Someone commented that my previous post seemed a little nit-picky. That’s a natural part of what I do when I love a game, is to pick it apart and see what worked and what didn’t. Just so nobody gets confused and thinks I have a problem with the game: This was tremendous fun. I want to make it clear that the gripes are a bit of armchair game development on my part. It can’t be helped, really. Anyway, onward…
What are you idiots doing here? How did you get here? Where do your supplies come from? Curse Valve software for making Gordon mute so that I cannot ask these all-important questions!
The guys teach the player how to set up the turrets, how to understand the warning lights, and let them know where the supplies are. I took one look at them and figured they would die once the “training” part of the scenario was over. This is what happens to a majority of the NPC’s we run into in other games, including previous episodes of Half-Life. I was glad when they survived. It shows that Valve has a lot of confidence in their AI, that they will let it fight alongside the player for an extended period of time. This is usually a great way to get on the player’s nerves and make them resent their companions. They either impede the player’s work by getting in the way, or they steal all the player’s fun by overshadowing them. But neither happens with Griggs and Sheckley. They are a welcome source of help, and their banter keeps things entertaining between fights.
On the other hand, it really is getting ridiculous how often they re-use this actor’s voice. (John Patrick Lowrie, I think.) These guys have the same two voices you heard at the opening moments of Half-Life 2 (“I didn’t see you get on.”) You know, the voice of 50% of the unnamed NPCs in this series. I’m not saying they should fire the guy, but I think coming up with a couple of new NPC voices would go a long way towards fixing the “attack of the clones” feeling the thing has right now. It’s starting to feel like Oblivion.
Eventually the battle ends and you’re teamed up with a Vortigaunt to journey deep into the antlion nest and get some “extract” from their larvae. Mark Gillespie dubbed this Vort companion “Cecil”. That’s as good a name as any, so I’ll continue the practice. Cecil is a good companion, although not quite as interesting as Alyx or Barney. Still, it’s nice for some variety and a new perspective on the world we inhabit. Again, I curse Gordon’s inability to talk. If I had my way I’d pump the guy for information on our way down. Vorts know a lot about the combine, the advisors, and apparently the G-man as well. Which is a lot more than I can say for the audience.
Cecil refers to the large antlion guarding the larvae as the “Ancient Guardian”? Just how “Ancient” are we talking here? Because Earth was invaded a decade-ish ago, and these things haven’t been here that long.
The guardian chase wasn’t quite the thrill for me that it was for some other players. I got turned around, confused, and was generally unsure of what I was supposed to be doing. More than once I missed a side tunnel or ran out of sprinting ability too soon, which was usually followed by a savage kick in the ass from the guardian. I was glad to get past that.
Speaking of sprinting ability, I see that they finally broke the connection between the flashlight and “sprint” energy. In the commentary it sounds like they agonized over this break in gameplay behavior, but I think I speak for many fans when I say it’s about freakin’ time, Valve. Really, this “feature” has been a running joke for ages. It’s annoying and it makes no sense in the world. Good riddance.
(You see, I’d planned to wait until either the price came down or Episode 3 came out, but as I was reading Wikipedia I saw a screenshot of the G-Man in Black Mesa, and I suddenly had to find out what was revealed. Two hours later I had the game and was staggering out of the train wreckage at the opening of Chapter 1. Yes, despite my endless griping: There are good things about Steam.)
The G-Man scene wasn’t quite the revelation I’d hoped, but it was probably the most useful conversation we’ve had with him thus far. I must say that his character is brilliantly rendered, written, and acted. I guess I paid thirty bucks to see this cutscene, and the fact that I didn’t feel ripped off when it was over speaks volumes about the incredible skill wielded by the people at Valve. I still get chills when his voice cuts in.
The G-man makes it clear that he saved Alyx’s life back in Black Mesa. That’s interesting to learn, but how does that fit with his actions at the end of Half-Life 2? It really seemed like he left her to explode at the top of the Citadel, which doesn’t fit with his current attitude towards her. Again, there are possible explanations for this, but the fact that we have this unexplained gap makes me worry that Valve is making this up as they go.
Bethesda felt the need to jam a morality system into Fallout 3, and they blew it. Good and evil make no sense and the moral compass points sideways.
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