Play a Half-Life game, post thoughts or comments about it



  • With the recent Half-Life: Alyx announcement reviving the series, it's a good excuse to revisit some of the older games, so... Boot up any Half-life game then post some comments about it!

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    I decided to play Half-Life 2 last night. I think I'm going to mainly skip around using the developer console to warp to chapters. It's nice that you can also skip to later checkpoints within a chapter if you want to play it mostly straight but a certain gameplay section begins to drag.

    It seems like warping around automatically gives you the proper weapons for that chapter too, which is nice. The guns still feel great to use. Maybe it's just me, but the game seems to guide you into a comfortable groove of automatics against the Combine enemies and pistol+shotgun against the zombies and other alien vermin.

    Another thought I had were about those long "in control, POV cutscenes" during story moments. HL2 has always made me wonder about the merits and downsides of that approach, mostly because I wish HL2's cutscenes were much snappier on replays. I'm literally bouncing off the walls once I get impatient with a scene. On this playthrough it also immediately made me realize how much a "directed" cutscene can add via the use of cuts and controlled camera angles. The cast of HL2 is still charming for sure, but coming straight off of some modern games it was a nice reminder how good we've got it now.

    I almost fooled myself into thinking that HL2's cutscenes represented a dusty, old method before I realized these cutscenes haven't dissappeared at all. I seem to not mind (or even notice) them in modern games either! I guess it's just that the animation & motion capture on NPCs has become more detailed, which is enough to avoid feeling like the scene is grinding the game to a halt? I don't know. Also, the boundary between NPC AI and NPC cutscene behavior has gotten way fuzzier in modern games. At some point it just becomes 1-2 unique animations and voicelines; something so brief it doesn't constitute a "cutscene". Even for longer instances, it's actually weird how little I concsiously notice "in control cutscenes" today. Perhaps the use of audio logs and 'in-ear dialogue' for modern games is another factor.



  • I recently started a new game of Black Mesa, the officially supported fan remake of Half-life on the Source engine.
    I only got to Chapter 9 "On a Rail" when I played it before, but remembering that the Xen update is a thing I decided to just start over.

    Having played the original Half-Life more times than I would like to admit, I immediately got back into the groove of things. Boredom set in a little faster than usual on the log tram ride so I just crouched jumped around the seats for a few minutes while waiting for it to end.
    I forgot that they took some artistic liberties and changed a few things, so when an NPC commented about Gordon cutting his ponytail and called him a sell-out I legit chuckled a bit.
    One resonance cascade and a few dozen headcrab/headcrab zombies later I decided to call it quits for the night.

    One of the things that stood out to me was level design. You don't see stuff like this very much anymore, where the path isn't always obvious and you have to do some exploring before you figure out the proper way to progress. I think the streamlining of games is partly to blame, where everything is labeled by a quest marker. I'm not saying that is necessarily a bad thing, as these days I don't have a tremendous amount of free time to play games these days, but I kinda miss that sort of stuff about games.

    Pretty stoked to continue my journey through Black Mesa once again. It honestly blows my mind that this was all done by a few guys in their spare time.



  • I actually plan on playing the original Half Life again sometime soon. I've only ever played HL: Source which is apparently awful (I loved it), so I'll try the original and see whats up. I also kinda wanna try Black Mesa too but thats unlikely.



  • @el-shmiablo I'm a bigger fan of Half-Life 1 as well. I played Black Mesa a few years back and was very impressed with the upgrade. However, I remember abandoning the playthrough at "On a Rail" though and switching to original. I'm not 100% sure why in retrospect, but I think my memory was more comfortable with the unmodified level layouts. I also hadn't played HL1 for quite some time, so that playthrough was still a significant re-familiarization process.

    The level design of HL1 is pretty noteworthy. Of games I've played, the ones that come closest to this style might be some of the Jedi Knight games.



  • Revisiting Half-Life 2 some more makes me think about modulation of action. Both Half-Life 1 and 2 punctuate a series of combat encounters with a long period of down time. In HL1, that is often the form of exploration and completing an objective so you can return elsewhere. In HL2 it is often just having to take note of your environment to find a disguised path or occasionally a physics puzzle. Both games also have some platforming/hazard challenges.

    There are many times that I find HL2's modulation to be unsatisfying. The stop and go nature doesn't always heighten the tension like it should, but rather could easily make me disappointed that the previous combat section was too briefly paced. The game will throw soldiers with pistols at you for a long time after you are rocking the automatic and high caliber weapons, for instance, which isn't enough of a threat to break things up. Or there will be a very brief pack of enemies that don't feel like enough meat to fit in the middle of two slices of the puzzle section sandwich. There's also a period in the later chapters where you frequently stop to pull landmines ('hoppers') out of the ground, or else stop to disable an inconsiderate turret around a corner. You kind of just want to get going with the "resistance uprising" at that point!

    De-emphasizing HL1's sense of exploration and mini-objectives seems to make this feel like issue when the same amount of downtime wasn't before, perhaps because it turns the game's pacing into a more conscious part of the player's experience worth paying attention to and remembering. Because it should be pointed out that HL2 is very paced at times as well. Half-Life 2 is consistently overly generous with ammo, and the resupply crates are clearly marked this time (big timesaver!). And so when you know exactly where you are going, the game can slip into more of a Doom-like "fire and forget" rapid combat & traversal experience. There's almost a silly realization that you will have plenty of ammo to use the shotgun against plain Jane normal headcrabs and zombies. Likewise, the crossbow isn't "a waste" to use as a 1-hit kill against standard combine soldiers. There's so much ammo to go around that the magnum basically stops getting use after you collect more of your arsenal.

    I haven't revisited every chapter, but the courtyard setpiece where you have to protect Alyx seems like it takes the cake for hardest section. I don't think I've ever had a perfectly smooth run of that encounter. I wonder if there is some great strategy here. I tried to maintain a rear minefield of hoppers to hide behind when the final wave of enemies flood your position just as you need to leave. Preserving as much health as possible until that point was also very important, but that's all I came up with.