Thursday, February 21, 2008

Episode 2

I just managed to finish Half Life 2: Episode 2 and am still utterly floored by how absolutely engrossing it is. I've never really played a game like this where one FEELS for the characters. For me, this is on par with Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series and Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series.

"Good thing you've got your hazard suit on. This stuff's nasty.
Got room for two in there?"

Lately, in many games you have control over what happens to your character, and generally decisions are given to you, the player, and the outcome of the world weighs heavily on your shoulders.

In the Halflife series, you are not given choices... you, Gordan Freeman, are whisked through this world and placed in a myriad of sticky situations that require the use of your head, your environment, and other people around you to get through.

Sound familiar? - Life.
This is one of the few games that gives us a mirrored (perhaps funhouse mirrored) version of our world. We are not given ultimate choices and our decisions are not deemed right, wrong, good, or evil"... we are just given situations that we have to do our best to get out of, and try not to get others hurt along the way. We are not the final word in the world, but are a part of it.

This is the draw of Half Life. Like my novels, you, the player/reader, get to live the lives of these characters but really have no choice in what happens. You don't get to choose if you want to save this girl, the character IS going to do it! The only thing you can do is try to dodge as many bullets as possible to get it done. This isn't your story, and these are not your decisions... but you do get to see what it is like in the shoes of Gordan Freeman.

I have shelves (albiet digital shelves) of games that promise full control to "do what I want" and "change the world" or state: "Your decisions actually affect the world around you!"

... but I don't think that is what makes a great game at all. I make decisions every day and get to live with the consequences of my actions... giving me a game where I get to make any decision, but don't have to live with it if I want just makes it unplayable. You keep restarting, or perhaps you go back and try multiple paths... then get to decide which on you thought was better... it totally removes that feeling of BEING a character. You lose the immersion and that character is just a shell you occupied for a short amount of time.

But this... this is a story about a man who is admired; who is looked to as a beacon of hope and a pillar of strength. He isn't just some character you played, because you can look back at the game and see those other characters staring at you, looking into your eyes, and asking you for help.

This is truly pulling me out of this world, and allowing me to escape and enjoy myself. I don't need my decisions to decide the fate of the world or label me as good or evil... it is enough when my decisions decide the fate of my life, or eventually the life of my family. A game or a great piece of literature is supposed to grab me and make me part of the world... not allow me to make the world into whatever I want...

Yeah, they call me Gordan Freeman... but I think that is why we play games or read great novels in the first place. To become someone else and visit another world. Changing your name is only the first step, and I think Valve has done an excellent job in whisking us away on an adventure that is just out of our control, yet so real and exciting that you really don't care. You just want to see what life is like in this person's shoes.

Excellent Job Valve.

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