Tag Archives: physicist as hero


I haven’t really addressed the issue of what happens when I re-experience something. I watched the Star Wars movies over Christmas weekend, for example, with nary a review in sight. I’m not sure if this is good or bad, and probably I’ll deal with it on a case by case basis. My gut instinct says that while movies are too easy to review at any moment, games and books require an investment of time and energy that makes it worth revisiting them. This doesn’t mean I’ll follow that rule, of course. But I might.

The thing is, I got so thoroughly sucked in to playing Half-Life 2 that I was more interested in re-playing the original Half-Life than Doom 3. (All the random red sparkle pixels in Doom 3 aren’t helping any, but I’ll get back to it, never fear. It was just starting to get good and terrifying.)

For a game that came out seven or so years ago, Half-Life retains incredible replayability. I went all the way through the game without cheating or skipping anything, up until the very last fight. I only cheated there because I was ready to move on and had beaten it once before for real. The graphics are very descriptive for being so clunky by today’s standards, and the storyline is enthralling. Gordon Freeman, our everyman hero with a PhD in physics who works at a top secret government research facility, is caught in the results of an experiment gone awry. In his struggle to reach the surface with his hide intact, he comes to symbolize to the workers in the complex their own shining hope to survive the disaster themselves (and unlike in most games, you genuinely feel bad when most of them do not), and he comes to symbolize a threat equal to the one he wants to escape, to those forces which oppose him.

Well, I don’t want to spoil it or anything, but the fact is that nearly everyone in the world has played this game already, and I’ll spoil it when I review the next game in the sequence anyway, as it would be unavoidable there. So, yeah, it’s the military clean-up crew and the dimension-shifting alien forces. Sure, they hate each other more than they hate Gordon, but he runs a close second. What is a physicist to do? Well, clearly, he is to kill anyone that tries to kill him first, and eventually stop the alien invasion once and for all, coming to symbolize the dreams for freedom of an entire generation of humans and Xen alien slaves who… but I’m getting ahead of myself. For that, you need the sequel.

And I’m serious there. You *need* the sequel. This is shaping up to be one of the best video-game storylines available, if they can even maintain the same meager slide in story quality for the forthcoming Half-Life 3 that occurred between 1 and 2. If they improve again, well, watch out!

Half-Life 2

I know it looks like I’ve been neglecting my duties here. Instead, I just randomly finished three different things in the same 18 hour stretch. I’m not really clear on how that kind of thing happens, and yet here I am.

This time out, Half-Life 2, the story of Gordon Freeman, the rogue physicist who can’t seem to catch a break. After going through the rift accidentally opened by his fellow scientists at the Black Mesa research facility to put a stop to the creatures coming through, Gordon wakes up years later to find that his efforts didn’t result in as safe a world as he’d expected.

Then, crowbar at his side, he finds himself swept along by events once again, this time not just in an attempt to survive but due to the efforts of a resistance movement that has long viewed him as the savior of humanity. As many dark turns as were taken in the original Half-Life, this story nevertheless has a more somber feel to it. The stakes are higher, the betrayals are more deeply felt (if less surprising), and the character interactions are more fully realized. All this despite the main character never uttering a word of dialogue.

As for the gameplay: Lots of loading screens. It breaks up the game, which didn’t bother me. I can easily imagining it bothering other people, but I typically enjoyed the pause to relax and reflect. Spectacular gameplay. Well, fine, anyhow. I think that the FPS control and interaction scheme has been finalized for quite a while. No real improvements, but it’s worked very well, and continues to here.

The graphics are breathtaking. I’m on record as having said that they were a solid increment above the Final Fantasy movie, and here I mean the in-game play, not the cutscenes (of which there are none). I’ve since considered that I may have overstated that. The character movements in Final Fantasy were more realistically human, but still images and especially facial expressions don’t really hold a candle to the ones in this game. The rest of the world is essentially photorealistic. If FPSes weren’t quite to twitchy, it would be very easy to entirely forget you were playing a game.

I look forward to Half-Life 3, although not to the years-long wait for it. I expect I look forward to whatever expansions that get thrown out too. However, I do wish the game wasn’t so tightly copy-controlled that you have to be online to play the game. I didn’t pay money for it, as it came free with my video card. That smokescreen aside, I feel very uncomfortable not owning a physical copy of a game I’ve paid for. Not even the CD so much (although that too), but the idea that if I unplug my ethernet cable, I suddenly no longer have the game. For one thing, companies do go out of business from time to time. Mostly, I mistrust the precedent. Today, I can’t control my own purchases, tomorrow, eyeless crabs are latching onto people’s heads while an unelected military organization enforces the whims of our unseen alien overlords.