Alyx’s gradual revival from the near-fatal hunter wound is convincingly portrayed in the next scene. She doesn’t recover instantly, but she also isn’t a limping hindrance as the story moves along. She recovers slowly over the next half hour of gameplay.
While the fight with two guardians at once was pretty thrilling, I was disapointed in the new antlion guardian. She’s just a retextured version of the original guardian, which struck me as a bit lame, particularly since you see the two of them together here. This is supposed to be a different… gender… or type, or whatever, of antlion. It needed a few cosmetic changes to make it fatter, or wider, or have more eyes. Maybe new sounds? Something, at least. The “same enemy, different color” deal was lame ages ago, and this sort of thing is beneath the usually stellar production values of this series.
After the guardian fight we have to climb up the face of a cliff and deal with yet another malfunctioning elevator. As I ascend the cliff, there is a mild tremor and I suddenly start taking damage. I can’t tell why. I find I can barely move. It takes me a few seconds to figure out that the damage was from rocks which fell from above, nailed me on the head, and continued on down the cliff without me ever seeing them. I’m having trouble moving because one of the rocks is stuck. On my head. I get out from under it and head further up, where I get pummeled by rocks again. Next I have to cross some hastily thrown together boards to reach my goal. The moment I step on the first one, it snaps and sends me down twenty feet to where I started. Ouch.
That all could have been scripted a little better, I think.
It begins with a huge overhead view of the sprawling series of obstacles. This view is actually more interesting the second time through the game. The first time you see it, it’s just a compelling view of rust, decay, and pollution. It’s a dirty, dreary place, realized in wonderful detail. The second time through, you can look out over the complex and and trace the path you’ll be following below.
The gameplay is extremely varied in this portion of the game. They cover just about every sort of encounter you can have with a zombie. You fight large numbers in open spaces. Fight a few in a tight space. In a couple of parts you have to depend on Alyx to cover you with her sniper rifle. Fight them in a sea of corrosive waste, moving from one small foothold to the next where you don’t have a lot of room to move around. Fight them while crouching in a low-ceiling area. Fights in the dark. Fights involving traps. Fights with guns. Fights with explosives. I was glad that the zombie encounters mostly ended after this, because I think they exhausted the possibilities here.
(A minor pet peeve about the zombies in general: Why are they all wearing white shirts? In the original Half-Life zombies were supposed to be scientists under control of headcrabs, thus the white labcoat. In Half-Life 2 they have retained the same look, despite the face that nobody in the game anywhere owns any clothing like this. Zombies really should wear those blue denim uniforms issued to citizens, which was the most common clothing for civilians in the first game. Making some zombies female might be an alarming touch as well, but in any case it would be nice if zombies actually looked like zombified members of the general population.)
This is the third installment where they have tantalized us with the sniper rifle without letting us have one. There are a lot of good reasons not to let the player have it, though:
- The Half-Life gameplay doesn’t really lend itself to sniper rifle action.
- The sniper rifle looks cool, but considering how slow the projectile is (you can actually see it moving, and dodge it at a distance) it would actually be a real trick to use on moving targets.
- The game already has a sniper-style weapon – the crossbow – and adding another would be redundant.
- Mounting the sniper rifle so that it is used in a fixed location would take a lot of the fun out of it, as it would basically make for a “shooting range” section of the game. Giving a mobile one to Gordon would mean adding a new weapon to his already (ahem) weighty collection.
- To avoid inflating the arsenal with a redundant weapon they would most likely drop the crossbow for an episode and replace it with the sniper rifle, since the two are functionally the same. This would, of course, lead to endless carping from the fans about “balance” issues and whining from the fans of the crossbow.
- A new weapon means new ammo. It might be kind of odd if Gordon suddenly starts seeing new ammunition pop up. Why haven’t I come across this stuff before? Didn’t all those other sniper rifles in previous games require ammo?
These are all good points, but I’d like to offer a quick counter-point:
- It looks awesome and I want one!
Actually, I’m sure there are better ways for Valve to spend development time. Assuming they don’t mind breaking my heart.
The section culminates with the acquisition of a muscle car, a massive physics puzzle and a thrilling stunt. The bridge falls apart to the point where it loses its connection on with either side, so that the whole thing pivots on the central support, turning it into a huge seesaw. In retrospect I suppose this involves a good bit of engineering shenanigans. Players with a civil engineering background might guffaw at this bit, but it worked well enough for me to be tremendous fun.
But we’re not supposed to worry about that. What is important here is that we now have a roaring turbo-charged yellow chariot of fuel-injected awesome. The rumble of the engine is perfect, and I find it difficult to pry my finger off the accelerator once I hear that sound. Hitting turbo produces a raw visceral thrill that never seems to fade, no matter how often I use it. This car is far and away the most fun vehicle to operate in the series. It’s a great reward for crawling through the filthy, toxic, zombie-infested sludge below.
Cecil mentions that he’s going to regroup with the other Vorts and hunt advisors. Now would be an excellent time for Gordon to ask about them. I’d love to know how they plan to hunt these things, since the advisors are traveling in vehicles, the Vorts are on foot, and each advisor is surrounded by an army of soldiers, striders, and gunships. Yeah, great plan Cecil. Let us know how that works out for you.
Boy do I wish I could make Gordon talk.
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