I often get into bouts of frustration that have me tweeking out like a wookie with flees. A common cause to these flip outs is trying to decide what game to look at for the next week’s column. With so many good titles out there, I just want to play them all! Unfortunately, I am limited to my one human brain and I can’t dual box consoles. Although if that could be done I would bow down to said individual. Long story short, in order to vent some of this frustration, I picked up my laundry basket like He-Man. While debating on what object in my vicinity deserved a smiting, it came to my mind that I love throwing objects at enemies. So this week on Level Up, we step back from the console and look at one game that encourages slaying enemies with any object you can pick up or tear out of the wall: Half Life 2. I guess I picked it up more like Free-man? Ok, I’m done.
History and Mechanics
The two actually means it is a sequel and I deduced this myself. Half Life 2 (HL2) is the second addition to the series that, once again, follows the most bad ass scientist you will ever play: Gordon Freeman. Developed by Valve Corporation, HL2 was one of the most well received games of all time, netting in 39 Game of the Year awards. If that doesn’t make you want to check it out, your desire to be different may be serious character flaw.
The game is a First Person Shooter style adventure with plenty of baddies to pwn with shotguns and explode with rocket launchers. While exploding enemies is great, the true joy comes from the new game engine named Source. The Source engine stepped up nearly every aspect of the IP with improved physics, AI, animations, rendering, and sound. While the look of water and textures were great, the highlight was the physics. The game encourages you to work with your surroundings and interact with the objects in them. In fact, the physics were such a highlight of HL2 they even incorporated a weapon specifically designed to play/pwn with them: The Gravity Gun.
The Gravity gun is the best addition to a FPS game ever. You can pick up barrels, crates, tires, paint cans, grenades, toilets, sinks, furnaces, tables, chairs, planks, saw blades… let’s just say anything around your size or smaller can be turned into a high volocity mass of doom for your enemies. The game not only encourages the use of physics in combat (yes there is an achievement for killing someone with a toilet) but also through the nature of the game’s puzzles. In Half Life, we saw the use of puzzles used as ways to challenge the player during progression. Most of the puzzles were of a “find the next button” nature. At the time that was great, but now HL2 steps it up with puzzles that require you to use physical objects and their attributes to move on. Stacking boxes, using the weight of bricks, flammable substances, or floating material can all be used to help you get to the next section in HL2. It is fantastic and leaves the door open for creativity when dealing with the opposition.
My Experience and Nostalgia
I have played Half Life 2 from start to finish more times then I can count. While the AI is random enough to keep me guessing on how certain scenarios will play out, in general my experience with the game has made it so that playing on difficult and limiting myself has made the longevity of entertainment amazing. This time through I only used my crowbar, pistol and gravity gun unless an achievement required a different weapon. Needless to say, dying is a regular occurrence this time around.
Utilizing the games objects as weapons keeps me more in tune with the environments around me. I take note of objects as I walk into new rooms and keep a running tab in my head of all the objects I can use for weapons in the previous few rooms. Why the latter? Because when you play with the basic weapons only, you do a lot of retreating.
My favorite zone thus far has been Ravenholm, although every new chapter/zone brings new joys. Set up like an small city overrun with aliens and zombie head crab people, it is an adrenaline rush. You can’t seem to find the space that you need to feel safe. Every room is crammed and leaves little wiggle room for error. The game has an achievement to get through only using your gravity gun. I thought it would be easy but it was tricky and scary during some parts on the highest difficulty.
I have not finished the game yet. I have only just reached the Nova Prospect section (shady prison system). The goal this time around wasn’t to finish, but rather to enjoy the creativity that the game offers. I plan on finishing the whole HL2 series later on this week. For now, it has just been a blast fighting my way through the zones one toilet or paint can at a time.
The great thing that HL2 does is provide you with the tools to create your own experience. HL2 could have easily been released with just the physics and normal FPS arsenal, but the addition of the gravity gun was an invitation to mix things up and play in the HL2 world. I’ve spent hours not even playing the actual story but goofing off with explosions and throwing barrels around. The gravity gun truly is the most remarkable feature on an already brilliant game.
If there is something that new developers can take away from HL2 its this: Linear doesn’t have to be synonymous with limited. You can control your story and the path of the player yet still help the player have fun. The gravity gun may have been something that valve decided would be fun for combat, but the biggest joy is just how it allows you to play with your surroundings. A mechanic that encourages the player to enjoy your world. What a concept huh?