough. You’d think that games with tight linear corridors would be able to make great use of dynamic loading, since they only have to keep track of a small area at a time.

            The game engine companies need to step up and make this a “must have” feature.

        2. Inyssius says:

          I have seen Vivec. Your argument is invalid. :P

  30. wyatt1048 says:

    I can’t believe how good Half Life looks, even in comparison with today’s games. Normally when I go back to old games, I go ‘Aww, isn’t it cute that they’re trying with graphics?’ but with this, it’s still acceptable. The low end of acceptable for today, but still I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a much more recent release.

    I’ll tell you one thing about the plot, and all the back story, that amazed me: you can ignore it completely. You can just dash past everything, not bothering to look at the graffiti, but if you want to know more, the game forces you to investigate, and draw your own conclusions. Compared with all the games I’d played up to that point pretty much forcing every aspect of the story down your throat, it actually got me more involved, because I couldn’t sit back and watch the story, I had to get involved and think about it.

    1. X2-Eliah says:

      Yeah, I don’t really get why many people say the graphics are too aged in this game. I mean.. I replayed it – without ay episodes & w/e – about 8 months ago last time, and frankly it *still* looked decent enough – yeah, it’s a bit insubstantial/unrealistic at places, but nevertheless consistent & good enough, imo.. If you can play minecraft / deus ex / thief and complain about HL2’s graphics, then.. Well, idk. Somehow seems wrong to me.

      On the dashing past stuff point… This vid is, incidentally, the first time I’ve noticed the side-place with the vortigaunt broom sweeper – I never ever looked at that place in my playthroughs. And I used to think I spent a lot of time just admiring HL2’s world, heh.

      1. Zekiel says:

        I played HL2 for the first time last autumn and loved it. When I played it my thoughts too were “wow this looks good for a 2004 game”. But then I read somewhere a few months ago that Valve actually updated the graphics at some point in the last 6 years, so it didn’t actually look this good in 2004. But I can’t recall the source (no pun intended!) for that information.

  31. Thomas says:

    In all honesty, my understanding of the Homeworld problem is that the main writer was a paranoid red-scare McCarthyist right-wing military nut who believes this sort of thing strikes a vibe. He was the one who wanted the descent into animal brutalistic madness in Apocalypse Now to be presented as a good thing, and although I haven’t seen Red Dawn, I’ve heard it’s got about the same storytelling subtlety.

    1. Jabrwock says:

      As Shamus pointed out though, it wasn’t the story the writer was trying to tell that was the issue, it was the way it was presented. In HF you get railroaded via the bus passing you by all the necessary NPCs spouting exposition (either by telling you via “overheard” conversations, or outright telling you.

      In HL2, you get to explore around, and actually experience some of the brutality yourself. It lends to more emotional involvement in the world you’re trying to save.

      There’s nothing wrong with dialing up the enemy to 11 in terms of overbearing camp. The can cop is the perfect example. But if it’s not presented well, then the can cop is just background noise. You need it to feel as if it works within the world. HF announcing secret mass graves when there are broad daylight mass murders just seems like the writers were confused as to whether the atrocities are supposed to be hidden behind a veil of benevolence (ala “creeping socialism”), or so obvious even the average Joe couldn’t miss it. That disconnect breaks the immersion.

      1. acronix says:

        If you want to make a character evil, you make him kick a puppy. You want him to be the most evil thing ever? Make the good guys speak of mass-graves made by the Evil One. EVERYONE knows that the pinacle of evil things are mass graves. *sarcastic nod*

        I´d say it´s one of those cases of (invoquing Godwin´s Law!) “If it´s evil and the nazis did it, it is the most evil thing ever. Even more evil than the other things they did, which are also the most evil things ever.”

        1. Jabrwock says:

          The funny thing is, mass graves don’t make Nazi-esque behavior. Every brutal regime or “barbaric” invader does the wholesale slaughter of the people. What made the Nazis special was the fact that they made it a system. It wasn’t just an army rolling in and massacring the locals. It was the paperwork. The bureaucracy. The institution. A mass grave, WITH a complete catalogue of who all was buried there. In triplicate.

          It just seems so disjoint that they SHOW you brutality and wholesale slaughter, and then this guys tells you all conspiratorially that there are RUMOURS of mass graves? Really? Only rumours? With people being shot in the street, I would have taken it as a given… *shrug* It’s almost a good moment for someone to turn to the guy and go “duh, where have YOU been lately?”

          1. Alexander The 1st says:

            …Now I can no longer separate the image of a Nazi Vogon.

            American “Secret Agent”: “Hi, I’m transfering these Jews to another concentration camp and totally not trying to free them, don’t mind me.”

            Nazi “Bureaucrat”: “Ok, let me see your papers…Ah, hmm…This won’t do. This is a ‘mass grave transfer form’, not a ‘concentration camp transfer form’ – those are blue.”

            …Okay, maybe that was in bad taste. Still, it’s the first scene from the movie of HHGTTG that came to mind. <_<

            1. Jabrwock says:

              It’s sad, but true. Look at Shindler’s List…

              He had the right connections to change their concentration camp transfer forms into factory worker transfer forms…

      2. Thomas says:

        It really was the story. Exploration wouldn’t have helped because it was just so atrocious. Shamus said it too, it was pacing and subtlety. If I was in control of my character walking around the block and I discovered “oh look the bad guys are shooting children, right next to the other bad guy kicking a puppy and now this freaky NPC is whispering about mass graves”

        It would have been just as bad. Shamus mentioned Valve not condescending the player. Well Homefront is condescending to it’s villains, never mind the player

    2. WILL says:

      I know you meant Homefront, but you just gave me the urge to play Homeworld again.

      It’s hard to resist.

      1. Jabrwock says:

        I should dig up my copy of HW. I loved the 3 dimensional fleet battles.

        1. aldowyn says:

          I was really confused for a second there… you answered as if he said Homefront with absolutely no mention of the mistake.

          Yeah, Homeworld was fun. But, I happen to suck at it. 3D tactics are HARD sometimes.

          1. Jabrwock says:

            I’m having a hard enough time with 2D flanking maneuvers right now in Rome:Total War… So I sympathize. ;)

        2. Zekiel says:

          Awesome… and (almost on-topic) I thought Homeworld actually did a brilliant job of conveying a story in spite of barely having any characters whatsoever. Really amazing.

    3. ehlijen says:

      Do you mean Homefront? Homeworld was a fun game with a great story buildup. Also a space RTS, not a shooter :P

  32. Juggeraut246 says:

    This brings back memories of another commentary…


    A bit long but worth it.

    1. Moriarty says:

      Huh I thought that one got lost in the depths on the internet when it vanished from that guy’s youtube channel.

      Thanks for the link.

      1. Juggernaut246 says:

        anytime. I love posting old things that are only tangentially relevant.

  33. Said it before that as a shooter, the HL series has always been lacking, but that aside, Valve are the best videogame storytellers I have ever seen.

  34. Kevin says:

    I first purchased the Orange box for Team fortress 2 and portal in 2009. I played both titles and enjoyed them immensely mostly ignoring half life. In 2010 I figured I might as well play what I had paid for. After playing the game intensely for a week I finally finished the game and episode I and II. After finishing the game I immediately went to the wiki to learn more about it, and was shocked to find out it was released in 2004, while its graphics weren’t anything amazing to today’s standards the aesthetic was so well polished and presented I took for granted that it was a product from 2008, But the main thing that shocked me about half life was how a non rpg game was able to do an amazing evocative story it shows that shooters don’t have to be linear corridors and that cutscenses are not necessary, a game can tell a story simply through its world without forcing a person to watch the story.

    1. WILL says:

      What? HL2 is literally one big linear corridor. A good one, but still extremely linear.

      If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s some obvious proof : http://www.unleashthedog.net/uploads/HL2_overview.jpg

      PS: I wish more games could get the same kind of map, this is actually pretty cool to see.

      1. Jabrwock says:

        That is an awesome image.

        I can see Bungie’s “Marathon” having issues with such an image, considering it had very odd 4th-dimensional map layouts. Made for some VERY cool room designs (one map making tutorial has you create a portal gateway), but hellish gameplay when trying to figure out which hallway you’re in, since it’s showing a top-down 2D view of your position in a 3D map… Especially when the “motion detector” showed enemies surrounding you, when they were actually above or below you on a different level. Made for some very paranoid shooting into the darkness, or trying to hit “invisible” enemies…

        1. Bret says:

          Especially because some enemies were nearly invisible.

          Of course, the pros don’t use guns. Punching forever!

      2. Cineris says:

        Scale out enough and pretty much every game is a linear corridor. I don’t think non-linearity in terms of geography or storyline would necessarily add to Half Life 2.

        Compare Half Life 2 to Bioshock. The latter has all these RPG bits and pieces clunked on, and it’s “non-linear” in that you can go back to other places, but it’s pretty much no comparison when you look at the storyline. Not only does HL2 feel less linear as you’re playing it, but it holds up better to replaying, and you feel like a total badass by the end of the game (whereas in Bioshock you’re just wondering why you mutilated yourself and saved all those little girls just so they would open doors for you…).

  35. SoldierHawk says:

    I don’t know if you’re interested Shamus, but I JUST started a blind LP of HL2 (I’ve never played before), after finishing a similarly blind LP of HL1. Since you were wondering about how first timers react to some of the scenes, well…you can see how I did, anyway.


    1. Shamus says:

      Spoiler: We actually mention you later in the week. :)

      1. SoldierHawk says:

        Oh. My. GOD.

        Shamus, you have no idea how giddy that makes me. I’ve been reading your site (and Rutskarn’s) for years. This is like, I dunno, the internet equivalent of an autograph.


        1. JPH says:

          Well, it’s good to know I’m not the only one who goes all fanboy when Shamus mentions me on his site. :P

      2. SoldierHawk says:

        I should also probably note, in the interest of full disclosure, that I’m the person who sent you the Free Radical fan mail last week too. :D

    2. TheAngryMongoose says:

      I’m watching your LP and it’s cool, but I need to ask: How did you get to 2011 with completely blind knowledge of Half-Life 2? To the point you were surprised it didn’t take place in Black Mesa.

      1. SoldierHawk says:

        I’ve honestly never been much of an FPS player, so it was never really anything I paid attention to–I literally thought it must be just some kind of CoD run-n-gun. I heard people speak very highly of it, of course, but never felt the slightest need to investigate. Then (when my family downloaded Steam), we got the Valve Complete pack to go with it.

        After finishing Portal (most brilliant game ever, on an unrelated note) I figured I’d start from the beginning with Half-Life, but kept putting it off and never got around to it. (About that time, I started deliberately avoiding anything that had the name Half-Life in it. It may well be that I came across the fact that HL2 didn’t take place in Black Mesa at some point, but after two years of being completely and utterly absorbed in HL1, it’s entirely possible that I just didn’t remember. (Seriously, as Shamus et al noted, HL2 chucks you into this brand new and befuddling environment with narry a how’d you do.)

    3. Mr Jack says:

      I just watched the first two episodes of your Half Life 2 LP, and thoroughly enjoyed them.

      I too only played the game long after its release, with little prior knowledge. It was charming to see my own bewilderment reflected in your experience as well.

      I look forward to the rest of the series, consider me subscribed!

  36. SoldierHawk says:

    I don't know if you're interested Shamus, but I JUST started a blind LP of HL2 (I've never played before), after finishing a similarly blind LP of HL1. Since you were wondering about how first timers react to some of the scenes, well…you can see how I did, anyway.


  37. JPH says:

    Okay, I do agree that it’s a good thing Half-Life 2 didn’t have the glowing arrow, but I don’t think the glowing arrow is always a bad thing. It’s hard to get lost in HL2 since the whole game is effectively one long pathway (and there’s nothing wrong with that) but not all games are that linear, and some games can get very confusing.

    I was doing a Let’s Play of Unreal awhile ago, and I would have liked that game much more if they had given me a glowing arrow, or at the very least a map to work with.

    1. Shamus says:

      Agreed, the arrow is a bit of a crutch, but is WAY better than being lost.

      And I’d gladly accept the arrow if it meant we could actually have areas large and complicated enough to get lost in.

      1. Jabrwock says:

        Something that annoyed me in the transition from Dark Forces one to Dark Forces 2 was that when they switched to a 3D engine instead of a 3D-ish (2D sprites) engine, due to resource problems they got rid of the thing I used instead of having to pull up the map every few seconds…

        The trail of bodies.

        In DF2, after a while the corpses would fade away. Which meant that I had to keep bringing up the map to see where I had been previously.

        I like Skyrim’s idea, a spell that briefly shows you which general direction you should be heading in, but doesn’t put up a constant glowing indicator. It’s a decent balance between needing to know where to go, and not having a giant arrow hovering above you at all times. You can “ask” for directions if you need to, but if you are familiar enough with the territory it doesn’t browbeat you with “GO THIS WAY STUPID”.

        What would be really cool would be if you could ask NPCs for directions, like “point me to X”, and (if the game determined that that person would have ANY clue where that place was) the path-finding engine would spit out some dialogue based on where you are and where you’re going, along with the NPC doing some gestures to indicate it. It would play merry hell with voice acting, but I’d sacrifice a voice-over just to get an NPC talking about “cross that hill until you see the road, then head west along the river to the bridge, can’t miss it”

        1. JPH says:

          Eh… Skyrim’s idea sounds eerily reminiscent of Fable 2. And Dungeon Siege 3. Neither of which are good games to be taking influence from.

          Although Fable 2 and Dungeon Siege 3 used those glowy trails in lieu of a map, rather than in addition to a map. So as long as Skyrim includes a map as well, I won’t mind.

          1. Alexander The 1st says:

            Prince of Persia 2008 did this with Elika.

            You go to your map once, select a fertile ground you want to go, then any time you wanted to get your bearings, you just used the “Elika” button, and follow the accompanying white ball for a bit. Since the map was mostly sensible interconnected, all you needed to do was go “Alright, was it left or right? Right? Ok. Good enough.”

        2. Friend of Dragons says:

          And then there is Descent, where I get hopelessly lost even with the map, so I just careen through the levels choosing directions at random until I find something.

          1. Alexander The 1st says:

            Ah yes.

            I don’t know if you’ve heard me mention Descent logic in these posts (The last time I brought it up that I remember was Rutskarn’s Hitman Spoiler Warning run), but it essentially boiled off of that, with three rules:

            “Kill every enemy you see, loot every item you see, and save every ally hostage/character you see.”

            “If a room is empty when you enter it, you’ve already been here. Take the over path.”

            “Lather. Rinse. Repeat.”

            From what I’ve played of the Metroid/Castlevania games, that doesn’t work for them, as rooms have respawning characters as soon as you leave a room. <_<

            1. JPH says:

              Most Metroidvania games also have maps, so you can keep track of where you’ve been pretty easily.

              1. Alexander The 1st says:

                That only tells you if you’ve been to a room (Or with a pre-filled map like Metroid Primes do with Map Rooms, where the rooms are) – it doesn’t tell you if you’ve already been there and gotten everything there.

        3. Mark says:

          What would be really cool would be if you could ask NPCs for directions, like “point me to X”

          An excellent older game called Outcast did that. If you were looking for a particular NPC, you could march up to anyone in the world and ask them where he was. The response would be “He’s in Town X” (and possibly they’d point in the direction of the town? It’s been a while) or, if you were in the right place, they’d point to the guy you were looking for! It was indeed a very nice touch.

        4. Moriarty says:

          You know some time ago I thought about the wayfinding options in the elder scrolls, remember the thieves quests in Oblivion? Basically every quest started with “talk to a begger about where to go”, and I think you could use that to toggle the quest arrow.

          When a quest starts, you get a map marker on your target and you can upgrade to the quest arrow by bribing a beggar. Maybe even make the gold needed go up each time so people are encouraged to find stuff themselves but are able to use the arrow if they’re lost.

          You could even make it a three step system with only giving you directions first, bribing a beggar gives you the map marker and bribing a second beggar would give you the arrow that shows you exactly where to go. (Altough that would make most people talk to beggars at least once per quest, which would get old fast. Maybe an “hardcore mode” switch like NV)

          edit: I really shouldn’t try to write in foreign languages at 4am.

    2. Reach says:

      The best glowing arrow is one you don’t notice. Valve’s dev commentaries contain more than a few lessons on how to direct the player with lighting, clever level design, and eye-grabbing events without the player ever knowing it. I can’t speak for everyone, but I never find myself getting lost in a Valve game, even in maps from the l4d series that seem to be designed with the intention of getting the player lost (but of course aren’t.)

      1. Veloxyll says:

        I would like to raise a counterpoint – Nuts to the second half of HL2. The entire tower section was TERRIBLE. It took a lot of effort to not rage-quit the game all through it. Portal 2 had some “okay, where am I meant to be going here” sections between test chambers too.

        1. JPH says:

          I never got lost in Half-Life 2. Ever. And I get lost in games all the time.

  38. aldowyn says:

    This is a bit unrelated, but I started my own Let’s Play of Mass Effect 1, in case any of you guys are interested. I’ve had a lot of really interesting conversations about the series, here, so I figured some of you might be interested. I’m not claiming to be anywhere near as good as Spoiler Warning, but I’d like to think there will be something worth watching.

    It’s got some issues, but I’m working on sorting them out, and the beginning is slow enough I don’t have much to say yet, but I certainly will.

    Here’s the link to the first episode, and the second is uploading now (it’s HD, which I will change, because it takes FOREVER to upload – 2 hours left

    1. aldowyn says:

      Meh finally got the link to work.

  39. Kelly says:

    Argh, HL2, my nemesis. Not that I think it’s… BAD per se, but every time I’ve tried to play this game, something has gone wrong. Corrupted save files, fried HDs, my cat deciding that night was the perfect night to piss on my laptop. I’ve seen this FUCKING opening and listened to these FUCKING rebels say the same things I don’t care about way too much. It doesn’t help that I’m not a fan of letting the player move around during cutscenes (for that is what they are, cutscenes), since that just makes me feel like I should be doing something, not standing in one place banging Alyx’s head with a trashcan while waiting for them to finish their chat.

    Anyway, Josh, have you gotten Old World Blues yet? Because you should get Old World Blues.

    1. Alexander The 1st says:

      It doesn't help that I'm not a fan of letting the player move around during cutscenes (for that is what they are, cutscenes), since that just makes me feel like I should be doing something, not standing in one place banging Alyx's head with a trashcan while waiting for them to finish their chat.

      As I mentioned above with Bioshock, I spent an entire “cutscene” smashing a wall with the wrench over and over again, delighted by the tile destruction capability.

      Although I do like how Assassin’s Creed 1 does it, because they still talk to each other, and sometimes your character will forcefully turn to the person you’re talking to for dramatic purposes. Also helped Altair’s character, since I always made him turn away from the Bureau leaders.

  40. PAK says:

    Little late to the commenting party but I wanted to jump in and say, the original “Far Cry” came out several months before either “Doom 3” or “Half Life 2”, which came out very close to each other.

    I know you’ve leveled many (entirely valid) complaints at FC’s design, Shamus, but I remember the scope and visual fidelity as being damned impressive in 2004. The levels were far more open than the first City 17 street scene, with a fair amount of foliage and hi-res (for the time) textures.

    EDIT: Ah, now I see your comment above clarifying large “urban areas.” Carry on, then.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      The difference between far cry and half life 2:The former I was barely able to start at the machine I had then,the latter I couldve played on medium settings on the machine I sold before that one.But yes,far cry was visually amazing.

  41. GiantRaven says:

    “Welcome…to City 17.”

    *Jurassic Park theme*

  42. MichaelG says:

    I have to stop reading this criticism of HL2 before I give up the idea of writing a game. There’s no pleasing some people!

    1. Chuck says:

      If your holding out for universal popularity, you will be waiting a very long time.

      I am such a dork.

  43. feighnt says:

    not sure if someone else said this (lots of comments) but, Barney Calhoun wasnt them just taking all the security guards and putting them together as a fella with a name… Barney Calhoun was the main character in the Blue Shift expansion to Half Life 1.

    now, the *scientists*, on the other hand…

    1. Someone says:

      Blue Shift and Opposing Force were outsourced to Gearbox back in the day. Valve sort of half-acknowledges the expansion canon: you have Calhoun, who was arguably based on Shift’s protagonist (although I think “barney” was an internal name for the “Security Guard” actor in the first HL, the same way G-Man was for the suited man’s model, so it could have just snowballed from there), but Adrian Shepard is nowhere to be seen and there is no mention of the Race X stuff which was pretty damn significant.

  44. JPH says:

    Another nitpick:

    “As I said in the above episode, comparing the intro of Half-Life 2 to the intro to Homefront can give you a very clear picture of where games have gone wrong over the past seven years.”

    I don’t think games have “gone wrong,” I think Half-Life 2 is just an isolated incident. Valve knows what they’re doing, many other studios do not.

    I mean, you played Portal 2, didn’t you?

    1. Shamus says:

      Deus Ex was good. Thief was good. System Shock 2 was good.

      Thinking about it more, I think designers just went a little nuts when they got their hands on cutscene tech.

      1. JPH says:

        That I can agree on, at least to a degree. Especially with Deus Ex, since that game tended to make its story more interactive through its gameplay, or at least tried to. But we already had the cutscene problem by 2004.

        You mentioned Doom 3, and I thought that was fitting. That’s another one of those games I’ve been playing through lately. It reminds me of Half-Life in many ways, but it also has a lot of cutscenes that just strike me as completely needless. Especially since it’s trying to be a horror game. It seems like every time it brings in a new monster it shows the monster in a cutscene right before you face it, which pretty much undermines any sense of suspense it might have had.

        So, yeah, I agree that cutscenes are a problem for the industry. I’m not sure how many other people agree, though; I’ve talked to friends of mine who say that their favorite parts of games are the cutscenes, like in Metal Gear Solid or Dragon Age. Maybe those people are just more into movies than games? Because that’s what cutscene-heavy games feel like to me.

        1. X2-Eliah says:

          Hmm.. It’s not exactly the cutscenes themselves that are the problem, it’s the massive disconnect between normal gameplay and cutscene gawking that’s the issue, along with devs who are unable to meld the two together properly. HL2 obviously is an example of doing it right – there are still cutscenes, basically – in some you even don’t get to move (e.g. teleporting at Kleiner’s), but it still is much, much better tied to normal gameplay mechanics than in dragon age, which uses camera angles & zooms that you could never have (battle at ostagar) in the game.

          EDIT: ofc with Dragon age 2, there’s a different problem as well with cutscenes being used for.. well.. two porpoises: One, to get characters close: ‘Hey, you! Move closer! Yeah, keep going. No, more to the left! Shout some exposition while walking! No, come closer! Yes! Now… INITIATE DIALOGUE WHEEL!’; and two, to announce that you are fighting a new enemy now: “Hey! You fought eevil mages before. Well now we are eeevil templars! This is us talking at you to know you got to kill us now! You’ll see groups just like this one from now on until the next cutscene! Cue dialogue where we trade insults / I insult you for being peaceful / I insult you for being sarcastic, then We is gonna spawn more dudes [fingerquote]From the rooftops[fingerquote] lol”; so.. yeah, basically, that’s how the great cutscene technology is used in dragon age 2.

        2. Veloxyll says:

          I have to say, based off my memories of it, one of the better cutscene + gameplay setting up the setting was Wing Commander 4. They allude to some troubles between Confed and the Border Worlds in the cutscenes, but it’s not until Luke Skywalker finishes fighting Biff that you get an idea how bad it is, when Border World ships attack you. Basically the cutscenes prepare the environment, but it’s gameplay where you get shown it.

          The biggest problem with modern games in this area is probably that they’re so eager to throw you into the action without building up the setting beforehand. If we compare Homefront with Schindler’s List, there’s not the brutal Nazi dickery in Schindler’s till half way through (Admittedly Schindler doesn’t later go on to gun down regiments of Nazis), Spielberg took the time to build the setting. In Homefront, that’s where you start. You’re supposed to be caring about what’s happening, but there’s no buildup, it’s essentially – these guys are jerks, apply bullets to their faces.

          If we’re comparing with films that start in the middle, a big chunk of them is filling in what happened earlier – both Fight Club and Boondock Saints would be examples I’d think of. They show us some point later in the story, then explore how the heck that happened. Games seem to be putting on airs while rehashing the old ‘these guys are jerks – shoot them’

          I would love to see the Spoiler Warning crew take on Uncharted (2) too. They’ve got colour, scenery porn, stealth, QTEs that only use jump/dodge, and in 2 at least, you get to actually play the cutscenes where Drake does something cool.

          Wing Commander (all of them) also have the advantage of a natural seperation between cutscenes and gameplay since cutscenes are people acting, while gameplay is zooming around in starfighters.

          I quite like the COD-style mission briefings too. They’re the sort of information you’d expect your character to have/be given. Plus they’re more interesting than a boring still image for a loading screen.

          Ed: That was longer than I planned

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        You shouldnt blame the designers though.I still remember the(incredebly stupid)fan review of fallout 3 when it came out.It gave the game about 7,5 and that because it gave it a very low score for graphics,saying how it was old and outdated oblivion graphics.Designers arent to be blamed for making games for idiots that want to see shinny graphics with no substance.

        1. McLokast says:

          I agree, I mean Fallout 3 deserved a low score for so many other things, why focus on the graphics?

          1. JPH says:


            I still think FO3 was better than New Vegas.

            1. GTRichey says:

              I must ask you to expound on that statement. Fallout 3 to me had more wasted potential than New Vegas, but there is nothing to me that it did better. New Vegas had a better plot, better characters, better mechanics (if that’s your thing).

              Fallout 3 was awful as a Fallout game. It was (like other Bethesda games) all about set pieces with no real connection to each other and the elements of Fallout that were used were shoehorned into the DC area with poor justification.

              1. JPH says:

                New Vegas did have better plot, but it was delivered in the Bethesda engine, meaning every character acts so wooden, unnatural and illogical that it’s impossible for me to suspend my disbelief to a point where I can take the plot seriously.

                Other than that, I thought everything else was better in Fallout 3. In particular I’d say things like atmosphere, level design, pacing, freedom (in terms of movement throughout the world, not plot choices), and set pieces.

                I probably need to devote a whole blog post to this, because there’s a lot to it. And I’m definitely not the only one who thinks this (though I might be the only one out of the Twenty Sided commentators).

                1. X2-Eliah says:

                  You’re not the only one. It’s just that probably a few people have given up trying to say they liked FO3 because the very first instant you’re met with ‘LIES!! NV IS BETTR FO3 suxxorz cos it does ‘n you hafta prove your opinion cos its not natural for a person to like fo3 more cos it is not right’…etc.

                  It’s kind of the same as oblivion/morrowind. Just dare to mention you *might* have liked ob. over mw. in some aspects, and you’ll get jumped immediately. Same here.

                  I genuinely fear for what’ll happen when Skyrim rolls out – will anyone be allowed to like any bethesda game? Or will it be cool to hate on Skyrim just because… idk?

                2. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Level design,well thats maybe true,but freedom?You cannot go through little lamplight and open an area without doing a quest,yet in new vegas you can go practically everywhere.The only thing that restricts you are enemies.Heck,in the very beginning of the game,you can go out after the very beginning in new vegas,but you have to play through the tutorial in fallout 3.How is that more freedom?

                  Set pieces,I also have to disagree with you.In fallout 3 nothing seems real.There are no visible sources of food like the farms and herds in new vegas.Places seem like kids drawings of what settlements would look like.

                  Atmosphere…well,thats more of a personal thing.Some prefer the sickly green,others the never raining clear sky.Both seem a bit clunky to me.

                3. GTRichey says:

                  Level design? Ok Obsidian really does suck at interior spaces… Though with a half decent map system (part of the engine) it’d have been more manageable… So point FO3

                  Atmosphere? Largely personal taste… but the atmosphere in FO3 is “Look destroyed landmarks!” whereas NV creates a world trying to rebuild (things like farms etc.). For me NV creates a much easier atmosphere to believe and lose myself in. Point NV

                  Pacing? They’re both sandbox games so proper pacing really is impossible… events can be delayed any amount of in game time because the player feels like ignoring the main plot. If by pacing you mean which plot feels more like it drives the game… comes down to personal taste. No points.

                  Freedom? This one is pretty divisive. Many hate Obsidian for putting a practical wall to the north an east of the starting towns. Many hate Bethesda for the complete randomness of enemy spawns. Both games have methods of keeping the player out of certain areas, but Obsidian’s method of creating extremely dangerous areas is preferable (and you can still get around these areas in the early game). Also the complete lack of guidance in early game FO3 is atrocious compared to the hand-holding of NV (which is not as forceful as many think). Point NV.

                  Set Pieces? Bethesda gives you a lot of eye candy in the form of destroyed monuments and giant robots that are way too easy to miss. Obsidian gives you an inhabited world. I stumbled on one location in NV that had a dead family (two adult, one child skeleton) around one of the many burned out trailers where I was then ambushed by a group of one of the gangs (can’t remember which). This set piece was much better than anything I encountered in FO3. Point NV.

                  Can’t take NV seriously because of the engine? This existed in both games. This shouldn’t be an excuse for a poor plot/story though and in this case both games are equally fun… with a possible slight advantage to NV for improved companion control and shooter mechanics (not huge for me but if you’re removing plot).

                  1. JPH says:

                    This is when it gets pretty clear just how subjective gaming is.

                    I preferred the atmosphere of Fallout 3. Fallout 3 had much better pacing because of the intro in Vault 101. In the overworld of Fallout 3 you could generally go in any direction and get to anywhere you wanted to go without too much fuss, as opposed to New Vegas where going anywhere the designers didn’t want you to go causes you to run into an invisible wall or get stomped by ridiculously powerful baddies.

                    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      As opposed to the plot doors in fallout 3?I prefer baddies.

                      And invisible walls were in fallout 3 as well.Besides,those were only at the edges,so I dont see whats your problem with those.

                    2. JPH says:

                      In New Vegas I encountered invisible walls everywhere. It was ridiculous.

                      How many plot doors were there, honestly? I really don’t remember that ever being a problem when I played, though I didn’t care much for the main plot.

                    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      In the very beginning,the vault door and little lamplight,for example.

                      And see,its a very subjective thing:I didnt have a problem with the deathclaws in new vegas,while that first plot door in fallout 3 already rubbed me the wrong way.

                      As for the invisible walls,they are not everywhere,they are only on the edges in both games.Its just that you start closer to the edge in new vegas.

                    4. JPH says:

                      Well at least you’re willing to acknowledge that it’s subjective, rather than saying “What? You think Fallout 3 is fun? YOUR WRONG!” So I appreciate that.

  45. Jonathan says:

    Hurray! A game I’ve actually played!

  46. Someone says:

    Now that I think about it, Half-Life 2 (and Half-Life 1, for that matter) is one of the very few post-doom era shooters that doesn’t have a radio for the characters to give goals and exposition through.

    A lot of the time you feel completely alone and isolated, sometimes not entirely sure what exactly is going on. That rarely happens in other shooters. Even games all about being isolated and alone, like System Shock 2, have at least one character briefing you on the radio.

  47. Don'tKnowMyName says:

    Half-Life 2. I like Half-Life 2. I really like it. But it is absolutely the most criminally overrated game of all time, rivaling only Portal for that honor.

    Physics: Splinter Cell, which came out two years before Half-Life 2, was the game that wowed everyone with its physics and is probably the most responsible for physics engines becoming a trend. It actually had even better physics, not only did it have object physics but also soft physics “” that is if something or someone went through a hanging curtain it would bend around their shape. Some reviews gushed so much over how fun it was to play with the physics and realistic lighting that you could almost forget it was a stealth game. Deus Ex: Invisible War followed this trend. Depending on how much you want to include, you could even mention the awful Jurassic Park: Trespasser as pioneering full, realistic physics in games. It certainly inspired absolutely pointless physics puzzles. Doom 3 came out a bit before Half-Life 2 and sort of had a gravity gun. Unfortunately, Doom 3’s gravity gun was used as a level building tool and not as an actual item, had they realized what they had then they would have beaten Valve to it. Ironically, when they made their gravity gun an actual item in the expansion pack I saw some people claim they were ripping off Half-Life 2. The point is, I’m not accusing Shamus of being out of touch, but being able to pick up objects in Half-Life 2 was not this huge, super innovative thing that Source pioneered.

    Gunplay: No one could say that Half-Life 2’s shooting mechanics are really bad. But I think only the most devoted fanboy would argue that they’re particularly good. I think the game just passes in this aspect.

    Puzzles: I’m sorry, but I’m just not of the opinion that making a board slope upwards by putting blocks on one end is the most incredible puzzle ever. Since most of the puzzle solutions are immediately obvious, I don’t think they should really even be called puzzles instead of showing off.

    Plot: Let’s be real, what the Half-Life series has is a mediocre story that’s well-told. Valve presents stories better than almost any other developer, and Half-Life 2 has a great atmosphere. But it just doesn’t have much of a plot, and most of the plot it does have you have to read about. It’s not terrible, but actually reading about it makes you wonder when they’re going to turn it into a TV movie. I’m just saying it bugs me when people praise Half-Life’s forgettable story when what they actually like is the excellent way it’s told.

    From that you could get the impression I hate the game, when I really don’t “” isn’t that the Spoiler Warning way? There’s some things about it I wish were more common. I just don’t want to give it praise it doesn’t deserve. IMO in some ways it would have made a better movie than a game.

    1. JPH says:

      Storytelling is and will always be more important than the story itself.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      While I somewhat agree with what youve said,I have to respond to your points about gunplay and plot.

      The game had great gunplay at the time,because it had great enemies.They were scripted as hell,yes,but it made for an illusion that you are fighting actually smart enemies.They were flanking you,engaging you from different sides,forcing you into choke points,etc.Valve is great at making illusions,and this is one of them.

      Plot is meaningless by itself,its the storytelling that matters.You can have the most convoluted plot ever,but if you tell it in the wrong way,no one will see how smart and complicated it is.Half life is great because it tells its story in a great way.Its a linear game,yet it tells a way better story than lets say splinter cell,since youve mentioned it.

      1. Don'tKnowMyName says:

        Half-Life 2 wasn’t the only game to use scripting to make the AI seem better and battles more intense than they really were. The Call of Duty series is a good example of a franchise that does this. The original Call of Duty was criticized for its overuse of scripted events being obvious, but in Call of Duty 2 they had about perfected it. I also wonder if Half-Life 2’s AI would have been better if the maps had been designed differently to accommodate what the AI could do naturally. I don’t think that saying the AI seems good because of all the scripting is exactly a point in its favor.

        Plot is not meaningless by itself, and I’m kind of dismayed that someone would say so. Plot is what gives the world purpose in the first place, so it is best for it to be strong. Plus, a good plot is one that’s remembered. Take the plot of Planescape: Torment. Yes, I know it’s cliched to bring it up in every discussion about stories in games, but people do it for a reason. Now, many people don’t like the way it tells its story, through walls of text comprised mostly of filler that even in a game so detailed is irrelevant and never comes up again. In honor of that, this paragraph will be an unbroken wall of text, to remind everyone of what playing PST was like. In a video game, text is probably the least engaging way to tell a story. Even the people at that one infamous site that practically worships this game, I’m sure you know which one, will sometimes concede that some scenes were executed in the worst way possible with needlessly long descriptions and philosophical nonsense that was so pretentious it’s funny. Why then does everyone who played it remember everything about the story? Why have two books covering its events, one published and one fanmade but popular, been written? The plot was capable of engaging people that much. People wanted to know what would happen next, regardless of clunky way it would be told to them. They wanted to claw through the fat of the pointless descriptions of their surroundings and characters babbling about unimportant things to get the meat of a legitimately interesting tale. I don’t think these things are what constitute good storytelling, as many people I’ve talked to say they like PST’s story despite the way it was told, not because of it. Another hallmark of a plot so good was that as you think about it while you’re not playing the game, you start to realize more about it, start to see why something was more important or made more sense than you thought at first, recognize the nuance of something a character said that you had no way of knowing the first time you read it because you didn’t know every detail. When you think about Half-Life 2’s plot… well, there’s not much to think about. People remember everything about the plot in general, not the specific wording of a conversation. It has a story that would be memorable no matter how it was told. That is the strength of a plot over the disagreeable way it’s presented.

        What has the advantage between a great plot told in a clunky and unwelcoming way, and a banal plot told in an immediately engaging way? Well, I remember almost everything about the Nameless One’s adventures, and I haven’t touched that game in ten years. Other than some of the environments, I can barely recall anything about the world Half-Life 2.

        I forgot where I was going with this about halfway through, but what the hell, I was on a roll. I just hope it turned out to be relevant to whatever the original point was.

        1. JPH says:

          Oof. I think I just received a concussion from slamming face-first into your wall of text.

        2. Daemian Lucifer says:

          About ai,please dont get me started on call of duty again.Yes,it had scripted ai and nice combat,but it suffered from the same problems then that make me hate modern warfare:The enemies always do the exact same thing.In half life 2,for example,Ive replayed that fight in the cortyard of the government building about 10 times,and it always played out differently.In modern warfare,like Ive mentioned above,I had sections where if I went the same path a few times,Id always see enemies do exactly the same thing.Bombs falling in the same place,enemies running through the same doors,etc.Yes,call of duty 1 was a good game,but that was not due to its ai.Just having a heavily scripted ai doesnt mean it will be a good scripted ai.

          As for plot in planescape torment being something special,thats also not true.The plot of it is “Guy doesnt want to die,separates himself from his soul,ends having both deteriorate,collects people who he met in his overly extended life,and searches for a way to die”.Sure,it has more substance than “People screw up an experiment,and aliens conquer the earth”,but not that much.The way a story is being told doesnt mean just how it is presented.You find out the story of planescape mostly through dialogue,and that is what I mean by “the way its being told”.Wall of text is how it is presented,which is not the same thing.Maybe I am using the wrong names for these terms,but I know that they arent the same,and both are different from the plot.

        3. Zekiel says:

          “In honor of that, this paragraph will be an unbroken wall of text, to remind everyone of what playing PST was like.”

          I like. You’ve gotta laugh when a game that has to use *asterisks* fir emphasis because bold text would be too advanced…

          But yes you’re absolutely right that evidence of a good story is that I remember the Nameless One’s adventures from 10 years ago very well.

          Yet I think there is strength in telling a simple story well. I wouldn’t call HL2’s story “banal” – it was just simple (just like HL1’s). But it was told pretty effectively… and presented in an atmosphere that worked really well.

  48. Daemian Lucifer says:

    My god!200 comments,and no one has mentioned yet how that is not a random npc in the video,but gordon frohman himself!Im deeply disappointed by everyone here.I thought you guys were actual geeks,and not just the pretend type.

    1. Eldiran says:

      I like to think Gordon Frohman is the guy giving orders at the sawmill at the end of Episode 2, personally.

  49. Zaxares says:

    For the record, I put the can in the trash. Curse my Lawful nature and my conditioning to obey authority figures! D:

    It’s a mark of HL2’s quality that I’m still able to remember that scene vividly though, years after the fact.

  50. Veloxyll says:

    I feel the need to point out that prior to this Serious Sam had shown us giant expansive environments – even if they lacked citizenry and weren’t in Eastern Europe (or New York/Washington DC)

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Hey they should do serious sam,it had an hd release recently.

      1. WILL says:

        I can’t wait for Shamus’ plot analysis of Serious Sam.

        1. Shamus says:

          I thought Sam’s motivation was completely unbelievable, although not nearly as bad as that of arch-nemesis Mental. Why does Mental want to attack them, and why is he choosing to do so through an army of screaming headless bombers? This should tell us something about his personality and what drives him to be the villain, but the game never follows up on that and…

          I kid, I kid. Although the plot of SS2 is muy mucho crazy bananas, even by the standards of the first game. Fun, but insane.

          1. Alexander The 1st says:

            Did anyone else read SS2 as System Shock 2 instead of Serious Sam 2 for a second?

            1. JPH says:

              /raises hand

              To be fair, System Shock 2 was pretty crazy bananas too. You remember all those psychic monkeys?

              1. Shamus says:

                OH THE MONKEYS, THE MONKEYS!


  51. Slothful says:

    The idea that City 17 is in eastern europe seems like a weird design choice to me. Yes, for some reason all of these Black Mesa employees with no means of transporting themselves long distances have arrived and set up the resistance on another continent, an ocean away from all their equipment, supplies, and everything they know about. And to top it all off, everybody looks and sounds like an american.

    Did the Combine have one big “continent exchange” program?

  52. Cybron says:

    Sometimes I wonder why you insist on doing a game with voice acting when you’re just going to talk over them.

    I kid, but as someone who hasn’t played this game before (just don’t care for shooters), you guys talk about all the cool dialogue this guy is saying… and in doing so talk over that exact cool dialogue.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Which is why they shouldve turned the subtitles on.

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