Ok, 1 thing at a time. First, HL2.
Fortune favours the bold. A hole to hide in is fine, but there's no further progress unless you're ready to take some flak and explore the next immediate area. It's an urban war zone, door-to-door fighting. Machine gun chatter is all around and bullets whizz through the air, not necessarily aimed at you, but it all adds up to a chillingly realistic simulation of a war-torn cityscape.
Across the road from the hidey-hole is a path leading to a bombed-out rooftop on which there is an ammo box full of rockets to take out another 2 striders, assuming you survive the barrage of gunfire from their combined assault. The path to take after this is hard to find as it's easy to be disoriented by the surroundings. You frequently revisit old locations thinking they might lead to new paths, but the right path to take is located on the rooftop where the ammo box is located.
I was wrong about the squad-mates not being replaceable. As soon as you lose your whole squad, another 4 chappies run up and ask to join you, occasionally scaring the pants off you as they suddenly pop up from nowhere.
It's a solo mission again when you take on the Citadel, home of the nasty bearded man who has sold out humanity to "our benefactors, " whomever they are. The entrance to the Citadel is a bit annoying as it is badly-lit and even the flashlight doesn't help much distinguishing between surfaces and shadows. I missed turnings because walls were dark and adjoining corridors were equally dark. I fell off ledges and died because I couldn't see where the floor ended. The Citadel is also the place where I lost every weapon in my arsenal except for the "gravity gun" which really came into its own.
The gravity gun is an amusing toy. It works like "force push" and "pull" in Jedi Knight. It grabs objects from a distance, even large, heavy ones, and hurls them with force at approaching enemies. As long as there are objects in the environment, there is always something to use as ammo (or as a shield). It was fun to use occasionally during the zombie level as there were buzz saw blades lying around here and there. Hurling these lethal disks around chopped hapless zombies in half, though if the blades bounced back unexpectedly, they could be suicidal as well. In the Citadel, the gravity gun somehow becomes supercharged and then it really becomes fun to play with. Gravity gun: don't leave home without it!
Kuishin-bo (Suntec City) is the restaurant with the irritating monotonous advertising jingle. They play an audio clip of this ad whenever there is a limited edition special dish to collect from the buffet spread. Yes, the restaurant offers a Japanese buffet -- all-you-can-eat sashimi (salmon, maguro and swordfish), sushi, teppan-yaki, and pretty much everything else on a common Japanese menu. Weekend dinner rate = $38 per head. Weekdays rates cheaper, especially at lunch. Not a bad place to go if you're looking for Japanese food in quantity.
Got greedy and stuffed myself with sashimi and sushi. Fresh raw fish, lots of wasabe, how could I resist? June and I had to share a seafood soup which was served in a paper bowl atop a flaming burner to keep it hot. I thought the teppan-yaki was drowned in too much gravy which made it heavy. Tip: don't be greedy with the beef even though it is a prime ribeye cut.
The 4 of us -- me, June, Adrian and Mary -- waddled out after dinner and headed to the cinema to catch The Polar Express which I think was charming, though there isn't much meat to the story. It is a beautifully rendered animation with some exciting runaway train sequences. Lovely landscapes.
Characters are the usual crowd, 4 main kids: our protagonist who represents rationality and doubt, the black girl who represents decision and hope, the nerdy kid who represents knowledge/information and hubris, and the poor kid who represents pessimism and in the end, redemption. Working together when they get lost at the North Pole the kids learn from each other and grow with the experience.
One thing bugs me: what is the purpose of the Polar Express (the train, not the story)? All it seems to do is to bring kids to Santa's realm where they stay for a grand total of 5 minutes (by Singaporean rubber-time) and then they all go home again. The journey to the destination is far longer than the stay at the destination, so what's up with that? How do kids get chosen to ride the Polar Express? None of the kids have any traits in common, they seem to be picked up at random, but anyway there is no compulsion to come on board or even to see Santa when they arrive. Too many questions. I feel like the protagonist kid.