Does Half-Life 2 really matter any more? This horrifying question popped into my head on the way home from work the other day (it’s amazing the things we think of when stuck in traffic). My mind recoiled in the thought of such heresy. How could I even think such a thing? Half-Life 2
is one of the sacred cows of the industry and how could I, a big FPS fan, even question if the game mattered or not. I tried to push it from my mind but it kept haunting me. Does it really matter? Will it really live up to the hype?
Let’s put Half-Life 2
in to a bit of perspective first. We’ve already had four great FPS games this year in Far Cry
, Doom 3
, and Unreal Tournament 2004
. With Halo 2
right around the corner it’s not like there isn’t a lot of games to spend time with. Now add in that this has been one of the best years for gamers ever and the picture takes on a bit of a different color.
To better examine the question let’s hop into the way-back machine and go back to this time last year. Half-Life 2
had debuted at E3 to thunderous applause and gamers were anxiously awaiting the September 30th release date. The game promised to revolutionize the gaming industry with amazing new graphic technology, new human modeling techniques, and an innovative physics engine. The game also promised a continuation of one of the best single player games ever. I remember coming out of the E3 presentation numb with excitement. I could almost swing the mythical crowbar again and I was even willing to deal with another crummy alien level with a bizarre floating baby thing just to get another dose of the Half-Life universe. People had even upgraded their video cards to get a free copy of the game when it came out.
We all know what happened. September 30th came and went without the game appearing on shelves. Jaded gamers came out of the wood work with their “I told you it wouldn’t happen” and other such smug internet chat room postings. Shortly after that, Valve came out with the shocking news that some of their code had been stolen by a hacker and that the game was going to be delayed for quite some time. Thus began the next waiting cycle.
A funny thing happened between last year and this year. A lot of cool new games popped up and filled the void created by Half-Life. Far Cry
hit the market like a truck. The game featured some of the best graphics to date, a decent plot, and one of the best environments ever seen in a game. The game even had realistic physics (who knew playing with boxes could be so much fun). After Far Cry
hit and while the plot wasn’t exactly deep the game featured more amazing graphics, a wide variety of enemies, the Havok 2.0 physics engine, and a ton of fun wrapped in a small bundle. The final shot was the release of Doom 3
, John Carmack’s latest engine demonstration. The next generation of FPS game was here and yet Half-Life 2
still didn’t have a release date.
Not only did we have a new generation of FPS titles but other great games were popping up. A new Splinter Cell
game that introduced new multiplayer concepts, Ninja Gaiden
gave users a new single player masterpiece, and gamers even got a new high quality Prince of Persia
game. So where was the relevance? Why do so many people consider this to be the next great thing?
I then thought about what little is known about the plot of the game. We know that Gordon choose to go work for the G-man and that he’s working in an Eastern European city. We know he’s under a military occupation and that the aliens from the first game show up at some point. If you put this into the grand scheme of things it’s not that original. The Orwellian nightmare thing has been done plenty of times before and it’s a bit played out.
At this point I was really starting to despair. There’s nothing like tearing apart one of your own pieces of personal hype. It was almost like watching The Phantom Menace
for the first time and realizing that the hype had been for nothing. How could I really have been that excited about the game in the first place? Could I ever wear my Half-Life 2
Then it hit me. I could almost see Gabe Newell in a Obi-Wan Kenobi like glow (from Empire…not Jedi). It’s not all about the technology or the plot, it’s the blending of the two together. It’s how the folks at Valve mesh all of these things together into a game. It’s not playing around with boxes to see the cool physics, it is picking them up with the anti-gravity gun thing and flinging them at enemies. It is not about the cool graphics but the atmosphere they create, putting you into the story of the game. It is about the interactions with the other characters in the game and it is about crushing head crabs with a crow bar. Hopefully Gabe and the folks at Valve won’t let us down and everything we’ve seen so far indicates that we’re in for a hell of game. Hopefully the game will be more Aliens
than Phantom Menace
. I guess we’ll find out next month.
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