July 10, 2006


Who sent the memo to canonize Half-Life as the official masterpiece of the, uh, badly-wedged-in decade after 1995?

[ Update: it's actually "one of video gaming's greatest sagas"? Arrrgh! ]

Here's a game that somehow manages to slip under people's cutscene radar, despite the fact that it opens with a half-hour train ride followed by twenty minutes of that dreary genre, the first person shooter that doesn't actually have any shooting in it.

Maybe it's just because it was the first game people saw with environment on this scale, in which case I feel sorry for them as they must have been deprived of the twisted brilliance that was Carmageddon.

Or perhaps it's confirmation of Juul's view on cutscenes (section "Time, game , and narrative"): that the train ride doesn't feel so displaced from the rest of the action because the time isn't compressed, and that you can move the viewpoint. Though, it utterly failed to engage me, and I don't think that's just because I played it some years after release. Especially the train ride might as well have been a screensaver for all I cared; the game's misguided habit of mimicking the movie pose of the mystery-beginning bugged me from one end to another.

See, a mystery-beginning in a movie makes people curious, because you know that in an hour and a half, the mystery will have been revealed. In a game, it merely robs the player of any drive to do anything; I found myself milling about the hallways of Black Mesa desperately trying to find anything to interact with. And in fact, five hours of play later, the mystery is still quite as (yawn) mysterious and the gameplay has turned out to be quite the boilerplate shooter. Can I be bothered to discover the incredible truth, utterly unlike the plot of Doom, of where the monsters are telefragging coming from? I don't think so.

The train ride at the beginning certainly provides an overview of the facility, establishing the character of the place, although it does it in the dumbest, most boringly flat manner possible. What it doesn't impress me with is the answer to the question: who cares?


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