I made what turned out to be a surprise revelation to the readers of Pixel Bedlam in an article recently. In my wish list for E3 I mentioned how I am not a fan of Half Life 2. I had some readers, colleagues and friends all question how I could not like one of the “greatest games ever made” and quite simply it’s because it’s tedious and boring. The easy option for any fans of it is to tell me “I didn’t get it” or that I’m somehow trying to be “counter-culture”, where as in fact I feel the truth of the matter is that I think there was a band wagon liking of the game.
Making this statement of scorn brought tweets and defensive arguments my way. I read back what I said and realised people were getting defensive over a couple of lines where I didn’t really get across my point other than the equivalent of a long drawn out raspberry noise. So for all the fans I wound up with just a few words, please allow me to draw out the process this time and earn that vitriolic fan rage.
Silence Is Golden
Gordon Freeman, if this guy died tomorrow (or tomorrow in the near future) what could be said about this man at his funeral? “His goatee was like his hair trigger temper and violent use of crowbar, short and sweet.” that’s it. Every year this bespectacled muppet is put in “Top 10 characters” lists left right and centre, and quite simply I need to point out; This is not a character.
The obvious go to is that he doesn’t talk, he has the range of acting ability and the Marine in Doom or B.J. Blazkowiczin Wolfenstein 3D. Having a mute character means you don’t get real interactions with other cast members, all you have is people giving lines and filling in your parts like a drama student doing a monologue in front of their classmates.
Finally if you didn’t have the character design on the front of the box, would you know what Gordon Freeman looked like? This is a petty argument but at the same time it leads to one of the main issues with the game. You’re supposed to be this Free-man, the one who will save the day, but at no point do I feel power or association with the character. The fans will come at me with “You shouldn’t feel powerful, you’re a scientist” but that’s not true, you’re the one everyone’s hope are pinned to, so by proxy or osmosis you should have some sense of inner strength. Despite being able to control movements and actions in the game I never feel that connection with Gordon, his name could be Trixie the cross dressing sanitation worker and I wouldn’t know or feel any different.
Oh I Didn’t Realise You Had A Physics Engine
Valve we get it, you did good, pat on head and all that jazz. Having a physics puzzle is meant to draw you into the world more, it’s there to make you think “If this was real life what would I pick up and move” and well done Valve you nailed it. There’s a set of levels based around a canal, you have to get around on an air boat, a form of transport that is loud and boring in real life, let alone this game. At one point you have to duck under the water to grab barrel and push them into a cage, which in turn raises a ramp for you to use to fly over a fence that’s blocking your path. The reason I bring up the realism of this puzzle isn’t for the floating barrels or physics of the jump, it’s because as I would have in real life I looked at it and thought “Oh for Christ sake, screw that” and walked away for a long time.
A Middle Aged Woman’s Obsession with Pastel Colours
This game looks good, I can’t deny that, but then you look a little closer, and nothing quite sits right. I found that even in dingy areas everything is a pastel colour like Valve are trying to make sure everyone is staying relatively calm and not taking any pent up rage out into the real world. The walls on the prison levels look great from a distance, but then you walk up and realise that all these painted dents and scratches seem oddly flat on the wall, for textures there really isn’t any texture. The faces on the ensemble cast are all unsettling. The G-man in particular just looks wrong, and this isn’t a choice by Valve, this is due to him having shiny eyes but flat skin, it makes him look like a ventriloquist dummy, I know he’s not real and technology at the time was at a certain point in terms of realism, but for a game people hold in such high regard I find it off putting then and now.
Stoking The Fire
This is the final nail in the coffin in terms of damning this game. I find the hardcore fans of the game to be self righteous. Forums everywhere are filled with fanboys, generally in gaming it’s assumed it’s all about the console wars, Xbox 360 vs Ps3 vs Wii, the one that’s always left out is the PC. This has lead to what can only be described as a “Small Man Complex” on their part. What makes them so painful to talk to is that because they use a PC they think they’re better than all the others. Now I will say this, I am by no means making a sweeping generalisation here, I play PC games and I play all the consoles, not everyone is a flamewar fanboy, I am referring to the extremes here. Anyone who takes issue with that is lying to themselves if they claim never to have seen or experienced it on this site or others.
Other than the sense of superiority there is also a sense that they feel like they’re owed by Valve. I admitted in my E3 piece and I’ll admit again, Valve is messing their fanbase around, they promised more episodes more often and failed to deliver, however, petitions/emails and forum arguments isn’t going to bring it around any sooner.
I would like to point out a couple of things at this point in the article. I like Half Life 1 and I like Half Life: Opposing Forces, they were both great games, obviously linear, none of this invisible wall or “blocked road” rubbish, and they were FUN. Something I come back to a lot in my articles is the concept of fun in gaming, and how it’s sometimes forgotten about. The gravity gun was fun for a bit, especially in the granted amazing Ravenholm levels, which also had the great mental priest, this one bit of praise does not make Half Life 2 a good game at all. Find a diamond in dog mess and you’ll still have smelly fingers when you pull it out.
I know this is going to be a hard read for some people, it’s like I’ve just told them that their grandmother isn’t all that. But please before you comment on this article or send me a tweet, just think “The whole time I was playing that game was I having fun, or have I just forgotten all the boring bits over time?”.