The other day I thought it would be good for me to write to a schedule. I'm not entirely sure why I thought that, or precisely how I thought it would be good, but I must have had a reason at the time, so I might as well give it a go. I'm going to try to write a new blog article every week. My rules will be pretty simple: one entry every week (it being Saturday night, I'm sort of scrambling to make my first deadline), and within the broad theme of ... whatever it was I originally envisaged this blog's theme to be. Random geekery, I suppose.
Yesterday I saw an article (via PAR) which was partly a dump on BioShock Infinite, but mostly a rage against the status quo of game reviews. I've not played BioShock (either of them), and I don't care about game reviews, so whatever, but he mentioned Dear Esther as another game he didn't like that was lauded highly. Or greatly. Or however things are lauded.
I've played Dear Esther. I thought it was brilliant. It was a bit weird in the tunnel bit, which went for a lot longer than I felt it probably should have, but the other bits were ... brilliant. That's the only word for it. I've never been to the Hebrides, but I feel like I know what it feels like to be there. Dear Esther is such a beautiful experience, beautiful and terrible and a bit creepy. As a game, though, it's rubbish. Dear Esther isn't a game, it's an art.
And now I feel I need to talk about Half-Life 2. In case you're wondering, Dear Esther started out as a total conversion mod of Half-Life 2, and it still uses the same engine, and when you're playing it, it has the same feeling as a Half-Life 2 game (except that you can't run or jump); the same smoothness and glugginess and fluidity and feel. Half-Life 2 has more colour than Dear Esther. It also has more game elements (that is to say, it has game elements.) Where I felt most let down by Half-Life 2 was the fact that it was the sequel to Half-Life. In Half-Life I was Gordon Freeman, an identifiable but unremarkable, softly-spoken chap whose only real defining attribute was the fact that he had a suit. When things first went bad, all he had was the suit. And then he picked up a crowbar. That thing was like a divine relic, the item that finally gave Gordon and me the power to fight back. No matter what sub-machine guns and rocket launchers and gauss weapons and whatever we picked up later, I always kept the crowbar close. Gordon Freeman was an ordinary guy in a fancy suit with a crowbar.
And then there's Half-Life 2. Suddenly I was Gordon Freeman, legend, icon, nigh invulnerable superman. The first levels had me jumping over rooftops in broad daylight, dodging bullets as I scampered to meet my crew. Not trapped half a mile underground by myself in the dark with mysterious and terrifying screeching alien things, no, jumping over rooftops dodging gunfire. Suddenly Gordon Freeman had become Quake Guy. That broke the experience for me, the moment Gordon switched to Gordon 2. Where before I'd killed headcrabs with the crowbar in frenetic desperation, now I beat my enemies to death with glee and abandon. I plunged head-first into firefights confident in "the Gordon Freeman"'s ability to survive and dominate. Stupid AI in blue uniforms never scared me (hey, I played Wolfenstein, I know how to deal with guys in uniforms), and headcrabs? Hah! I made it out of Black Mesa and now I'm the Gordon Freeman. Hell, there's even a headcrab with no teeth! Headcrabs are nothing, now. I played with my enemies, finding new and inventive ways to kill them. I ran through Ravenholme like, well, like Quake Guy. I twitch-shot everything that moved, and blasted those werewolf zombie things off their silly downpipes, and batted black headcrabs with my crowbar because it was fun, and I laughed. I smashed and slaughtered, and father Grigori had almost as much fun as I did, judging by the way he laughed, and Ravenholme – which I'd heard was meant to be scary – was rather boring. I've played Quake already. The spinny blade traps were kind of neat, though, and a launching sawblades with the gravygun.
At the end of one of the episodes – was it number 2? I forget – there's that stupid, protracted thing with the car and the lumbermills. (This was Half-Life 2, right? I'm not confusing myself with Arathi Basin ..?) Anyway, I'm not sure if you remember the little blue alien tripod things... Hunters? The first time we met one of those for real, in a ruined building, I ran up in typical Quake Guy fashion and killed the Hunter to death with my shot gun. Thus, I never learned that they're meant to be tough or threatening. So when we got to the White Forest level I almost ignored the Hunters, except when it was fun to side-swipe them to death with the car. Few enemies in the game were more than an irritation, a puzzle solved with ammo, that detracted from the storyline. This, to me, was not Half-Life, and it made me a little sad.
When I can afford an upgrade, and start running hardware less than a decade old, I'll install Space Marine. Then I'll be happy to slaughter my way through fields of enemies. Because Space Marine. Not because crowbar.