Tuesday, 4 May 2004

FPS Survey II

Listening to:

Beethoven, piano sonata in B flat major, Op. 106 “Hammerklavier”, played by Alfred Brendel.


← Back to FPS Survey I

Half-Life is undoubtedly one of the most famous first-person shooters out there. It’s credited with demonstrating that shooters could be full of action and also tell a neato story too. To get credited as being epoch-making in this fashion inevitably means that it’s pretty old. In fact, it came out in 1998. I didn’t play it until much more recently, but still thought it pretty impressive.

Graphically, it’s not as good-looking as NOLF2, but the story is pretty good. Nor is the story simply something that goes on in the background while the player sits, twiddling their thumbs and thinking, Yeah, yeah. But when are we going to see some action? Instead, the player is central to the story. Lest you get the wrong idea, this is not Pride and prejudice. The story is the hero getting himself out of an underground lab that has been overrun with aliens that have appeared through an inter-dimensional gateway. Cliché-city then, but it’s well-paced, told with an effective rhythm, and has one or two interesting developments too.

The story is also completely linear, and obviously so. The only scope that the player has to change the development of the story is in the way that enemies are dispatched (some can even be avoided): there’s always just one door through which the player needs to pass in order to advance the story. By way of comparison, NOLF2 is really just as linear, but provides more open environments in which to run around. Another difference that makes a good impression is that Half-Life presents its story in one seam-less whole: there are no real cut-scenes, and story’s development always unfolds directly in front of the player with the same interface visible, and with the player free to move around and shoot things.

As in NOLF2, the game features good variety. There is some variety in locations because you do eventually make it out of the underground lab to the surface, and there’s also a final segment set on a variety of miniature alien worlds. Better, there’s great variety in the enemies that have to be defeated. There are a number of alien species, and there are also humans that need defeating too. All of these different enemies behave differently, and usually quite believably.

It’s a deserved classic, but there are still two relatively minor problems with Half-Life:

  • There are too many jumping puzzles: areas that can only be traversed by pulling off some feat of minor acrobatics. For example, there’s an area early on consisting of crates hanging on cables above an enormous drop. You have to jump from one crate to the next, and avoid falling into the chasm. This is just tedious.

  • The final section, set in weird alien worlds, is not very satisfying. The motivating story takes a back seat. Instead, each little world is no more than a series of enemies that must be killed in order to gain access to the world’s magic teleportation gate. This then takes you to the next little world. This doesn’t make any real sense, and it’s all capped off by a fight with a great big boss monster. Pshaw!

Forward to FPS Survey III →