To equate how this would have worked in Farcry, the base would have been there, and it would have been up to you if you wanted to go in or not, or just land your airboat at the foot of the tower, climb up and open the floodgate.
While true, in many cases the "non-linearity" was nothing more than: take path A, path B or in rare cases a path C. In some instances you didn't even have that, for example the docks level. While you can either go down to the water and swim across or hang glide across, once your across the chasm you go down the hill and into the mercenary camp. Go around the mercenary camp? Nope, sorry have to go through. Another example would be the Radar Dish level: you have three paths (main beach, beach to the left and beach on the rear side) to get onto the main island and into the jungle, from the jungle you have two paths to get to the fort (through the tunnels are along the cliffside). Once at the fort there was only one way through.
While Far Cry was less linear, for the most part it was a lot of smoke and mirrors. There was a definite flow to the levels that guided you along a specific path and punished you for deviating from it, i.e. not coming across an autosave because you're deviating from the path through the level.
But every game is EXACTLY the same. Up to and including the squad mates that make you get stuck throughout the entire level where you're fighting in City17, door to door, and every time you want to go back, or go out of a room, you have to wrestle your way through four of your "brilliant AI" squadmates.
Uh no. The game spawns squad mates in based upon how many you have remaining. It's not predetermined. Additionally have you ever been in a tight hallway with five other people? While it was annoying to bump into squad mates, they did move out of the way quickly, I was never "stuck" I just had to wait a second so they could reshuffle themselves so that a path would open up. Maybe having a large squad in close quarters wasn't the best idea ever but in real life you'd have the exact same problem even with real intelligence.
Unfortunately, it doesn't work very well. Most of the encounters in those houses are scripted.
So? They're all enjoyable and the granular gameplay of HL2 still allows for multiple solutions. Even the vaunted Far Cry was heavily scripted in parts, namely the indoor levels, and in that case the scripting didn't add anything the way it does in HL2.
I've seen one person explain that the reason nobody explains anything to Gordon about what happened is because EVERYBODY KNOWS what happened, ergo, Gordon would too, had he been on earth, as everyone assumes. That's fair enough, it's a good argument.
Gordon, however, DOES NOT KNOW. Why doesn't he ask? As a protagonist, Gordon Freeman is the most boring fucking moron ever developed for videogames. I could relate more to being Ms Pacman than I could to being Gordon Freeman.
Gordon asking questions would have made the story a little easier to understand I'll give you that. However you're not supposed to "relate" to Gordon, YOU ARE Gordon. The game never ever portrays Gordon as someone other than you, Gordon Freeman is simply the name YOU have while YOU fight through City 17.
And yet, this is what people call "the best story ever in videogames"? Please.
I never called it the best story ever. Did you ever see Van Helsing? That was a shitty movie beyond belief but I bring it up because of it's plot. The plot jumped allover the place: Frankenstein's monster being key to stopping Dracula, an Ice Castle, a Masquerade ball that's actually populated by Dracula's minions, etc. It felt contrived, it felt forced, it felt like a "story-driven" video game. Plot served simply as a means of getting from one effect shot to another, there was no attempt to develop character or to show the details that cause you to believe in the world and the characters. Now take the movie Collateral, when you come right down to it it's plot is extremely simple. Not a whole lot happens in the film, there are a few assasinations and it becomes apparent it's to disrupt a court case but thats it. Instead the movie uses the time it has to develop the character's lives and create a believable world. Now HL2 isn't quite a Michael Mann film, but a globetrotting plot like Van Helsing is ditched in favor of developing a highly believable and immersive world, similar to Collateral.
In the five minute journey from the train to Dr Kleiner's lab, Half Life 2 inflicts FOUR level loads on you. Each lasting between 75-120 seconds.
I thought it was the best thing ever in the first Half Life. Only there the loads took four seconds. Here they take two minutes.
I don't know what kind of computer you had in '98 but the level loads in HL1 took on the order of 30-40 seconds when I first got it. Far Cry levels are larger than HL2 levels but I've found the load times to be very similar at about 40-60 seconds and I have a three year old computer. While the wait is bothersome, HL2 is still much more seamless than Far Cry, there isn't some giant splash screen reminding you that "you are playing a game, you just finished a level, please wait". A year from now when hardware and further engine optimizations have reduced HL2 load times to 10-15 seconds, it will be hands down superior. Something else, the levels themselves had a significant amount of gameplay in them. Sure some were real short but on average there's probably a good 15 minutes between each level load, which isn't a whole lot less than I spent on average in a Far Cry level (about 25-30 minutes). Frankly if the only weak part of the Source engine is level loads I think that still puts it at the top of the pack of the next gen engines.
Even though all you Half Life 2 fanboys are ofcourse all wrong
Well you Far Cry fanboys are wrong too. That game had no soul and no attention to immersion and believability.