But you do have a backstory: Half-life 1. You know that Breen's not just a crazy dictator because, aside from the constant references to the Combine as a higher, interplanetary power, you remember from HL1 that aliens invaded and screwed up the world.
Yes, but the game relies too heavily on assumptions. For instance, as far as I know, Breen IS a crazy dictator - there was no mention in Half Life 1 of the world being taken over and him being installed in an interimn government - I had to go online
to find that out. And these "constant references" to the Combine - from the references, I could have easily guessed that the Combine was a giant corporation. The point is that the game explains none of this.
Also, and this is something I've not understood before, I don't understand the relevance of the backstory to the actual story of HL2 and I don't see how its absence turns "evading the Combine while fleeing through the city canals" or "busting open Nova Prospekt with a horde of ant lions" into soulless "A-B-C shoot bad guys".
It doesn't have a direct influence, but it tells you why
you're doing things. It tells you who
you're fighting. How many games have you played where they simply put a gun in your hand and told you to kill, and you didn't really care? Half Life 2 fell squarely into that trap. About a fourth of the way in, I just didn't really care what happened to the universe; I was just finishing it because I knew everyone would be talking about it. The lack of a backstory/any good binding of the main story makes the immersian almost nill. Sure, it has great graphical immersion, and that's what everyone always means when they say that Half Life 2 had great immersion, but they dont include the fact that the storyline immersion was almost nonexistent. You were Gordon Freeman, but what the hell were you doing and why were you doing it?
Why do you need a blow-by-blow account of the HL1-HL2 gap? Why do you need to be told what should be obvious?
We don't need a blow by blow, but we do need SOMETHING. All we want is basically "Aliens took over the Earth. Breen is in charge of their forces here. He's bad, because he tortures people, drives them to XXX, do XXX, etc go kill him."
All we got was "Breen is bad. Kill him."
It's not "obvious" - the entire backstory and whole reason for the resistence is clouded and not very immersive.
Who said G-Man had a plan?
Who said he didn't? Once again, zero explanation. Although that part might be slightly excused.
I didn't think that things were messed up when the Combine were around after I killed the Nihilanth in HL1; I thought "ah, there's a third player in all of this." I can't say I felt disconnected and frustrated, more intrigued and excited that I was going to get to use my brain in a linear FPS.
That's HL1, not 2 you're referring to, right?
Ok, here's a good example. Imagine Freespace 2. You knew why you were fighting, right? There's a rebellion, you're severed from Earth, you've got the tatters of a civilization and an unstable new alliance. You're fighting to protect the sanctity of that alliance and secure unity for the galaxy.
If Freespace 2 had been Half Life 2, this is the storyline; "Welcome! There's a rebellion, go stop it!"
Not very immersive, non? While Freespace 2 used backstory, context, and depth to create a believable and interesting universe, Half Life 2 relied solely on graphics to pull people in, and the story was left blowing in the wind, with no details and no depth.