Montag, 15. Februar 2010

Ladies of Interest (11): Alyx Vance & Chell

Hmm. Cyber-Ladies again. Next one will be a "real" Lady again for a change, promise! (A certain neighbour of two certain Geeks in a certain show is certainly overdue).

Alyx Vance is the daughter of Dr. Eli Vance, one of the researchers of Black Mesa responsible for opening a portal to another dimension. Though Dr. Gordon Freeman could close the portal and defeat the alien invaders who poured through it single-handedly, earth came into the focus of yet another alien force: The Combine. So when some twenty years later Dr. Freeman returns, he has to rescue an enslaved earth. This time not single-handedly but with the firm hands of Alyx by his side.

Although Half-Life 2 is "only" a First-Person-Shooter, it was a revolution for the genre just as Half-Life was several years ago. Not only does it take the player beyond "normal" gameplay with some clever uses of the engine, but offers also a set of very believable characters and a thrilling story with an unique method of including the player.

Gordon Freeman (the player) doesn't speak (but is spoken to a lot). There are no scenes in which the player doesn't look out of his eyes and in most of them the player keeps moving control over him all the time. I really like that kind of "thrown-in-the-middle"-storytelling, where you have to puzzle everything together from several chunks of information throughout the game. And Valve did an excellent job of conveying the complex story and universe that way. I won't spoil anything, but Half-Life 2, HL2:Episode 1 and HL2:Episode 2 were an intense experience. So intense that I didn't mind to play Ep1 and 2 again after finishing with the build-in "audio-commentary" of the developers.

Valve does know how to develop and evolve a game. Take Alyx: She's a part-time supporting character in HL2, a very much needed ally in combat in Ep1 and a central story element in Ep 2. Valve did immense amounts of playtesting through all phases of the game(s), including behaviour routines for Alyx. According to the audio-commentaries at one point in development she went ahead of the player and asked him to hurry - resulting in a nagging character. Playtesters hated her. So now she's following the player and lets him move at his own pace.

Beyond that Gordon and Alyx develop a charming relationship (he's just a good listener I guess... ;) ). Hope that Episode 3 will be announced soonish.


Chell (surname unknown) is maybe the daughter ("... It says so right here in your personnel file; 'Unlikable. Liked by no one. A bitter unlikable loner whose passing shall not be mourned.' SHALL NOT BE MOURNED. That's exactly what it says. Very formal. Very official. It also says you were adopted. So that's funny too.") of an employee of Black Mesa rival Aperture Science who visited her father on the annual "bring your daughter to work day". She awakes in a sterile testchamber and is greeted by a annoying female computer-voice commanding her to partake in a series of tests ("Please note that we have added a consequence for failure. Any contact with the chamber floor will result in an "unsatisfactory" mark on your official testing record, followed by death. Good luck!") involving Aperture Science's portable portal technology. Soon she gets the device and faces mind-bending challenges involving the loveliest Weighted Companion Cube ("The Enrichment Center reminds you that the Weighted Companion Cube cannot speak. In the event that the Weighted Companion Cube does speak, the Enrichment Center urges you to disregard its advice.") ever, neurotically sweet machine gun turrets and the ever-helpful ("The Enrichment Center promises to always provide safe testing environments. In dangerous testing environments, the Enrichment Center promises to always provide useful advice. For instance, the floor here will kill you. Try to avoid it.") voice of GLaDOS who got a morality core installed after she flooded the enrichment centre with a deadly neurotoxin to make her stop flooding the enrichment centre with a deadly neurotoxin. Also, there's cake. But the cake is a lie!

Portal is... undescribable. I played it again yesterday in one long run (3 hours with audio commentary) and I'm still shaking my head. GLaDOS is the most disturbed AI you can imagine (she's singing the now nerd-hymn "Still Alive" during the credits roll), the environment is a mixture between creepy, weird and hilarious and the gameplay is waaay cool. And challenging. ("Momentum; a function of mass and velocity; is conserved between portals. In layman's terms: speedy thing goes in, speedy thing comes out.") Everything for the cake! ("There was even going to be a party for you. A big party that all your friends were invited to. I even invited your best friend the companion cube. Of course he couldn't come because you murdered him. All your other friends couldn't come either because you don't have any other friends because of how unlikable you are.")

Half-Life 2: The Orange Box containing HL2, Ep 1, Ep2, Portal and Team Fortress 2 is a very good deal. Own it and be rewarded with hours of great gameplay. And cake.

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