written by Blain Newport on Monday, 6 February, 2012
For no apparent reason, I've been on a shooter binge. Half-Life 2 and the episodes, Crysis 2, Fear 1 and it's two expansions, Fear 2, and even Half-Life 1 since I figured if I was doing a comparative study, I should head back to the first shooter with well regarded enemy AI.
Overall, I'm not a fan of "good" AI. The AI itself isn't the problem, it's that developers feel the need to make enemies super durable so that they live long enough to show off their behaviors. When point blank head shots can't down a foe, the power fantasy is suddenly less powerful than real life.
Crysis and Fear have stealth clauses where if you shoot an unaware opponent in the head they die immediately, but that mostly serves to highlight how bizarre it is that they don't die from the same bullet in the same head on other occasions.
Games did used to be harder, but that wasn't a good thing. Half-Life 1 was far and away the hardest game I played. And Fear will kill you in a flash on normal difficulty. It's good that this mostly went away. The fun in these situations is adjusting on the fly, making new choices. Dying only gives you the choice of repeating everything since your last save or quitting. Neither of those is interesting or fun.
Once you turn it down to easy, Fear and it's expansions can provide some pretty great firefights. Moving from cover to cover, tracking enemies to avoid getting surrounded, and matching all of it to the rhythm of shooting, reloading, and switching weapons is pretty great.
The expansions also added in the ability to bash open doors, and the feeling of barreling through everything in your path, being unflankable because you're bashing and shooting and jumping and running so fast you can't be caught is ridiculously great.
The second expansion (Perseus Mandate) also added in monsters that pull you into the ground. Fear has tons of blood puddles and pitch black shadows, but these monsters made them scary.
The expansions had their problems, but there were good additions that I miss when I go back to the stock game.