18th Jan, 2008
[Warning: Like our Portal article from December, this piece features some pretty heady discourse, and also benefits from a visit from Mr. Narrative Theory. If that stuff makes you run screaming, then feel free to run screaming. Also, if you haven't completed Half-Life 2, leave now. This contains some inhuman spoilers.]
Half-Life 2 is widely and rightly regarded as a modern classic. In terms of both gameplay and artistry there have been few, if any, games in the FPS genre which have had as serious an impact on gamers and gaming. The gameplay innovations it brought us in terms of the Gravity Gun and the detailed reactive physics of the overall game world are still being used heavily as selling points by games today (See Crysis, for example. Throwing heavy things around is not new), and its story is more epic and affecting than the vast majority of movies.
These alone though, are not the reason H-L2 fans are so passionate about the games. Ask any serious fan of the series what makes it so special, and inevitably you’ll be given a discourse on just how real the game feels. There’s a level of involvement with the game world and its characters that goes beyond the effects of convincing graphics and interesting storyline. It’s a level of in-game immersion that we rarely ever see (or rather feel), and it’s one which leads many players to a genuine sense of ‘being there’ and having actual relationships with the game’s characters. All of that is down to one factor. In Gordon Freeman, Valve have very skillfully created the best-realised and most believable protagonist in gaming.
Many in the gaming community enjoy the running joke that Gordon has no personality at all due to his lack of dialogue, but to make such a judgement is to do a disservice to both the game and the level of insight and design ability at Valve, not to mention the talent of its writers. In fact, Gordon Freeman is the most psychologically rounded, nuanced, and realistically multi-layered character currently in existence in the videogame format, and here, we’re going to deconstruct exactly why that is. Trust us, he’s a lot more interesting than you might think.