I love driving the car, although the road is too serpentine to be able to hold the accelerator down, assuming you don’t want to be fighting for control and clipping the occasional rock or tree. You have to “flutter” it, tapping the gas a second at a time as you go. Ugh. In real life Alyx and Gordon would most likely be puking after a mile or so of that. Makes me wish for an analog throttle.
I love how vehicles in these games allow you to steer and look around independently. It’s nice to begin looking left before you start turning left, instead of having your eyes locked in a forward-looking position. It makes the vehicle easier to use and allows you to drive the car the way you would in real life. This gives driving an incredible degree of realism, and makes it more satisfying to drive than doing so in games which are expressly designed for driving. (Although, it makes me wish for analog steering. I realize there isn’t really any way to have analog throttle, steering, and looking in any existing control scheme, but that doesn’t stop me from wishing for it.)
Our first stop along the way is the radio tower. Alyx decides to send a message ahead to White Forest base and let them know the Combine are coming. We have to search the abandoned buildings to get the power back on and send our message. This is another thing I love about this series: Other games would tuck a few foes into these buildings and call it a day, but instead Valve lets the player explore the space first. Quiet exploration is nice and lets us take in the scene visually instead of blasting our way through it, but it also helps to build some tension.
And in the basement of the power station we finally encounter an interesting plug puzzle. Plugs have been a feature of the game since Half-Life 2, but the “puzzles” have always been mind-numbingly simple. You either: 1) Plug in the thing that needs power or 2) Unplug the thing you want to turn off. Not exactly a source of mental stimulation, there. A Rubik’s Cube this ain’t.
But here we have a honest-to-goodness puzzle. Like a lot of the best puzzles in the game it’s not long or difficult, but it’s a real puzzle and provides a nice break in the fighting that satisfies my puzzle drive.
Once completed, we’re ambushed by hunters. Here Alyx’s character really shines. Last time she faced one it nearly killed her. (Actually, given the things the Vorts said, it sounds like it did kill her.) Now she has to face them again. We’ve never seen her this frightened before. She’s terrified and angry over her last encounter with one. She starts off in a mild panic, but as she realizes the fight is inevitable she masters her fear and readies herself for the battle. As you bring down the first one you can hear the relief in her voice. We can beat these things. It’s a real turning point for her and wonderfully acted. There are many big-budget movies that fail to handle moments like this with as much finesse.
The hunters are interesting foes. They are pretty good at flushing you out and flanking you. They are probably the most interesting foe so far.
We put down the hunters, send our message to White Forest, and then hit the road.
The encounter with the advisor is pretty interesting, although, like most encounters with these guys, it satisfies our visual curiosity without actually telling us anything. Once the advisor flees and we blast our way out of the farmhouse, we find ourselves driving for our lives while a helicopter runs us down.
I wish that somewhere along the trip we had a nice stretch where we could really work the car up to top speed and enjoy a bit of driving on the open road. Most of the trip is spent on navigating winding dirt roads and hairpin cutbacks, or dodging wrecked vehicles. The only place where we could really push it is during this helicopter chase, and here you have to keep swerving and changing speed to avoid bombs.
We reach the outpost and stop to fight the chopper. It took me an embarrassing amount of time to figure out what I was supposed to do. I saw other rebels had rocket launchers (which never seemed to hurt the chopper, for some reason) and I thought I was supposed to get one for myself. Did I miss it? Is there one lying around here that I’ve overlooked? Am I supposed to wait for one of these idiots to snuff it so I can have his? Once I figured it out it was one of those forehead-slapping moments.
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