On familiar ground (Yet another post about Valve)

I’ve been struggling to think of something to write here all day, but for once it isn’t because there isn’t anything I want to write about; it’s because there is one thing I really want to write about that I’ve done before, and on more than one occasion: the Half-Life series.

The fact that I’m now writing this should make it quite obvious that I’m going to do it anyway, but it’s only because I need to get it off my chest. I also wrote that previous paragraph so you realise how I tried to avoid writing it, so don’t go rolling your eyes. I tried.

As anyone who follows me on Twitter will know, I spent a lot of time on Half-Life 2 yesterday. My memory tells me that it’s one of my favourite games, but it couldn’t back it up with any details, so playing through everything again was a brilliant refresher on why it’s such a special game. The Ravenholm chapter made me completely enamored with the game again, thanks to a terrifying(ly brilliant) atmosphere and absolutely inspired use of the physics engine for traps/puzzles.

I reached Nova Prospekt today and I’m still completely in awe of the game. Maybe it’s because due to other games doing it, but I always recalled the vehicle sections of the game as filler for large sections of the map, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. A lot of games have vehicle sections to mix things up and more often than not,  you will “become” the vehicle until that section is over, but Valve made sure this wasn’t the case; any damage suffered remains with you after you leave the vehicle, which, importantly, you can do at any time if you feel like exploring on foot. It felt strangely liberating and is still streets ahead of some games, even now – 7 years on. This applies to the facial animation system as well – seeing Alyx for the first time is still as incredible as it was the first time.

For reasons that escape me now, I decided to turn the original Half-Life after I’d been on the sequel for some time, and for the first time since I originally played it, it got it’s teeth into me. It’s obvious even now what made it an absolute masterpiece back in 1998 and you can see Valve’s potential seeping out everywhere; Even with a much more basic toolset they still managed to subtly feed you elements of the story and guide you through game using brilliantly designed maps.

I still feel strangely proud of myself after defeating the first “boss” you come across in the game, which is one of the reasons the game clicks with so many people – it makes you feel clever by using subtle hints as to how you solve sections of the game, as opposed to having an NPC explicitly tell you. Having you backtrack across parts of the map has another great effect: there’s an element of familiarity when you recognise where you are, but the area has often undergone a change to keep you on your toes.

There’s an obscene amount of anticipation for a new Half-Life game from the gaming community and while it’s fairly obvious that I’m eager for it to happen, especially after the last few days of being utterly obsessed with them, I would happily wait another few years if Valve can keep the quality at the same level as the previous two (and two thirds) titles. I just wish they’d at least announce that they’re making the bastard thing.

 

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