So I've finally joined the rest of the world in actually finishing Half-Life 2. I started it a year and a bit back but I got frustrated by a combination of the severe demand it placed on my system, the excessively lengthy vehicle sequences, and of course Steam.
When it's good, it's very good. The sequences that feature the other named characters are fantastic, notably the opening level and the set-piece towards the end of the game featuring Dog. It's really unfortunate though how often it fails to play to its strength. Half-Life 2 is notable for being genre-leading in plotting, scripted sequences, artificial intelligence, character development and its excellent physics engine. So how come I spend so much time crawling around sewers and ruined urban environments shooting at mindless zombies and headcrabs?
The Ravenholm level, for example, would be a wonderfully moody horror level in any other game, but in Half-Life 2 it feels like a chore you have to progress through in order to get back to the real plot.
Similarly, considering the amazing level of expressiveness in the major characters, and the top notch voice and motion capture used throughout, it seems a shame that the game pulls its punches when it comes to really exploring their relationship with the player. It's pretty clear all the way through that no-one's ever going to be in any actual danger of death, and even if someone were to fall by the wayside it's not something that the player would actually have to cope with or live with.
I've started Episode One, which promises a more intense look at, in particular, the character of Alyx Vance. I'm hoping that it gets it right in adding the elements which would turn a fantastic gaming achievement into a masterpiece of gaming history.