December 10th, 2004

Manga Me

The Half-Life 2

Some spoilers be warned. Beating Half-Life 2 is one of those things, one of those, “YES! I did it!” but then within seconds it becomes one of those, “NO!!!!” things. The game ends. I knew it was coming. I knew the game would end, but man is it sad that it ended. I took my time playing through. I explored, played with physics, tried to learn more about the world, I wanted the game to just last and last. But now it is over and I am sad. Here are my lists of things I love about Half-Life and things I was a bit disappointed in, starting with disappointments.

Disappointments:
I found the weapons in Half-Life 2 to be a be great but not very innovative as a whole. Here is a complete list with my thoughts:
crowbar – awesome
zero point energy cannon – the coolest thing in the universe
standard handgun – okay basic no secondary fire (what is this Doom?)
magnum – a rocket in your hand again no secondary fire! But awsomeness of primary fire makes up for that
smg (sub-machine gun) – a nerfed version of the Half-Life machine gun. I liked it and in all honesty the HL version was too strong glad to see it toned down, good call!
Pulse rifle – essentially a pumped up version of the SMG. It was a little annoying to have two weapons that were more or less the same except for strength. Though the PRs grenade was stellar, when it hit someone they slow down turn black and then dissolve away like they are being phased out of reality very very slick. The gun also looks uber cool.
Grenades – standard throw em or roll em (alt fire) the bright red LED on top would be utterly stupid in real life, but make them really cool in the game
RPG – the HL rocket launcher returns. It has no alt fire this time around, at first I thought dumb, but the missile homes to the laser MUCH better the missile tracks very well, in fact it took some getting use to, if I took the beam off my target for a second the missile would zoom off course. The rocket launch seems to be stronger to compensate for the fact that in order to use it you have to be in line of sight of your target. I wish it still had a fire and forget mode but the improvements make it balanced
Shotgun – the HL shotgun is too fun, it was a bit weak in HL, but they fixed it in HL2 so it rocks!
Crossbow – the best sniping weapon ever. This is an improved version over the HL model. It fires super heated rods that when they strike a victim and impale it to the nearest surface, with rag doll physics it makes perfect sense. The bolts also have mass so you have to aim accordingly (they loose verticality over time unlike the HL bolts)
The Spore Sack – other than the zero point energy cannon this is the only other really innovative weapon. It only works during one chapter but it is great fun. You have 4 ant lion enemies follow you around at all times you throw the ball and they go and attack near it, you squeeze the ball (alt fire) and they herd back to you. If one ant lion dies another takes it place, having an army of 4 at all times was wickedly fun, I wish valve worked in a way to make this weapon viable throughout the game instead of in just one chapter.
So those are the weapons, where are the really new stuff? HL weapon arsenal had some serious innovation and cool factors: the RPG, snarks, satchel charges, and bee gun. Other than the physics gun and spore HL2 was a bit lacking in my opinion. But I am not very disappointed because the physics gun OWNS. I want to go through the game now only using that gun it is no doubt doable!
Disappointment # 2 – the story was great, but I wish the player was given a bit more of a meal rather than the bite. I don’t think it was too little, as some reviewers have claimed, but a little bit more would have helped. I think part of the reason that some people are claiming that the game had “no story” is because the story was told in a very unconventional way. Instead of finding log books, or PDAs, or something to read, the story unfolds through environmental clues. You have to learn about the story as you would as an actual person. You have to look around and figure stuff out. One part of the game has a bunch of newspaper clippings on the wall that essentially provide all the back-story that is needed. Listening to Breen’s speeches (yes that means sitting still and listening) reveal much more. Looking at the world and paying careful attention to dialog there is a great deal of story there, it just isn’t told to you in the standard “Dear Player, My name is Dr. Obvious. I was working with a portal when it opened and the legions of death poured out and now you are the only one left. Good luck and give my love to Microsoft! The end” Yet, a little stronger of an ending would have been nice. Then again it is a trilogy. It is also surprising how much “storyline” Opposing Force provided for HL2 so in the, inevitable, expansions to HL2 there may be more story to go around, Barney is in HL2 but Cornel Shepard is unaccounted for. So he may come back or we may get a different perspective entirely.
That about does it for the stuff I didn’t like, now let me list the stuff I loved:
Everything else. That about covers it. I will expound on one thing though. BIG game play shift related spoiler here so don’t read on if you don’t want to know. You were warned. So my favorite part is when all your weapons are taken away except for the physics gun, and instead of being the physics gun it gets beefed up to THE PHYSICS GUN. You can more or less use anything as a weapon, soldiers, computer panels, a strider’s body. Anything goes and MAN is it fun.

The long and short is HL2 is brilliance in a box.
Manga Me

Buffy Season 6th: Goodness Continued

It should be noted I hate musicals. I mean I really don’t like them. Let me just provide you with what MUST go on in the head of someone writing a musical, “Hmmm, I could have meaningful character development here, or maybe an amazing unforeseen and yet perfectly sensible plot twist. WAIT I know! I will put in another song!” And so it goes. But the Buffy episode Once More With feeling had me humming the tunes and loving the episode well after I was deeper into the series. It was so corny and over the top, it all worked. Like everything else the series does it does to perfection. The other amazing episode from this season was “Normal Again” in which Buffy hallucinates that she wakes up in a mental institution and all of Sunnydale is just the delusions of her sick mind. She is torn between her Sunnydale life, one she hates, and the possibility of a better life where she is cured. As an added nice touch the doctor even mentions that early in the year she came out of the delusions but her friends pulled her back in, reference to Buffy dieing and being in heaven until the Scoobies pulled her back. Slick. What made the episode for me were two main things, the commentary on the Buffyverse itself and the ending. I don’t like to go all post-modern here, but the fact that the doctor talked about how lame some of the series was about how “Dawn came and rewrote the entire history, and now Buffy has went from fighting the apocalypse to fighting a trio of nerds, how desperate can you get…” That all was really funny. The ending though is what got me. After Buffy had made her choice to stay in the Sunnydale world, just prior to the credits the scene jumps back into the insane asylum universe. The doctor is conducting tests on a catatonic Buffy with Buffy’s parents (together and both alive in this universe) looking on. He announces, “We lost her again.” It was so well played and unexpected that you are left wondering if all of it really is in some delusional girls head. The episode where Willow’s forget spell goes array and everyone forgets who they are also had me roaring, much like “Spin the bottle” did in the Angel series. A great trio of episodes!

I really liked the 6th series. I liked it for no other reason than I am a bit of a quote buff-y (hehehehe) and I was reminded of William Yeats’ quote “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold\ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” I loved the Trio as villains go. I am glad they were not really the TRUE villains of this season’s and then Willow really fills the role in a big bad kinda way. The whole progression of events is so slickly done, leading towards a very impressive climax. The characters are human and they do bad things. They are super heroes but they are not really heroes at all. It makes them all the better. Buffy is utterly without passion for life and falling into shadow, Dawn is falling apart, Willow is a junkie and then big bad and evil, Anaya and Zander’s love collapses, and Spike swinging from light to dark and back again. Yet in the end the series ends on a high note. Zander’s “use” is confirmed. Buffy regains faith, Spike gets a soul (eat that Angel!) It all works out very well. I wish the Warren hadn’t been so evil though, Willow flipping out and killing Warren would have made her a bit more complex. Those last episodes with Willow loosing it really makes this season. Whedon really knows how to end a season with a lot of power, energy, and grace. The last couple episodes of every season of Angel and so far every season of Buffy have all been amazing, carrying the needed energy right to the last few moments. Season 6 next, and then the final season. It is sad to think it will all be over soon. I have so enjoyed Buffy and Angel. I will have to have the DVDs the series are worth having saved.