Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Blast Off To Adventure!

To continue my tradition of non sequitor first paragraphs, I discovered I have a copy of Garou: Mark of the Wolves. It's not a bad game, but I have no idea how I got it, where it came from, or why I have it. I never cared about the Fatal Fury/King of Fighters franchise before, so I don't know what happened. Anyway, I should get to the point that made me sit here in the first place.

I started playing the Orange Box edition of Half-Life 2 again, a game which has a sort of odd place in my collection. Half-Life 2 is an excellent game, but while games like Gears of War or Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 2 are in constant rotation, I haven't touched Half-Life 2 or it's episodes in about a year and half. I think I've figured out why. I think.

Like many in my generation, there was a time when the First Person Shooter was called the Corridor Shooter. Mostly because the first game we had played in the genre was Wolfenstein 3D. I had Wolfenstein 3D on my Mac (LC II, oldschool) and I had the special edition of DOOM on PSX. FPS's in general, though, were more of a PC genre and I was a console guy. So I generally had to wait for an FPS to come out on a console before I could play it. Enter GoldenEye and Perfect Dark. These two games shaped what I looked for in a good FPS, and I think it still colors my preferences. PC shooters had technological advantages over consoles, and the design philosophy tended towards big, expansive worlds to explore. Without the hardware for big, expansive worlds, many console shooters tended to be smaller. GoldenEye and Perfect Dark were effectively fully interactive 3D shooting galleries where the targets could shoot back. The levels were small and had a habit of being fairly linear. This is the shooter I grew up with. Today my favorite shooters are Gears of War and Modern Warfare. If you've played those last two then I think you can see the connection.

Meanwhile, the PC FPS had big open worlds filled with enemies, secrets, and places to explore. The console FPS only had enough room for the enemies. This was a major difference in design philosophy. It is this difference in design philosophy that makes me objectively acknowledge the quality of Half-Life 2 while still rarely playing it because each new level makes me think "oh Christ, this level...". One design philosophy isn't better than the other, it's just a matter of preference. I grew up playing Double Dragon and listening to The Doors, so I'm not as big a Mario fan as someone who played Super Mario Bros. and listened to whatever the Hell 8 year olds listened to back then. We all have different tastes.

In private I've thrown around the term "First Person Adventure with Shooting Elements" to describe games that lean more to the PC FPS philosophy. It's how I've described BioShock, and part of the reason Fallout 3 was so refreshing is that it was a straight up RPG which could only be confused for an FPS if you've never played it or seen it played. Half-Life 2 falls into this category. A lot of the problems we sometimes have with something are the preconceptions we go into it with. Cloverfield wasn't a monster movie, but a disaster movie in which the disaster was a giant monster. I can understand how that can kinda piss people off when they went to see a monster movie. It's this same problem that made me not appreciate Half-Life 2 as much as I should have. To me, Half-Life 2 isn't a First Person Shooter, it's a First Person Adventure. If I go into it with the same mindset I go into Gears of War or Modern Warfare, I'm going to find a noticeable lack of ammo and a crippling lack of monsters to use it on. But if I approach it less as a shooter and more as an adventure game, suddenly I'm not seeing a lack of enemies but instead a wide world where the enemies that do show up are a tangible and exciting danger.

I have different tastes in First Person Shooters. My favorites are the linear shooting gallery style games. Half-Life 2 is still an utterly fantastic game. I just have to think about it not as a shooter, but as an adventure game (that, and ignore that escort quest near the end of episode one). If I start to think of Half-Life 2 as a shooter, I might as well start complaining that Dragon Age had horrible flight mechanics and dog fighting. It's a personal issue, but by addressing it I can better appreciate the game for what it is rather than what I expected from it.

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