Whether in magazines or on message boards, “cinematic” is the game critics’ weasel word. Sometimes we say it when we aren’t sure what we want to say Usually, I understand it to mean specific moments when games aren’t gamelike—when they stop —3 showing, so to speak and start telling. and when actors turn into audience. Why the word isn’t pejorative when used this way probably involves movie envy and mistaken goose-and-gander assumptions about standard practice in one medium suiting the next Nonetheless, videogames learn lots from other media, and by imitating the everyday function ol film techniques instead of their exact form. Half-Life 2: Episode Two becomes movielike. but isn’t a game that wants to be what it’s not.
“Episodic* is a punchline to an inside joke, meaningful in that it pertai ns to Valve’s ability to produce series segments at annual intervals rather than the periods of five or more years between its proper sequels. And Half-Life2 episodes aren’t as long as retail games; give them that The original analogy between short serial games and familiar formats invoked TV seasons in all the ways you’d expect That comparison, too. is as apt as it isn’t because games—with their obligation to deliver playtime in double-digit hours—already resemble tosfs sleepiest midseason weeks In that respect. Valve’s Ihree-parter is akin to feature films where the question is “So can we sacrifice that to the cutting room?” and not “How can we stretch this with the season finale so far off?” www.allpcgame.net
Filler-free to an even greater extent than One, episode Two wags a finger at FPSes with Pac-Mon mentality—the maze and its color changes, but the “dot eating” doesn’t—at backtracking and at levels revealingly named “Once more, with feeling” (see: Hah 2). I’ll address the exception now: Early on, one overly long tussle iterates on the HL2 sequence that pit players and automated turrets against charging Combine in Nova Prospekt prison. Here, first-timers will see the challenge intensify in itsy-bitsy increments I saw through it. That’s it, though. Each and every 20 minutes thereafter, tone and tension vary, simmering and boiling and smoldering again across linked story beals very much like those in a movie.
Supersized physical puzzles—seesaw a broken and teetering bridge span so that you can boost your car up and over a chasm—give way to scenes from the zombie apocalypse, which grade into the laugh-out-loud dialogue of grunts debating who’s had the harder time: those in Oty 17 or its White Forest fringe. Episode Two’s transitions dovetail invisibly They embarrass FPSes that bounce players between firefights jury-rigged with the duct tape and bailing wire of rude cut-scenes Asa result water cooler chitchat crbits moments, not missions; reference any scene and, as with movies, people recognize both it and its place i n the bigger picture.
“Yeah you improvise a human trebuchet from a grenade and an iron grate?* Char marks subtly suggest the solution to a brainteaser that other studios wouldn’t dare ship without the confidence of an explanatory device. “Antlion soldiers and arid-vomiting workers fight zombies who also fight you and the Vortigaunt!” Valve frees Hatf-Life’s swelling menagerie in unruly three-way chicken fights. “I swear Alyx winked at me when I looked over. Later. her dad. Eli Vance, kidded us about the world’s baby deficit before the self-important Dr Magnusson stormed in.” Because characters develop gradually. the problem isn’t our indifference to the cast..but rather the risk that we’ll expect to learn more about every incidental figure, such as Mag’s charming lab-coated alien acolyte, in future episodes.
I’ve selected these examples at near-random to avoid spoiling truly standout showpieces Episode Two’s entire five-hour experience—vivid, emotionally engaging, and virtually unsurpassed—is full of them. www.allpcgame.net