Well, I've finished Half-Life 2. That's the last of the big three blockbuster first-person shooters this year: Doom 3, Far Cry, and Half-Life 2. My verdict on Half-Life 2 was that it was truly excellent, but with an extremely disappointing first couple of hours. (Extremely disappointing in that it did not meet my excruciatingly high standards, but still decent in and of itself.) Now, the statement that Lincoln feared, and will shock many a gamer: I liked Doom 3 better.
Certainly, Half-Life 2 is deserving of a 10/10. It's innovative, exciting, and once I got past the first couple hours, the "hey, look at us, we have a physics engine!" part, as I like to call it, it's gripping and full of the delicious pleasure that is the essence of why I'm such a fan of computer games as a medium.
All three of the games had extraordinary graphics in their own way, and they all have their strenghths. Doom 3 and Half-Life 2 were extremely polished, down to the little details that just make you smile. All three had excellent graphics engines from a technical standpoint, and they looked great. But, each had its own way of looking good. Doom 3 was quite convincing in its depiction of an overrun Mars research station (and, eventually, Hell), Far Cry had exquisitely beautiful landscapes, and Half-Life 2 really made me feel like I was in a part of Europe that had suddenly had the crap beaten out of it by aliens.
Doom 3 was tense, frightening, and unnerving beyond what I thought could possibly be imagined. I always used to think it was stupid in movies when characters would turn around in shocked horror, firing blankly into the dark. After playing Doom 3, I can emphasize: I've done the same thing. It made it hard to sleep at night. I walked the halls at work fearing every corner, alcove, and footstep. I've never had a game that affected my life so strongly (not counting the many games I've obsessed about far beyond the point where it's remotely healthy).
Far Cry did a lot of things well too. It featured the best stealth combat I've ever experienced... crawling through the weeds of a lush tropical island, taking out my sniper rifle, picking my first target, steadying my aim... just fantastic. The selection of throwables (rocks, frag grenades, smokescreens, and flashbangs) was perfect, and you had to learn to use each one effectively. The night-vision goggles with infrared overlays, and the binoculars that pick up homing signals, were inspired. And, it's the most open-ended shooter imaginable... for about half of the levels, you have an objective, and hundred different ways to accomplish it. But, my problem with Far Cry was that there were too many painful flaws that ruined the game for me. There are no save games, only checkpoints. That's ridiculous, and regardless of the creators' reasoning, it's just unacceptable. This is not a console game. To pervert a line from The Simpsons, "here in PC-land we don't tolerate that kind of crap, sir!" That, combined with wave after wave of nigh-invincible mutants with rocket launchers, jumpy mutants that kill in a single hit, and enemies that you can only see with night vision or by seeing the splash they make through water didn't spell fun for me. Also, the vehicles in the game, which play a fairly important part, sucked way more than they should have. The game was put together extremely well, but I just couldn't overlook the horrible flaws.
Finally, we come to Half-Life 2. Like Doom 3, you have to experience it; it can't be merely explained. There's so much gaming goodness here that any verbal description fails to do it justice. My main complaint is that, in the first few hours, there are many spots where the action just comes to a complete stop. Whether it's climbing up onto precariously-placed boards so you can push a washing machine into a basket so that it lifts up a ramp using a system of ropes and pulleys, or spending five minutes looking for the ladder that will let you into the next area, or spending several minutes building a path out of garbage so that you don't walk through the radioactive waste, there were quite a few parts that really ruined the experience. Luckily, those were not the majority of the game, and the rest of the game is just so good that I can overlook them now.
Out of all those, why do I like Doom 3 the best? I think it's because of two factors: first, the non-stop intensity. From about ten minutes in to the very end of the game, my heart was racing, and I couldn't take my eyes away for a second. If someone were to have snuck up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder, I probably would have either fouled myself or decapitated them. The second factor is that there was very little about the game that I was annoyed with. There were very few parts that I had to replay (it was challenging, but not ridiculously so), and only once or twice in the entire game did I get the feeling that I was lost and just searching for some little button to press or ladder to climb, which I can't say for Half-Life 2 (again, primarily the beginning).
Anyway, that's enough for now. I'll certainly play Half-Life 2 and Doom 3 again in the future; they're the masterpieces of the genre, and worth a second time around. I don't know if anyone made it this far, but I like to think about why I like things (games, movies, music), and maybe that was interesting for you too.
On to Dawn of War. It seems to be another extremely well-made piece of art so far.