Half Life: The most overrated game series of all time?

Discussion in 'Off-topic Zone' started by boringnickname, Feb 14, 2016.

  1. boringnickname

    boringnickname 1st Lieutenant

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    Does anyone else think that Valve are one of the luckiest bastards ever?

    I think their landmark series, the thing that made Steam possible, Half-Life, is the most overrated thing in gaming of all time.

    HL's often lauded story is nothing to write home about compared to other contemporaries (Command and Conquer, Wing Commander, all the adventures and RPGs of that time). And even if limit it to shooters, System Shock had far better gameplay and story. I know that part of the hype is because the NPCs told the story instead of cutscenes, but that's not a valid argument, because 99% of the NPCs in Half-Life say "Hello Freeman, let me open this door for you" or some variation of it. The audio-logs in System Shock are far more interesting and better acted than this stuff. If something is stupid, it doesn't matter how it is presented (besides, the friendly aliens in Unreal behaved pretty much the same like the HL scientists)

    I know 90s games by heart, and I am completely perplexed how Half-Life's presentation was considered good in light of its competition.

    Half-Life 2's legendary status is even more dubious, if you take into account that it came out after Deus Ex, System Shock 2, Outcast, Thief, Jedi Knight 2 etc. No way HL2 is better than these.

    I found the presentation of the story in HL2 outright bizarre. "Gordon Freeman, is that YOU?! WOOOHOOO"! Why are you the hero to these people? You barely interacted with anyone during the incident in the lab, because you were in a duct or pipe 90% of the time. To them, you vanished in a lab years ago, and the world is invaded by another dimension hours later. It's entirely possible Freeman made a deal with the other side and arranged the invasion in the first place - the only witnesses are these weird aliens from Xen, and why would everyone believe them? And why is the Black Mesa logo sprayed everywhere by the rebels? The experiments there led to the whole mess in the first place - one would think they would burn everyone at the stake who worked there.

    Aside from that - some of them are like like "oh, it's you Freeman. Hi, please follow me". What?! They behave like I am their buddy they saw just yesterday, but I am also an almost mythical heroic figure that vanished twenty years ago. It just doesn't make sense.

    The whole "So, ready to hear this important information? OK, so.. WAIT we are being attacked!" rythm got old very quick. And it goes throughout the whole game and all its expansions!

    The levels are nothing to be particulary excited either. The Orwellian beginning is very interesting, but it's over within 15 minutes. Then you're in the good old sewers and pipes again. Yawn.

    I know this game is over ten years old, but the ones I mentioned are even OLDER and BETTER.

    I just don't get it.
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2016
  2. Dyret

    Dyret Super Carrot!

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    Half-Life 1 was a shit on most levels, the second one was good. Opposing Force was also good in places.
     
  3. Mindcrime

    Mindcrime Captain

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    Sadly I only recently got HL2 and I'm a litte late for the party. I'm sure this was groundbreaking at the time but it just feels average to me now. I wish I played it back when it was new!
     
  4. Worf

    Worf Vice Admiral

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    Well, the most groundbreaking part of the story was Gordon Freeman never talks, and never makes an appearance on screen. There is no time he comes running out to shoot something or hit something, and all the characters talk to you, but never in a way that requires a reply. It also was a time when most FPSes actually didn't HAVE a story. Up until Half Life, the basic goal of an FPS was to run around and shoot everything. There was a token story but it had zero impact on the game. And it also brought on the concept of a single player FPS - sure you could play Doom single player, but it was primarily multi player.

    The problem is, it's actually hard to do storytelling the Half-Life way - it's why most FPSes have cut scenes that get the main character into the story, or have the main character speak. It's also remarkably hard in the way Half Life introduced new concepts to the player - many FPSes cheat by using words, but Half Life does it by example - the user sees the effects of something, is given a chance to practice and then does. Most others use words written on walls, or commentary by other players to show how some game mechanic worked. I had a YouTube video of this - showing how a player with the gravity gun could use it to fling saw blades at zombies to kill them and how other FPSes don't do it the way Half LIfe does - most make it blatantly obvious.

    Basically the reason people like it is that it introduced concepts that are often copied (poorly or otherwise) in FPS games today.
     
  5. Vidmaster

    Vidmaster Commodore

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    Half-Life 1 Innovations:
    * an adventure without ANY cutscenes or stops, you are NEVER taken out of your hero's body and you never jump to a place where you were not before while conscious. System Shock 1 came somewhat close here but failed to include any NPC interaction from said first-person.
    * Half-Life's level design is really clever and is one of the first instances where the places you go through actually feel like real, sensible places. Again, System Shock 1 tried to do this too but failed somewhat in my opinion due to a few unrealistically mazy levels.
    * I actually think that is the big one: Half-Life basically introduced environmental storytelling to a wider audience. This obviously goes hand-in-hand with the point made above. It is not really about the writing, it is about the fact that you can gleam so much history and plot from the environment alone and what is happening with it. For instance, nobody EVER tells you that humans made contact to Xen before the initial experiment goes wrong. This is all made clear through exploration and the environment.

    Half-Life 2 Innovations:
    * the physics system obviously, the fact that you purposely interact with all of these little objects and they interact with each other. No game prior actually involved the player in this, games like Halo did have cool physic simulations for grenades and vehicles but these little things were new
    * it was the sequel to Half-Life 1, which is something that cannot be underestimated
    * the facial animation was fucking amazing!
    * it is an incredibly varied shooter, long before Call of Duty and consorts introduced the 'mechanic-of-the-level' thing. Pretty much every level (or at least every major area) has its own flavor and different gameplay. The game does corridor shooter, horror, survival, large-scale attack scenarios, surgical strikes, military squad based stuff and even a tower-defense like section. It is amazing.
     
  6. Quarto

    Quarto Unknown Enemy

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    Yep, what Worf and Vidmaster said. Half-Life was a very innovative series for its time. On top of the above, I can also point out that the entire game was played through seamlessly, with no level divisions - a rarity even today.

    Generally speaking, it's very unfair to criticise a game for not being particularly great, when its call to fame is not greatness as such, but innovativeness. It's not at all unusual that a game which does something innovative will later be superseded by other games that do the same thing better. It's the natural order of things - but it's still worth looking back to the original which did these things first.

    You also cannot look at a game outside of its context and give it a fair assessment. Is the first Wing Commander game any good? Compared to most space sims that came afterwards, including other WC games, it's really kind of weak. The combat is clunky, the graphics in space are awful - those horrid, pixelated sprites. But is that fair? Those sprites may not be impressive today, but there was a time when they were amazingly innovative, and amazingly impressive compared to early 3d polygon games. It's the same with Half-Life. In the context of 1998, it's a very impressive and innovative game.
     
  7. boringnickname

    boringnickname 1st Lieutenant

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    It was average even back then, that's what I am talking about! I just don't get the hype!

    I played HL2 after Deus Ex, Jedi Knight 2, System Shock, and I was completely underwhelmed by HL2. The graphics were great (though, they caused nausea until I manually adjusted FOV) but that was about it.

    I understand that it appears seamless (actually it's not, think of the teleports) and has a neat physics engine - but so what. Those are just gimmicks.

    The levels consisted of good old sewers, pipes and tunnels most of the time (and overlong boat/car races that felt very FMVish, like Rebel Assault and Mega Race) the story was rail-thin and outright bizarre how it was presented ("Hi Freeman, you totally rock and the bestest of all time. I know you just arrived here from 20 years ago, I could tell you what happened in under one minute, but let's not. Go to this ghost town instead").

    Survivor scientist dude #1: "Remember Black Mesa, when those soldiers and aliens were murdering us and one day later the Combine appeared and enslaved us all?"

    Survivor scientist dude #2: "Ya".
    Survivor scientist dude #1: "Well, Gordon Freeman crawled from an airvent into my room and I opened up a door for him."
    Survivor scientist dude #2: "I've also met Gordon there in a pipe and gave him a spare medkit".
    Survivor scientist dude #1: "Really? Gordon Freeman is the greatest hero that humanity has seen OF ALL TIME!"

    Judith Mossman: I wish I would have moved that crystal into the thingie which almost killed us all! I deserved that honour more than Gordon Freeman!

    HL2 pisses me outright off. Deus Ex and others literally wipes the floor with it and yet got only a fraction of recognition this overhyped piece got.
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2016
  8. boringnickname

    boringnickname 1st Lieutenant

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    That's only true if one looked at ID Software only.

    Before Half-Life, there were quite a few FPSes with great storylines and "stuff you had to do besides shooting": System Shock, Realms of the Haunting, Cybermage, Strife (this one had far more fleshed out in-game NPCs than HL)

    I swear, it feels sometimes like there was a Valve-Cult which erased all non-ID games prior to 1998.

    Half-Life itself wasn't able to this in the first place. the NPCs are cookie-cutter boretards with some of the weakest writing ever ("Hi Gordon! Something went wrong!"). I would always chose a well written log-file or cutscene over this crap.

    Again, it's just a gimmick with shallow content inside.

    I admit that technically it was impressive (the scripting engine etc.) but that's it. If the games would be remembered for its technical aspect only, I would be fine with it - but people talk about "story, characters and atmosphere" regarding HL and that literally makes my blood boil.

    Groundbreaking? By Half-Life 2 I HATED Gordon Freeman. And I am utterly flabbergasted why others don't feel the same way. Freeman is an idiot and one of the worst characters ever conceived.

    Let's summarize the plot according to Gordon Freeman: You've got a new job in a lab, all hell breaks lose, you barely make it to an alien dimension, kill a huge monster and minutes later you're in 1984. During this time you barely received any information what happened. Suddenly, in this 1984 world, you meet your old colleagues, who are 20 years older, and they act as if nothing particulary happened and they immediately start to give you instructions and talk about teleporting to bases and what not.

    Freeman listens like a retard to all their crap and follows the instructions to the letter like some robot. I didn't feel immersed! If I were Freeman, I would go all Jack Bauer on all these dickheads and electrocutted all of them until they would start talking!

    "Where the hell am I? Stop talking to me like I am your friend - we barely knew each other at the lab! You weren't so over the top friendly to me back then and you act quite strange given the circumstances, you also have these alien monsters in your rank which wanted to kill me one hour ago and which seem to have telepathic abilities! It all looks like some kind of trap to me - maybe I should talk to the police to hear their version of the story? I've seen this weird guy with the briefcase walking around Black Mesa and talking with some of the administrators and scientists there - are you involved with him? I know that you conducted teleport-experiments into the alien world, because I've seen dead people in HEV-suites there. Have you set me up back then when I shoved the chrystal into the apparatus? Why should I trust you at all given what happened? I don't care whether you have time or not! You better start talking already, fucker! I went to hell and back again because of the shit you pulled at that lab!"

    That's what I would have done in his situation, not listening to these weirdos as if nothing happened. When I played HL2 I always imagined how a more sane protagonist would react, like JC Denton, Christopher Blair or Cutter Slade (Outcast) and it's sure as hell wouldn't be playing mute and listening to their strange crap without trying to get any sane answer.

    Instead of playing doggy with the robot like a doofus I wanted to ask the girl how the heck she was able to build something like that in this post-apolyptic wasteland (and in saner game I could).

    "That thing is more advanced and sturdy than the equipment of the police force I was forced to fight against thanks to the incompetence of your friends. How is that possible? Why can't you build more of these machines? Why do you act as if we're friends - I don't know you! Are you a traitor? Start talking!"

    HL2's narrative and the behavior of the protagonist doesn't make sense one bit to me and thus I was never able to identify with Freeman. And as I said, I am extremely surprised it worked on anyone at all.
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2016
  9. Jdawg

    Jdawg 2nd Lieutenant

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    yeah going have to disagree with pretty much everything you said here. I think half life 2 along with episode 1 and 2 is my favorite fps of all time, and maybe that is not saying much, bc typically I dont like fps at all. I am more of a third person action/adventure/role playing fan, but half life worked on pretty much every level for me. Let me get the two things I do agree with you out of the way first, the dialoge in half life 2 was a little bad (but saying that I thought the dialogue by episode 1 and 2 were a lot better, the devs fully fleshed out alyx and made you care about her and the rest of the dialogue was much better too). The second thing I agree with you about is the AI was a little lacking in hl2 but it also got loads better in episode 1 and 2, with alxy actually saving me once or twice..

    Now onto why this game works for me, is not even the physics which are amazing especially for the time, but what made the game great to me was atmosphere and pace. From the moment the game truly gets started aka when you are teleported outside the lab with only a crowbar to the end of episode 2 I think the pace is amazing. the game speeds up to create tension when it needs to and slows down to create atmosphere and dread when it should. the only place in hl2 where I think the pacing was a bit off was in ravenholm, (I did think we spent too much time in that place, prob bc the devs wanted to show off the physics). The puzzles were fun and the visual storytelling was amazing to me. I rather play basketball and fetch with DOG to create character development, than watch a 20 minute cutscene with him.

    On top of that the re release of the games in the Orange Box along with team fortress and portal, might be the best value ever put in a physical game box. what I mean is yes I know there are steam sales and humble bundles now, but the orange box came out at a time where games didnt go on sale like they do now, and valve released 5 great games for like 50 dollars, which was an amazing deal. To me every game in the orange box was at least an 8 outta 10 or above. Team fortress ran great and never lagged on the 360, and was a fun and pretty deep multiplayer game (if you had players who played like a team), I give it an 8.5 outta 10. than you had portal which had some great writing and puzzle design that challenged your mind but never was frustrating, to me that was a 9.5 outta 10. Finally half life 2 + Half life episode 1 and episode 2 was probably around 12 to 15 hrs to finish in total, which I think is the perfect length for a story campaign, (Im a gamer who does not need every game to last 100 hrs plus). I loved the story and the characters, and the shooting; to me it is 10/10. Plus Im a big fan of achievements done right, and the orange box had some amazing achievements to earn.
     
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  10. Bandit LOAF

    Bandit LOAF Long Live the Confederation!

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    At the time, the true "interactive movie" was the holy grail of game design. We think of the term to mean cheap live action sandwiched between gameplay now, but at the time that was just considered a means to an end, a kludge that would become more elegant as hardware improved (and surely, that was the case.)

    You also had something of a battle for the soul of gaming. In the 1980s and early 1990s, PC games were the domain of dedicated hobbyists... people who put time and money into the experience, similar to any other 'enthusiast' group (home theater people, wargamers, Dungeons and Dragons afficinados, etc.) That shifted significantly in the mid-1990s with the rise of first person shooters like (and especially) DooM.

    Suddenly gaming was everywhere, and it was regarded very lowly... as a sort of cheap thrill at best, a horrifying bloodsport that makes monsters out of children at worst. Which in turn divided the game development community in on itself, creating a situation where cheap DooM knockoffs could be made much more cheaply and easily than big, story-centric games. The end result was that FPSes were becoming analogous with low-effort, reductive trash. That's not that there weren't great ones, that's not that there weren't ones that told a story... but that was the overwhelming feeling to the culture.

    Half Life totally changed that, not by being the first game to try those things but by being the first one to do them in such a way that the culture had to stand up and take notice. I think the secret is that it turns the contemporary FPS concept on its ear exactly: Half Life is still thrills and kills... and then it seemingly effortlessly is ALSO the fabled interactive movie, using nothing more than the same FPS engine and interface folks felt were strangling the market.

    Does it hold up today? No, but only in so much as nothing holds up today. The modern audience can see very blatant seams in a way that we just didn't back then... because we've been on a process of constant improvement from Half Life since then. Think of it like looking back at, say, the original Star Trek. You can still objectively say it was groundbreaking television, full of social commentary and timeless character studies and the like... but a modern audience can also very easily see the plywood sets, the reused plastic props, the not-ready-for-1080p makeup, the strings holding up the models and so on. Those things were all there in 1966, but they didn't matter because they were still more impressive than anything anyone else had succeeded with.

    Half Life 2 was a massively impressive game, and a natural evolution of Half Life. And you're absolutely right that it wasn't groundbreaking in the same way, it didn't mark a cultural shift in any way... but it gets a HUGE technical victory in this argument, one that absolutely has reshaped how games in 2016 work. And that's five letters, because Half Life 2 introduced a little thing called STEAM!

    (And Steam is very much the opposite of the impact-then-recede of Half Life 1... it's something no one took very seriously at the time, but has now changed how games are made, played, bought, etc.)
     
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  11. AD

    AD Finder of things, Doer of stuff

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    I also want to mention that, while the writing may or may not have been that great, I just find that your (@boringnickname) extrapolations on the story points stretching. As ground-breaking as Half-life was, it was still limited by the technology of the time, and Valve also took the opportunity with HL2 to redefine (or even retcon if you will) the story of the first game. There's realy only a half dozen or so character models in HL1 for example and an equal number of voice actors. The dialogue is also relatively limited. The result is that in HL1 there are dozens of Barneys. You have the same character more or less die over and over (the idea is that they are just a generic security guards. I don't think they are ever even named in HL1... I could be wrong). At any rate, by the time it came to make HL2 valve took all those character archtypes and turned them into a singular character. There's one Kleiner, One Barney, and so on. Thus sticking too heavily to the little details of the first Half-Life seems counterproductive in a way that would annoy us when people point out that Blair in WC3 doesn't look like Blair in WC1 as a reason for hating the FMV games.
     
  12. Blaster

    Blaster Rear Admiral

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    The editor for Half Life 1 calls the security guard "Barny", but i don't think the name is ever mentioned in game.
     
  13. boringnickname

    boringnickname 1st Lieutenant

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    I know the intent, and I say it didn't work.

    The guards and scientists in HL have the personality of Tetris blocks. Retcon them into these "we survived school, adolescence and college together because of our deep friendship"-type characters, and Gordon himself into this mythical war-hero like figure, is just an utterly bizarre decision and galaxies away from altering Blair's appearance.

    Not to mention their whole demenaor, which was either "oh hello Gordon, there you are again after 20 years, just don't care about this crazy place and play with this crowbar instead" or "GORDON FREEMAN! IT'S YOU?!!! WOOOHOOO!" IT'S GORDON FREEMAN, GORDON FREEMAN!".

    And let's not speak about Gordon's non-reaction to all these weird events (it made somewhat sense in HL, because the people he could interact with there had no idea what was going on either. But in HL2 it just falls apart).

    It would make far more sense if Gordon would have been a nobody to the resistance they picked up on the streets after he left the train, some marine veteran there recognizes him as the one scientist that gave them some trouble in Black Mesa and is unsure whether to trust him etc.

    That's just one idea I just had, but just about anything would have been better than this completely bizarre show Gordon is greeted with.

    I always thought that the game which ended up as HL2 was initially conceived as an unrelated “badass in dystopia” shooter and got the HL treatment later on. It just doesn’t make much sense otherwise – all these faceless and nameless shooting practices from the first game who had almost no relation to you are now seasoned resistance fighters who were always best friends with the hero, the “you are the best”-attitude by the NPCs, the very foreign setting, barely connected to the Black Mesa surroundings and backstory etc.

    My guess is that the original story was about earth invaded by aliens and the hero is a veteran Duke Nukem-like resistance fighter who escaped from an alien prison. That’s why everyone is best friends with him, admires him, knows him, awaits his return and interacts with him as if nothing happened he doesn't know already in the time he was away. That would also explain the very escape-like sequences in the beginning and resistance pockets throughout the course already instructed to assist his escape. It would also explain the nutty behavior of the protogonist in light of the weirdness around him: He doesn't ask questions and follows along, because he knows the situation already and fought with these people for years.

    The bad guy in the tower helping the aliens was probably the former head of the United Nations or something in that vein. Some unknown exec from a destryoed secret lab in the middle of nowhere overrran by trigger happy special forces negotiating on behalf of the planet makes no sense whatsoever.

    And the resistance are former military grunts, not the useless HL scientists from the lab (who should be dead anyway, because the aliens and soldiers have probably killed them all).

    When they decided to make Half-Life 2 out of this, they hastily changed the origins of the aliens from space to other dimension and added these absurd “I know you from Black Mesa!” references.
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2016
  14. Bandit LOAF

    Bandit LOAF Long Live the Confederation!

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    Because he looks like Barney Fife! Similar to 'bluehair' becoming Colonel Blair, it's a case of an inside joke becoming the real background for the character!
     
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  15. Captain Obvious

    Captain Obvious Commodore

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    There were other games that tried to do what Half-Life did before it did those things, but none nailed the immersive feeling the game provided in 1998 better. The game was an underdog, it flew under the radar and only got noticed on the strength of how fantastic it was.

    I actually recently replayed the original Half-Life having not played it since it came out and while it's certainly rough around the edges by today's standards I was still impressed with the level design and how real the world felt.

    Regardless of if you think the praise the game receives is deserved or not it's impossible to deny the impact it had on the FPS genre, at least in the sense of the mainstream titles. There's a clear delineation in game design before and after Half-Life hit and changed many people's way of thinking.
     

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