Sunday, February 22, 2009
Greatest Game Ever Created? Half Life 2.
It was rather difficult for me to decide what game I was going to dedicate this post to since I have a handful of titles floating around in my head that I feel are worthy of such praise. Hopefully Ill be able to find ways to squeeze some of these fine specimens into other posts as I will be limiting myself to one here. I have decided on Half Life 2. A title produced by one of the few gaming companies out there that maintains a strict "When its done" release policy, and one that fills my criteria of Greatest Game Ever in most respects. Plus, I have a fetish for dystopian settings.
Picking up roughly 20 years after the first Half Life, you return in the shoes of everyone's favorite MIT graduate with a penchant for weapons, Gordon Freeman. Humanity has since been enslaved by malevolent beings from another dimension known only as "The Combine" who were attracted to Earth by the events that took place in the previous game and now lord over the remaining population from various Cities (City 17 being the current setting). So its up to Gordan Freeman, the last Free Man with his trusty crowbar and Hazardous Environment Suit, to bust some heads and save the day.
So what makes Half Life 2 the greatest game ever? It has a terrific story that is told in a rather unique way. You progress through the various chapters as if you would a book, with bits of story and information being fed to you as you go along. Also, much of the story is left to the player to figure out, while other bits can be discovered by paying close attention to what certain NPC's say to each other in what appears to be casual conversation. All of which lead to a very unique and innovative way of presenting story and background. Environments in HL2 are another contributor to its greatness. Ranging from the deserted city streets of an obscure eastern european city, to the zombie infested ruin of Ravenholm, to the futuristic facilities of the combine, each has a unique look that keeps you from feeling like youre running around in the same place the entire game. Valves Source Engine (which was created solely for HL2), is hard at work here as well. Textures, lighting, character animations and even facial expressions are represented wonderfully in the game, making it very easy on the eyes. One more thing Id like to add is the character depth. Im pretty big on voice acting, and if a game has bad voice acting, chances are Im not going to enjoy it. Not the case with Half Life 2. The voice acting is superb and you can actually detect the emotions of the characters through their well written dialogue. As far as gameplay goes, its fun! The controls are tight and easy to manage, and you arent scrambling all over your keyboard for some obscure command or ability. There are several weapons that allow you to dispatch Combine in fun an interesting ways whether it be pinning them to a wall with super heated rebar, or crushing them with a tub launched from the extremely innovatinve Grav-Gun. Its not all run and gun though, sections of the game are broken up by small puzzle oriented tasks that must be completed to allow you to progress. Along with these "puzzle breaks" are some interesting battles that usually require the proverbial big gun to make it out alive. Lastly, I would like to touch on the artistic design. Valve spent a lot of time on this game (about 5 years) and went to great lengths to keep the art work from feeling generic. The metrocop (one of the main antagonists) for instance, went through something like 20 different designs before valve felt it was right. Combine computer terminals, bio-engineered gunships and striders, Overwatch troopers, they all have a very unique look that helps set them above enemies found in other games.
To me, Half Life 2 is one of those few precious gems in the gaming industry. It wasnt crippled by some suit's decision to throw it on store shelves when it wasnt ready. Or a producers inclination to overlook some flaws to meet a deadline. Instead, it was given polish and plenty of TLC from its designers and was released "When it was ready" and is worth every minute you devote to playing it.