Where do I begin when I talk about Half-life?
Logically, one could begin at the beginning of the franchise.
I first played Half-life sometime back in the 2000s as a kid and I remember it being the first video game that ever really scared me. I can recall walking through the lab in my HEV suit after having pushed the trolley carrying the sample specimen into the scientific gizmo. After which, chaos ensued.
It was particularly frightening on its own. To be honest, what gave me the chills was walking through the ruined lab, expecting something to kill me. I was actually shaking in my seat!
Mind you, I was playing at a friend’s house since my computer at the time wasn’t powerful enough to run the game (imagine that!). He wasn’t much help. He was even younger than me and, having already played through most of the game, kept asking if I was scared. What a twat!
But, anyway, it was an interesting experience.
I remember the gameplay could be likened to a wide corridor. It was definitely linear in nature with many scripted events and triggers. But then, what game with even the slightest shred of a storyline wasn’t like that back then? Sure, there were places to explore, but it wasn’t like it was an expansive game world anyway.
There were tough, annoying and bullet sponge enemies but there were also novel ways (at the time) to eliminate them. Sniper nest? Fire a rocket and blast them out of there. Big alien? Jump into that tank and pull the trigger! Often, actually shooting the enemies somehow felt less rewarding. After all, why duck in and out of cover and fire your SMG when you can lay a trip mine and lure them in?
The AI at the time wouldn’t be able to match up with AI today, but it was nevertheless smart for its time. Enemies were reactive. They would dodge grenades, try to blow you out of cover, suppress and even flank or simply retreat when you pulled out a heavier weapon.
What struck me the most was that despite the lackluster gunplay for the most part and the linearity of the game as a whole, it was effective at telling a story. Many might also say that it was revolutionary for its time because of how the overall immersion of the game was improved by the game world.
That brings me to this.
Half-life 2. What this game brought to the table was a dystopian future story with the player following the original, voiceless protagonist, Gordon Freeman, as he travels through the alien-controlled world and then eventually destroying the something or rather that was controlling the aliens on Earth. Along with an old character with updated graphics (Barney Calhoun), a sidekick with no purpose other than eyecandy for the desperate (Alyx Vance) and a somewhat loveable pile of junk (Dog).
Oh, and not to mention this guy.
Most other characters, including the main antagonist are pretty forgettable. You remember those scientists in Half-life? Well, this is the title that tried to give one of them a name. I can’t remember his name now but he was the one with the glasses in the first game.
Don’t get me wrong, they looked fantastic enough. There were even a couple of scenes that worked really well to convey the whole dystopian future story aspect of the game.
Basically, not much else. The gunplay was sadly not much of an improvement. The gravity gun, while fun at first (I launched a toilet in the air first chance I got), soon became a wearisome means of solving just about every puzzle. The much lauded physics engine, while great, was so woefully used in Half-life 2 to simply solve puzzles that served no other purpose than to show off that damn engine.
Levels were just as forgettable, unfortunately. Don’t get me wrong, they looked fantastic enough. There were even a couple of scenes that worked really well to convey the whole dystopian future story aspect of the game. Particularly, that part early on when you are running through the apartments to escape from the city police. However, the actual design of the levels were far more restrictive than they appeared. No invisible walls, they simply used actual physical walls to block you from going anywhere else. Except when you were being chased. These run-for-your-life sequences happened only a few times in the game but they were the few times when you could forgive the game for a being a bit restrictive. After all, by the first chase sequence, you would be immersed enough into the game experience that you would actually want to run in the right direction. I’d say they did well enough to direct you toward the right path.
But that begs the question. What if I could go the wrong way?
Personally, I would have loved to have been able to make a wrong turn and be punished for it. Furthermore, I would also have loved to have been able to make a wrong turn and end up in a different area to continue the story.
It felt like the whole point of the game, then, was to simply do just that. Tell a story. In that respect, they did fairly well. So well, in fact, that I don’t see how they could continue the line any further.
I remember playing Half-life: Episode One because my Steam account tells me I played it. I don’t even remember what happened in it. Because, in my mind, the Half-life saga is over.
And with that, I want to talk about Half-life 3. As we may know by now, the actual name “Half-life 3” has been trademarked in Europe. This usually only happens once a project is actually in development. That’s what we know for now. What we don’t know is what Valve is actually doing about it.
For all we know, it could be nothing. And, that’s what I can only hope for in this franchise. I played this game for the storyline and nothing more. Simply because there was nothing else to really comment on, once the hype had died down.
Valve, in the past, has done exceptionally whenever they came up with something new. I’m not just talking about a new title. I mean, an entirely new concept.
Look at Left 4 Dead. This was a title that spawned a new niche genre of co-operative zombie survival games. It’s just one example of what Valve is capable of when they sit down and create completely new IPs.
The problem comes when they create sequels.
Left 4 Dead 2 added new maps, characters and zombie types. It also added some new weapons and features to what Left 4 Dead already had. But, was it entirely new? Certainly, not. It was such a small difference to the original that some fans even cried foul and complained that Left 4 Dead 2 wasn’t simply a DLC expansion. After all, that’s basically what it was. It wasn’t something that even needed to be a new game.
It’s the same thing that happened with Portal. Sure, Portal was great. But, it didn’t need a sequel. It also had an nice storyline, fun characters and challenging puzzles. But, it didn’t bring anything new to the table.
And, that’s the exact problem Valve has when it comes to making games, in my opinion.
What we need is a new concept. A new story, if you will. We need a game that will break boundaries in its genre. We need a game that gives us a thrill in a way that we’ve never had. We need a game that challenges the way we play our games. We need a game that is so new, yet so familiar to play.
What we don’t need, is a great franchise to be beaten to death.
This article is written as an opinion and is not to be taken as exact fact. If you have a differing opinion, feel free to leave a comment. Follow me on twitter: @PanzerSG. And check out my YouTube channel. Since this article was written, the trademark for “Half-life 3” has since been removed. Curiously, a new trademark for “Portal 3” has been filed. Whatever it is, just wait for Valve to make an official announcement.