I Want to Be Gordon Freeman. Again.

In 1998, I developed an unhealthy obsession. This obsession lay dormant for a few years, having waned for a time. However, sometime last year, it came back with a vengeance. The urges and cruel patterns it now carves on my waking mind are becoming insatiable and all-consuming. I thirst for succor, for sweet, sweet release from the exquisite pain of waiting… no… needing. This need has a name. Its name is Half-Life 2.

Before we go any further, I’d like to make it clear that I am a gamer. I’m not ‘hardcore’ or whatever, but I’ve been playing pretty much since I had a Sega Master System (yes, I was one of the 100 kids who didn’t have an NES). A few years ago, I abandoned the consoles for a variety of practical reasons and am now strictly a PC gamer (although, I’ll school my friends and family in Halo on the Xbox at any time, if necessary). Now, back to our story.

Even my initial obsession for Half-Life* in 1998 was not without precedent. I played the truly amazing, immersive, and life-altering Doom in its shareware form, continuing on to Doom 2 and about a million WADs from the web and elsewhere (WADs are level files). I played Doom about as much as I breathed during my free moments (and sometimes I just had to ignore other things to create the free time I needed). I even designed and built levels in my spare time.

For those who don’t know, Doom is a first person shooter (FPS), which means that your point of view is the character’s point of view. And bless id software for it, because I never looked back. All other games now seemed pale and thin to me, with a veil of abstraction between me and blazing action. There were others after Doom, but none quite grabbed me like a certain title in ’98…

Having left gaming for a year or so, due to the combination of an extremely rigorous undergrad Communication Design curriculum at Carnegie Melon‘s School of Design and the lack of a platform to game on, I was more than a little out of the loop. However, I saw a snappy ad for a game that looked less like a shooter and more like a complex Role Playing Game (RPG). My parents got me a PC for Christmas my sophomore year, so I was on the hunt once again. There were scientists, marines, aliens, impressive graphics, and, well, a ‘story’ that was apparently wrapped into the gameplay. It, frankly, looked too complex to be what I wanted. I was skeptical, but began to sway. Then, I read about it. The reviews were raving and in spite of the non-shooting content, it sounded like I could really enjoy it. I shrugged, and mentally filed it.

On an unrelated visit to the local EBX (I think), I came across the box and decided give it a closer look. I opened the front panel (videogames have the best boxes) and looked it over. I don’t remember the specifics, but it grabbed me. I asked the guy at the counter (no strategy guide, thanks) and he said it was my kind of game. I risked the precious $50 (I was a student, remember) and took it home.

I was not prepared. Oh, this was something new.

I won’t go into Half-Life too much, as it’d be too long and too much, but let’s leave it at this: it put everything before it (except, perhaps, Doom itself, which broke open 3D gaming to the world), absolutely to shame. It has realistic puzzles set in realistic and varied environments, robust, intense, varied action, a full and engaging story, the best enemy AI seen in a game up to that point, and it integrates all of these to the detriment of none. On top of this, it had cutting-edge graphics. If you haven’t played it, you really should. Also, don’t miss out on the two expansion packs, Opposing Force and Blue Shift, both of which are available in the Half-Life: Platinum Collection. Particularly because you should get the back story for…

Half-Life 2
Now, to understand what this game has to be in order to carry the torch from the first game, you need to examine what the first game was, list all of its triumphs, and then add a bit more. Valve started work on this game ( if I’m not mistaken) even before the first was complete, and hasn’t stopped since. They understood what they needed to achieve for this sequel. The best part about what I’ve seen, read, and heard so far is that the game looks poised to do exactly that. And even though I can articulate what they’re doing verbally, to see it in front of you (particularly in a video) is pretty astounding.

Screenshots can give you some inkling of what the Half-Life world is like. The game brims with astounding environmental creations, such as the Combine monolith that’s slowly consuming City 17, the near-dry ocean bed infested by alien life-forms, all of which are teaming with soldiers and citizens, insectoid aliens, massive aliens, allies, resistance fighters, and more. The depth of the story, the alliances, battles, struggles, and factions are only hinted at with the screens and movies, but they promise so much. I can hardly contain my excitement.

I have a need and Valve has the cure. Now all they need to do is ANNOUNCE THE RELEASE DATE! FOR REAL THIS TIME!

*By the way, when I write ‘Half-Life’, I mean all things related. When I write ‘Half-Life‘, I mean the first game.

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