Friday, March 05, 2010

Half Life 2 and the silent protagonist.

For me, Half life 2 is still the best single player first person shooter. In terms of level design, variety, invention, its just superb. Compare the experience of Ravenholm to the assault on Nova Prospect, the fight on the bridge to the final strider battle. What half life manages to do with its resources is nothing short of incredible. I've experienced good FPS, but nothing with the scope and inventiveness of HL2. Fear is enjoyable, but the level design is samey and the enemies mostly identical (more health does not a different fight make). By having three different enemy types, and each of those varied as well, HL2 has a massive toolkit to create varied fights.

Its storytelling is also incredible. For the most part the story is told in game, and the characters evoke an emotional reaction which can be difficult to elicit. Yet, as you might be able to tell from the title of this blog, there is a major issue. The protagonist never speaks. Never. It made sense initially, as in the original game you barely had any interactions with anyone. Yet it has got more absurd as you continue, to the point where you spend an entire episode hanging out with Alyx Vance and don't say a word. Are you actually mute? Is you character vocalising but the player isn't allowed to hear? Its a problem, because it strains believability to think that Gordon can talk, but just doesn't.

How does one resolve this? It seems a betrayal to have your first person character speak with a different voice to yours, but the alternative is just as ridiculous. Half Life has always led you- player agency doesn't really exist at all- indeed theres no real indication that Gordon is at all invested in the conflicts he's involved in, as the only reason he shoots at one set of people is that they're the ones attacking him. All the way through he reacts, and yet is considered a revolutionary hero. I suspect this issue isn't going to be resolved for episode 3, but one does wonder if Half Life 3 might be being held off for the specific goal to get voicing to a point where we can use Gordon. After all, L4D has suceeded in doing so.

It must be noted that Gordon not speaking is less insane than the protagonist in Fear, who fails to mention to his special operative team... well... anything whatsoever. Worse special agent ever?

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