This question contains spoilers regarding ALL the half-life series games.
I recently played Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and was partly impressed by the start and partly disappointed. I’ll discuss each game’s start in a moment but first this week’s poll question.
Which Half-Life game has the best start?
When I say “start” I’m thinking about the first ten minutes or so. Allow me to give a brief introduction to each game, along with my personal views on it. You may wish to vote before reading the rest of this article.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, from the moment that silky-voiced announcer started telling me the temperature on that now famous tram ride I was hooked. I thought the start to Unreal was great (And I still believe that) but this was even better. It started like an interactive movie; credits rolling, information given, both visual and textual, and yet I could still move around. I had some control over where I looked. I saw the basic setting of the game that made the whole thing seems almost real.
Then I get off the tram and am allowed total control over where I roamed, people to kinda interact with, places to see. Finally my task is outlined and off I go to do what I am apparently trained to do.
“But wait, this isn’t supposed to happen, what have I done. It’s not my fault, surely.”
Too late Freeman, you are now responsible for whatever happens. Only one thing to do and that’s get help. And so starts my journey, both within the game and metaphorically to this site and this poll and this sentence!
The first ten minutes of this game changed my life and I love it. I make no bones about it, this is the best start to any game I have ever experienced.
The macho b*llsh*t often seen in many games doesn’t interest me in the slightest. The characters are complete clichés but apparently the game-buying public like them so here they are!
The creators’ desire to make me feel part of a group worked though, and whilst I don’t like these types of characters I did feel part of their team. The opening sequence of Opposing Force tried to recreate that initial journey and scene-setting but definitely didn’t reach the heights that Half-Life did. However, it does a great job of making the player feel part of something and also of continuing the story.
After the crash, the player has little time to consider his position because straight away there are objectives to achieve and in this way the flow is excellent. I immediately became immersed and any thoughts of comparison are gone because I am in the think of the puzzles and actions. A good start to a game and if it weren’t for Half-Life I would have loved it.
I have a confession to make. I actually had to go back and replay the first few minutes becasue I had completely forgotten how this game started. That in itself is not a good sign but that could be more my fault than the game’s.
Anyway, the player once again starts on the tram system of Black Mesa but this time the thrill of discovering is missing. I already know about Black Mesa and the various security zones etc. It follows the same pattern as Half-Life in that you have the tram ride, the free form exploration and finally the “disaster” in the form of the elevator failure.
However, following the same formula isn’t a bad thing except it’s a little too “samey”. Perhaps a different form of transport at the beginning might have sparked my interest or even 90% outside journey may have been enough to separate the two games. As it was I just have the feeling that it’s a copy.
The elevator section is very good and again sets the scene, as the player is instantly aware that they are in some deep trouble! However, that is not enough to drag this beginning up enough to warrant a “great” rating.
Ok, so now we are back to playing as Gordon Freeman and this game has the advantage over the three previous ones of having incredible graphics. You could argue that the 3 previous games had great graphics for the time and they did but we are making a direct comparison, so it’s hard to balance that out.
The G-man has always been a mysterious character and this game only adds to that mystery. Not only are the graphics exceptional they are used to great effect with a close-up of the G-man, his facial expressions, lip movements and eyes, all had me transfixed. The voice and the words themselves are perfectly matched. So far, so good. The screen fades to a train carriage, no doubt a homage to Half-Life, and again the player has the feeling of a movie intro; credits, scene setting and some freedom of movement.
Once off the train we are allowed to wander for the most part but are still eventually force to go the way the Combine (Valve!) want us to. This section introduces the use of physics, but not too much, just enough to get us both accustomed to the technique required and also get us excited as to the possibilities.
Luckily we are met by our old friend from Blue Shift, Barney Calhoun, and this is a clever piece of game production because it connects us to the previous games but also allows us to have a familiar story-telling device.
Once past Barney, we have some great views of the new environment and a chance for some action. Within a few minutes we are knocked out but low and behold, a “female interest” appears in the form of Alyx. Now we have everything set for the next roller coaster ride.
You awaken to find yourself at the base of the Citadel with Alyx and Dog looking for you. The view is a dramatic start to what I consider to be a mediocre game. However, we are not talking about the whole game, just the beginning, so back on topic!
Once you find your bearings and are given an update to the story, it’s time for one of the highlights of the game; the leap across the gap. You and Alyx sit in a car while dog manages to show his strength and skill.
(I presume it’s male otherwise Alyx would have called it bitch, don’t you agree?! Ha! Now that has to be a start to a new game if ever I heard one. Dog and Bitch: The adventure Continues!)
Back on topic, damn it! Of course the throw/leap or whatever you want to call it doesn’t go exactly to plan and boy do you get more than you bargained for. It’s a great ride and you suddenly find yourself not exactly where you want to be. It’s fun but I got the feeling that it was added more because it was fun than anything else.
Not the worst start to a game but I happily saved the game and came back to it later.
Onto the latest and greatest. This game has a completely new feel and starts with a proper episode recap in cinema mode of what’s recently happened. It’s great but I can’t help feeling it had include the whole story from Black Mesa to now. Of course that’s because I love the whole thing!
Once the show is over it’s time for action or more likely recover from yet another disaster. And he is where I am starting to feel a little jaded. Too often I seem to have to extricate myself from some disaster right and the beginning. The games should be called yo-yo because that’s how it feels.
Without doubt the highlight of this game is the view of the citadel and the bridge of marching Combine. If that doesn’t get a player going then few things can. I have the scene set, along with a clear objective.
I’m trying not to let my enthusiam for the game cloud my judgment of the opening ten minutes and I don’ think I have. It’s beautiful, functional but lacks the emotion of Half-Life.
Unlike other poll questions where I detail the choices, here I have been very clear with my opinions. I could have easily just stuck to descriptions of the opening sequence but chose not to. I wanted to express my thoughts and I did.
I suppose I would have preferred to have waited for the release of Episode 3, but there’s no reason why I can’t run this poll question again after is has been released. Perhaps restrict it to the 3 episodes, who knows.
Next week, I’ll look at the game endings.
Here are the links to the Wikipedia entries for each game. I am linking to these because I find these very concise, however you may find the resource on half-life.wikia.com useful, I haven’t made a comparison.