2008 is not off to a good start. I woke up this morning feeling completely hung over, which is very strange seeing as I wasn’t drinking last night. Then I remembered I was on an airplane three days ago, which is about how long it usually takes for those disgusting airborne diseases filtering through the plane’s ventilation system to incubate. Now I’m sitting here, shivering and feverish and groaning and generally miserable. Happy new year.

Of course, the misery could have something to do with the time I sank into Half-Life 2 today. After finishing Bioshock, I decided to jump into Knights of the Old Republic — a plan which I abandoned after a few hours due to the fact that it’s pretty much unplayable on an Xbox 360. This is not an exaggeration. So, I decided to jump to the next game on the Tower of Guilt and tackle the HL2 episodes. Unfortunately, I haven’t touched HL2 since I reviewed the PC version and don’t remember much beyond the essential equation that Gordon Freeman = The Messiah, so I figured it might be smart to refresh my memory with a second playthrough. And now it’s all coming back to me — the fact that such an interesting, creative and polished game can be so utterly infuriating at times. The airboat sections are pretty much distilled anti-fun, and ultimately I made it about halfway through Ravenholm before calling it a day. The second half of that level has too many poison headcrabs and not nearly enough sawblades, which makes it exactly the opposite of the first half in terms of pure awesome.

Edit: Sorry about all the typos; I was in the process of dying as I wrote this. I survived the night so hopefully the worst of it is over. Although someone just reminded me of the turret section in Nova Prospekt, so now I’m thinking that maybe I’d have been better off dead.

33 thoughts on “Inauspicious

  1. Weird. I remember Ravenholm as one of the high points in Half Life 2 — one of the creepiest and most visceral set pieces/levels/whatever I’d seen in a FPS.

    It’s been a few years since I’ve played it, so maybe it doesn’t hold up — or (and this is far more likely) maybe I just love frustrating gameplay.

  2. Sorry to hear about you being sick. I’ve really only ever gotten about that far in Halflife 2. I usually quit somewhere around there and then start all over a few months later.
    I keep going back because people say it’s so awesome, but I just can’t get into it.
    He’s hoping the rest of your new year is better. :)

  3. I just finished The Orange Box myself, and I have to agree about some really frustrating moments in the game. I’m not used too anymore to all those puzzles without any action either, especially after playing Call of Duty 4 it feels a bit slow. Why is KotoR not playable on the 360?

  4. “I loathe that airboat stage. It seems to go on for hours and hours…

    Ravenholm isnt so bad, but I was trying to get the achievement for only using gravity gun. I think we all know that didn’t happen…

    At Sandtraps now. So far the whole dunebuggy roadtrip thing has been really enjoyable. Favourite part so far -> crawling under the bridge.

    Whats wrong with KOTOR on 360? I was thinking of picking that back up….”

  5. Isn’t one sawblade plenty? Just make sure you don’t lose it.

    I am sick today also. Went to work, but all my joints ached and I had problems with lifting a 40 lbs box …

  6. Yeah, it’s a real shame about KotoR. I’ve already sunk fifteen hours into it but can’t go back ’cause of the terrible frame rate. Even as someone who missed out on it the first time around I can tell that it just wasn’t supposed to be played this way.

  7. Something that has helped me playing through Ravenholm (and anywhere else with sawblades, really) is the paint buckets scattered through the level. If you stick the blade in the wall or on the ground and launch a paint bucket at it, you can paint it white, which will make it far, FAR easier to see in the gloom of Ravenholm. Just make sure to hit both sides.

    And yes. The airboat segment is more or less godawful.

  8. I just did similar as a replay of HL2 (Orange Box for Christmas? Certainly time to refresh the memory). It is made much more fun, I admit, if you just go through dicking with everything heavily. Infinite crossbow ammo from scene one, for instance. (I managed to break the game no less than three times killing the wrong NPC before a trigger could occur, including killing Dr. Breen in the “teleport accident” cinema. Of all the times to let me have my gun/not make him invincible…)

  9. The first time I played Half-Life 2 was when Orange Box dropped, and I’ve played it through three times since. Because I love it!

    Achievements made me do Ravenholm using only the Gravity Gun, which actually made the level more fun than ever (except when waiting for the gondola thing to come, at which point I was just running around the roof…).

  10. Congrats, Parish, you’ve now lapped me. I got HL2 when it came out, played to the first appearance of the fast zombies, and STOPPED. There my savegame has sat for 3 years. I’ve played significant chunks of Eps 1 & 2 in the meantime, but my arachnophobia seriously inhibits my progress in Ravenholm. I should really just skip to the first map of Hwy 17. I hear there’s a headcrab Well of Souls in the mines. Fuck that noise.

  11. (I hope this didn’t double-post, I think my comment got eaten)

    If I might direct your attention here:

    As someone who is new to the whole HL2 experience, I think I can say with some confidence that by modern game design standards, the first half of the game is pretty lacking. If you’re not concerned with getting the “pure” experience, I’d suggest you skip right to the end of Sandtraps, at which point things really pick up. Also somewhat disconcerting, especially after the beautiful watercolor backdrops of Halo 3, is the original HL2’s complete lack of backgrounds. It’s nothing but blue-gray skies as far as the eye can see.

  12. I think after about ten minutes playing with that pistol I realised how infinitely better the combat is in halo and how terrible the guns are in HL2. Not that I want to knock the game too much, I just know where my tastes lie. It is quite ironic that when I first played the game on pc (this was a year old version at the time so it should have been patched) in one of the buggy sections I drove a buggy straight down a tunnel into a solid wall of white and had to restart it. Quite literally a buggy section.

  13. “I decided to jump into Knights of the Old Republic — a plan which I abandoned after a few hours due to the fact that it’s pretty much unplayable on an Xbox 360. This is not an exaggeration.”

    Oof. I was just about to get this for my brother-in-law’s 360. Could you elaborate a bit on why?

  14. I started HL2 for the first time last week.

    And promptly put it down. Although this is more EA’s fault, as the PS3 version is absofuckinglutely horrible. I’m sure it’s a good game in its own right, but load times that can be measured with a sundial and more clipping than a grandma attacking the Sunday coupons completely ruin the fun.

  15. Oog, yeah, the PS3 version of Orange Box is an atrocity. Part of me wonders if it’s intentionally crappy to prove a point. The Xbox 360 version is exceptional, though — it feels much more solid than the built-to-the-hilt PC I played the game on in 2004. Also, no Steam. Victory all around!

    I agree about the weapons, though. HL2’s pistol sucks (apparently you can make headshots, but not reliably) and the machinegun is a stupid, weak bullet-hose — a real letdown next to Halo 3’s amazing battle rifle and BioShock’s brilliant tommy gun, which both deliver powerful, precise shots at a rapid rate (rather than a wild spray of peashooter damage).

  16. Oh, and KOTOR on 360: terrible framerate problems. I’m not talking the whiny message board brand of “terrible framerate problems” where GASP it sometimes dips to 30fps; I’m talking horrible visual freezes for a second or so, such that when the game catches up the camera is actually facing the opposite direction. It’s incredibly disorienting. And the audio stutters and skips. Combined with the fact that the writing and acting and visuals are all a few notches below those of Mass Effect, the net result is just something I don’t want to mess with. I could deal with the step backward in design if it performed well at the technical end, but as it is the whole thing is just too painful.

  17. I’m sure I’m not adding anything new, but have you considered playing KOTOR on your computer? I know you’re a fan of macs but I don’t know all that you own, in terms of hardware, so I’m taking a stab and hoping you you have a pc that is capable of running older games. If so, go for it. The PC version is superior (in my experience) to the Xbox’s original outing, and, as you’ve said, cannot be worse than your buggy pile of unplayable slop.

  18. I do not have an old PC. And as I’ve mentioned several times recently, I don’t have space for an old PC, either. PC gaming is not a practical solution for me until I acquire a more capacious MacBook Pro (at which point I can have an XP partition), which will not be for a while yet.

  19. Amen brother. HL2 is a great game with great moments. Sadly those are sandwiched in between a bunch of frustration. The gravity gun, especially in it’s powered up form, beats a lot of other game weapons today in my mind.

    I think they did a lot better job with that balance in the episodes.. though there are still some moments. The (playable) end of Episode 2, as well as the part following it is some of the best FPS stuff I’ve played.

  20. I actually just got back into HL2 again. I’m a few hours short of completion, and I’d have to say that I liked the first half of the game better. There’s a lot more variety to everything in the first half. There’s driving (I loved the highway part), boating, exploration, and killing dudes. The second half it kind of loses steam. There are so many repeated scenarios that it just gets kind of tedious. Scenarios like “set up the turrets and survice an unbelievable number of bad guys with guns”, or “get to the other side of this harmful liquid pool with these boxes and your grav’ gun” (oh, I guess they added in zombies, but seriosuly how many harmful liquids can there be?!). And then they add the squad mechanics in all half assed. Jesus, those bastards are always in the damn way. Bah, the second half is more infuriating than fun. I hope the final hours are better.

  21. I’m about to fight the gunship beneath the bridge. I can’t figure out why I keep playing this game… every level grates on my nerves more than the last.

  22. Episode 1’s better so far. “Lowlife” is like all the atmosphere of Ravenholm without the crap, so far, and the sections before have you actually making Gordon do sciency-things.

  23. Huh. I constantly hear people complain about the riverboat level, and I never understand why. I thought it was really fun, and the only time i felt the game dragging was when you get to Nova Prospekt and you realize the game still isn’t over.

    And why are you using the machine gun? The shotgun is always where it’s at.

  24. And I’m wondering about why everyone else didn’t have fun, because I played through the first time just recently and had a fuckin’ ball.

    I will admit that the game only really works if you’re constantly moving forward – it’s kind of like Sonic in that regard. Playing cautiously makes the game significantly less fun, and there’s usually enough health around that you can play full-bore – either that, or you’ll die immediately.

    The Episodes have much better pacing all round, most likely because that’s when Valve started heavily playtesting their games.

  25. I played through HL2 on Xbox1 and again in Orange Box. I really think it is more immersive than either Bioshock or Halo 1-3. A lot of the weapons are a lot less accurate, for sure, but have you ever shot a pistol? It is not easy! I know, games should not copy the mundane parts of reality. As for the sky, when you look up, you generally do not see a low resolution oil painting. You see a blue gradient and some clouds. I did not hate the airboat as much as most people. I do not enjoy the super gravity gun that much though. I will admit to being a Half Life fan boy since 1998 or so. I thought episode 1 was a little slow, expecially the start. Episode 2 was awesome, though the caves with the soft antlions took a little too long.

  26. Ah, that’s true. When I’m playing a game about how an alien empire has invaded the earth through teleporters and is draining the oceans and suppressing human sexual instincts, I should be grateful that the weapons are modeled after reality!

    No, wait.

  27. How about the fall damage? Any fall over 4 feet is risky. Gordon must have the same disease as Mr. Glass from Unbreakable.

  28. I just got the Orange Box and am playing through HL2 for the first time. I kinda liked the airboat section–it was fast and twitchy enough that I didn’t mind the occasional stop-and-flip-a-switch-and-shoot-some-guys parts. I also found it helped to hum the theme to “The Dukes Of Hazzard” as you go over the ramps.

    Once again, though, I’m That Guy Who Likes Everything Parish Hates, so this isn’t surprising.

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