It's been a helluva year, fellas. From meager beginnings, missed updates, support from friends and a glorious rise.
What's to come in the year ahead? I dunno, but I'll tell you what's to come next paragraph!
Ladies, Gentlemen, and ladies dressed like men, I proudly present a one year anniversary article; Half-Life 2.
With a minor spoiler warning, before we begin.
Half Life 2 is a very influential game, for myself and for others.
One that has a special very place to me.
It's one of those tricky things that takes a lot of explaining, though. A bit of history leading up to when I first played this, and the mindset I had on that day.
For the longest time, I had no means of playing modern games. I had an old IBM Aptiva computer with DOS and Windows 3.11, a battered NES and a pristine Sega Master System.
That... Was it. The Aptiva was purchased when I was 6, I was given the NES and Master System when I was 13, and that was all I had until later in my high school life when my parents sprung for a cheap low-grade modern computer. That thing was not very spectacular, But it familiarized me with this whole 'Start menu' thing until a teacher of mine gave me his old Windows 98SE computer. THAT thing was a much more capable machine, oddly, and I appreciated its company very much.
It still couldn't play anything newer than the turn of the millenium, though. And in 2005, that's just a little sad. I would catch glimpses of modern games on TV commercials, and when my brother's was playing something neat on the rare instance I was at his place.
Modern games had some kind of mystical veil to them that made them seem so special and amazing. They looked like so much goddamn fun that I couldn't WAIT to get a job and buy a computer. My brother never let me play them on his fancy computer, and I had no means to play them myself. The grass seemed so bright and vibrantly green on the other side of the technology gap.
And then I played Half-Life 2.
This was years down the line. I had graduated, I was living on my own, had a job, all that good stuff. I was at a friend's place. He had built himself a great and grand computer, more powerful than any other I had seen anyone with, and hooked it up to his 42 inch 1080p TV. I had myself a copy of The Orange Box, despite not having a computer sufficiently powerful to play it on. I thusly lent my copy of that game to him and he installed it. During a three-day weekend I had off from work, I was at his place. He went to work one of the days I was over, and so he let me play Half-Life 2 whilst he was away.
That day was magical.
So, consider the following. At the time, I had crazy thick nostalgia blur (of sorts) for modern games. Games exactly like Half-Life 2. That happy blur was magnified by my naievity at the time of how modern games worked, multiplied by the fact that Half-Life 2 is just a damn good game, and..
Well, you can kinda see how it felt. That day was a happy blur. Playing this game, blasting through the enemies by the skin of my teeth, soaking in the environments, getting a feel for the characters...
I had no preconceptions of modern games and the similarities that they sometimes share amongst each other. This was... Fresh. The freshest game experience I had ever had. Everything was new! I hadn't seen anything about newer games other than mere glimpses and a video or two. The next newest game I had played before this was either the first Half Life or Unreal Tournament. And those were comparitively ancient. In 2008, Half Life 2 was old enough!
It still won me over completely, though. The attention to detail in every bit of locale blew my mind. Ravenholm scared the fuck out of me, and I adored it. Plunging into the mines after fighting off those goddamn screaming zombies was every bit as nerve-wracking as if I was doing it in real life, and later on, that big steel bridge.... My god, that huge metal bridge. What I wouldn't give to experience that scene again as I did the first time...
Sometimes people rumble and mumble about this game, and I do admit a bit of a bias. I mean, beyond the huge nostalgia of when I played it. One of my favourite elements of a game is exploration, but one a bit below that I enjoy a lot as well; the feeling of a great and long journey.
Moreso than any RPG I've played, Half-Life 2 gives the impression of having travelled a goddamn long ways. Sure, the distance travelled in the game probably stretches for less than twenty kilometers, but considering the fact that you're seeing those kilometers for yourself, every step and meter of the way, once you kinda think about it... That's still a damn long ways. Especially when you're weaving through city streets and sewer tunnels, or driving down a winding mountain road with all the twists and turns one would expect from one, and long country roads going under deep tunnels in the hills.
And I love that shit. You were told in-game that it was a long and hard road to go to where you want to, and by god, they deliver on that. The sense of accomplishment when you finally fucking get there is a great relief. To spend a few minutes just tossing a big metal ball back and forth with a big robot dog is a great way to unwind and reward yourself for the trek you just accomplished.
It accomplishes this feeling, I theorize, by giving times of calm throughout the journey. In RPG's, you'll be walking along, and soon enough, something comes up that needs your attention. Usually randomized events. In Half-Life 2, there's no underlying elements to keep track of other than where you're going, the story so far, and how many bullets you have. No stats or levels or anything.
There's moments where there's nothing but you, the environment, and an objective to head to. Sometimes it just requires going own a set path for a while, or navigating tricky setpieces. It's just you and what's around you. No enemies, no voices, just the ambience and your objective. Depending on how well you navigate the obstacles and dilly-dally by looking at things, these moments can last hours.
Despite the post-apocalyptic world that you're in, I haven't felt such potent feelings of wanting to be in the game, in that world, to explore it for myself in person. That feeling is very potent in Half-Life 2 for me. The only game that comes close to it would be Metro 2033.
Yes, it's a depressing world, but it's.... A simpler one? The meager wants and needs that we take for granted in life no longer matter. I mean, how much for granted do we take food? If we're hungry, we go to our kitchen, or to a grocery store, or god, go to a RESTURANT where someone makes food FOR you! Those just don't exist in Half-Life 2's world! Instead, you have people lining up in front of a slow dispenser, waiting patiently for something to eat. They mumble to themselves about joining the scary 1984-esque overbearing police force just so they can eat better.
That's potent stuff. Everyone's been hungry at some point in their lives. So seldomly does it seem to come up in games, but just a little touch like that can make that world seem so much more potent. Anyone will rally behind the cause of food for everyone. A masterstroke of villianizing your antagonist.
And what an antagonist! You catch only recorings of him and his voice, as his public speeches demonize you and your actions. He obviously lives well, in his nice suit, fair build, and as you glimpse briefly, a very nice office. When all the other citizens go about in coveralls and rumbling stomachs, the antagonist is almost anger inducing. He thinks he's doing good! He thinks he's doing the right thing! How could someone be so blindly cruel?!
It's kinda hard for me to go back and play Half-Life 2 now. There's no way that any time I ever play it again will match to that euphoric day I first played it. It was such a special feeling. It's kinda like one of those perfect Christmas memories with your family years ago. Everything was just so bright, happy and cozy, to the point that you know there's no way it could ever be that amazing again.
On the day I played Half-Life 2, I went to a resturant for food. I sat at an outside table. And for the first time in my life, I felt... Priveledged. Sure, I was a lonely, near-broke virgin at the time, but I had lots of good in my life. I kinda had a little moment to myself. I thought of the things I had, and appreciated them all the more.
So here's hoping Half-Life 3, whenever it should come out, lives somewhat up to the impression that Half-Life 2 made on me.
For that, I will wait any amount of time Valve deems it necessary.