Valve’s Orange Box was released yesterday and I was happily running Half Life 2: Epsiode Two after 10 minutes of decrypting the data since I’d already preloaded the data files (kudos to Valve for rolling out the whole download in one shot unlike the cascaded rollout with Episode One). I have a few quibbles with some features which I’ll state here, but I’ll give my full review after I’ve played through the whole thing. (here’s my review of Half Life 2: Episode One if you haven’t already read it)
I maxed out all the graphical and audio settings and prepared to jump right into the action. I was surprised to see a preliminary recap play immediately without any loading screens. It’s a prerendered video. I hate video. The resolution is super sharp but I can still tell. It feels even more out of place because this is the first time I can recall in the Half Life universe that the camera has left the first person view. The story recap isn’t really necessary since Episode One was so short. Bad vibes from the get go.
Skipping over the awe I felt from the incredible graphics and spectacular scenery, a second frustration popped up before long. I was given a taste of Steam’s new achievement system, akin to Xbox Live’s, while playing the fantastic Team Fortress 2 (the only multiplayer shooter I’ve enjoyed since Quake 1). After completing an arbitrary “achievement” in Episode Two I’m shown a cutesypoo little icon on a small popup at the bottom right-hand corner of the screen telling me I’ve unlocked this achievement. This absolutely sucks. Playing this game is enough of an achievement. I don’t give a shit that I’ve earned a turkey baster award for squishing 30 insects. This totally sucks me out of the game and for a universe as rich as Half Life this is the ultimate crime. I can find no way to turn off these alerts. I’m tempted to play the game poorly to avoid them. Very, very disappointing.
The last straw yesterday was when the game crashed. The Source engine is known for a few idiosyncrasies such as the screen freezing and audio looping for a couple of seconds when entering an area with new texture assets, but it’s incredibly rare that the game will actually crash to the desktop. Rarer still, everything became completely unresponsive, even to ctrl-alt-del and atrl-alt-esc. Since I couldn’t see what I was doing I had to use the force, pressing Windows-R to open a run dialog, typing “cmd[enter]” to open a command window, press alt-enter to make it fullscreen, and type “exit[enter]” to return me to the desktop where a crash dialog had been obscured behind the frozen Half Life window with an OK button to dismiss it.
This is like a gaggle of teenagers talking on cell phones during a movie. I was completely turned off by this point. I started playing Portal and didn’t stop for 3.5 hours.