Thoughts on the game so far: Valve upped the ante by over 9000 in this episode. As I mentioned in the YouTube video description, this might be the most fun ten minutes I have EVER had playing an FPS. Especially after having so much nothing happen in the last episode (in a good, tension-inducing way that is), it was positively exhilarating to have so much happen all at once. Dealing with the scientist, another security guard, an absolutely BADASS new weapon (and a ton of ammo to go with it!), and some of the most amazing freeform AI scenes I have ever, EVER seen. The headcrabs are always good for a laugh, but that scene with the zombie busting down the storage closet door was just breathtaking. Not only was it amazing that the entire thing wasn’t just a cut scene, any other group of programmers would have simply had the zombie bust through the door and attack you. And that would have been more than awesome enough. But no, Valve doesn’t settle for awesome ENOUGH. They have the zombie break PARTWAY through to get your attention (and force you to pause the game to clean out your pants), and then they treat you to a scene of the zombie destroying the various shelves and boxes inside the closet. (I assume you could have interrupted his little rampage by breaking the door down with the crowbar, but I was too busy watching him to even think about that.) Absolutely brilliant.
What amazes me most of all is that that entire sequence is completely missable. I only wandered in that direction by chance. In fact, most of what I did in this video is completely missable. I could have easily just jumped into the water/electricity room, climbed into the air vent, and moved on. The level design is so good though that they drew me exactly where they wanted me to go, even though it was completely at my discretion and I could have gone just about anywhere. THAT, my friends, is open world gameplay. Sure the world isn’t as big as a GTA, or Spiderman 2 or Oblivion or Fallout, but the freedom I feel in this game is so much more than what I feel from those others. In the other games, you have the freedom to go where you like, but your choices once you arrive are pretty rigidly determined. Here, while the world is a bit more confined, I feel like I have the freedom to do…just about anything I can think to. The amount of immersion that allows is absolutely indescribable. I really feel as if I’m *in* the game, and can make the same decisions I would if I was actually there, standing in Gordon’s shoes. He feels much less like a character, and a lot morel like an extension of myself. As much as I worship at the alter of character and character development (and will continue too) this is an awesome, awesome way to help the player feel just as smart and just as badass as the character they’re on a journey with.
Going back to cutscenes for a moment, it has not gone unnoticed by me that there…haven’t been any yet. The closest thing we’ve had to a cutscene was the tram ride at the beginning, but even then you were free to move where you liked and look where you saw fit. Not only does this increase replay value by tenfold (I’ve played the opening sequence up through the disaster several times since starting this LP, and notice at least one new thing every time), it also sends the silent message that the creators believe that the players are smart enough to play the game on their own, without camera angles and exposition–the EXACT SAME camera angles and exposition–being forced on them every time they play a part of the game. Now don’t get me wrong, I love my Final Fantasies and Metal Gears, but that sort of video game storytelling is very much the norm, and it would be nice to see more developers try this not open-travel, but open-choice gaming.