So I bought Half-Life 2: Episode One last night. Ruben ranted on about how awesome it was, and the whole concept of working with Alyx throughout the episode appealed to me. Once he showed me the trailer, I was sold. I stayed up late to finish the download, but I ended up shutting down when it was about 90% done; yay for resumable downloads.
Anyway, today I kinda got out on the wrong side of the bed, as I slept in till half past 11 and was awoken by my mother expressing her annoyance with my lack of initiative. So I knew it was gonna be an interesting day. I was supposed to have gone and got my picture taken for my university card, but… well, as mentioned I was lacking the necessary initiative, so I skipped it. A bit stupid really.
Then after I’d vacuumed the house, I finished the Episode 1 download and fired up the game. Right away, it told me I should upgrade my video drivers. Remembering how my PC was fucked up last time I updated Catalyst, I ignored this message and proceeded with the loading of the game. Immediately upon entering, I noticed the reticle and all headline text in the menues were clouds of disjointed pixels. Attributing this to those outdated GPU drivers, I left the game and downloaded the latest update. About 5 minutes after re-entering the game, it crashed and rebooted my damn PC.
What followed was a full 3 hours of pain and anguish as I juggled my drivers around, trying to make it work. The peak of my day was when I managed to destroy my drivers so much that the monitor blacked out every time the load-up process was finished. I managed to get around that by holding shift after Windows loaded, but I was starting to panic a bit by then.
Finally, I remembered my motherboard doesn’t support 8X AGP speed, so I’d set my GPU to run at 4X speed instead. When I updated the drivers, this setting was obviously reset to 8X, messing up my games. I uninstalled and reinstalled a few times until I finally managed to make it work. By then, I was in a really shitty mood.
Then I played half an hour of Episode One and that helped a bit. That whole franchise is plain brilliant on so many levels. Generally I prefer more nonlinear games; my two favourite games, Torment and Deus Ex, both fall nicely in the middle ground between “free-form, zero story” and “great storyline, railroad design”, which is perfect in my opinion. But every now and then, it’s good to explore the best specimens of more uncompromising genres: Oblivion falls largely in the former category, HL2 in the latter. What makes Oblivion tolerable is that there actually is a story (which, ironically, is completely linear as far as I’ve been told), and what makes HL2 so friggin’ brilliant is that they manage to largely obfuscate the game’s linearity. And that they switch gameplay and pacing ever so often, just to keep you interested. And that their levels are planned with machievallian care to make you look up and down as well as left and right. And a score of other little touches of genius.
What makes EP1 so captivating is Alyx, but I’m afraid to talk about that without sounding pathetic. Let’s just say that Alyx is the most tastefully created character I’ve ever encountered in a game. There’s a romance story in there, and it’s perfectly underplayed and discrete, and yet involving like nothing I’ve ever played. Max Payne 2′s romance didn’t even come close to this level of immersion and identification. We need more emotions like these. And we need more heroines like Alyx, please. She makes Lara Croft look like a prostitute.
I hope today wasn’t some sort of nefarious fore-shadowing of what I’ll be put through when I upgrade my PC for the release of NWN2. Bleh.
And also: Holy crap.