The journey through Half-Life 2 is as much a personal and developmental one as it is one of space and time. The techniques Valve use to bind the player’s identity with Gordon’s throughout each of these carefully executed stimuli, coupled with the changing reactions of NPCs to reflect the player’s developing sense of stature and ability (We could write this amount again just on the effects of Gordon’s relationship with Alyx, particularly in reference to Episodes 1 and 2) are what makes Half-Life 2 such an unequalled involving experience.
It’s a great shame that we don’t see more developers brave enough to make full use of the immersion techniques afforded by the silent protagonist. In an era in which flash-bang cinematics and ‘charismatic’ anti-heroes are the norm, we might enjoy watching the odd well directed cut-scene or hearing the occasional amusing one-liner, but ultimately we are being divorced from truly feeling involved in the game. Only Link from the Legend Of Zelda series really stands out as even approaching being as ‘inhabitable’ as Gordon, but even so, the effect is nowhere well as well-realised due to the lack of emotional stimulus with which to construct an in-game personality in the Zelda games. Maybe with the next one we’ll see Nintendo learning from the potential glimpsed at times in Twilight Princess and building further in that direction. Until then though, Gordon Freeman will remain the ultimate example of “Less is more” in character design.
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