Half-Life 2 is a 4 year old game at this point and already a classic of the genre, so writing a conventional review of it would be pointless. But I’ve just spent the past week playing it for the first time, so I thought it would be interesting to write about my impressions on it as someone who’s played most of the current crop of modern FPS games. Technologically of course, Half-Life 2 can’t hold a candle to its successors. 4 years is after all a long time in the computer industry, and the latest graphics engines put the Source engine to shame (even the Source-engine powered Portal, new and innovative as it is, looks somewhat bland compared to current games). But overall the game still looks good enough that playing through it didn’t feel painful (unlike say, when I tried to replay Aliens vs. Predator 2 a couple of years ago) and the game’s many strengths more than made up for it.
One of my first surprises was how long the game felt compared to more recent shooters. I find that most modern shooters these days can be finished in three or four evenings of dedicated playing, but Half-Life 2 sprawling tale stretched out for the most part of a week for me and took me into a variety of locales and situations that most other shooters can’t match either. Another factor that added to its length are the storytelling sequences. Half-Life 2 has no cutscenes per se since the entire story is told strictly from Gordon Freeman’s perspective without any temporal jumps from the player’s point of view. But the story is advanced in a number of scenes which are only minimally interactive in which other characters hold lengthy dialogues with one another in Freeman’s presence. These are worth hearing alone because they show off one of the strengths of the Source engine that is still valid even today: the facial expressiveness of characters animated in the Source engine but they’re not skippable and do add to the overall length.
Continue reading A Half-Life 2 Retrospective
The gaming world has been lit abuzz by a fiery editorial piece by conservative writer Kay Hymowitz entitled “Child-Man in the Promised Land” that appeared in City Journal and was featured on National Public Radio in the U.S. You can read a reply to her editorial on Gaming Today here. Hymowitz’s basic point is that men today don’t grow up. Whereas the previous generation used to leave school, get a stable job, marry a wife and raise children in his own house, men today tend to drift through life aimlessly and refuse to commit to marriage, and are often still living with their parents even well into their 30s. To her, the phenomenon of adult men playing video games, the biggest segment of gamers are men between the ages of 18 and 34 she cites, is the perfect symbol of the child-man.
The blatant sexism of the entire article is disgusting. As one commenter to the article in Gaming Today put it, if Hymowitz had been a man and talked about women in the way she talks about men, it would have been impossible for her to keep her job in the United States. For example, she writes, “Single women in their twenties and early thirties are joining an international New Girl Order, hyperachieving in both school and an increasingly female-friendly workplace, while packing leisure hours with shopping, travelling, and dining with friends. Single Young Males, or SYMs, by contrast, often seem to hang out in a playground of drinking, hooking up, playing Halo 3, and, in many cases, underachieving.” Why is it that women spending their leisure hours shopping, travelling, and dining with friends is perfectly okay while men spending their leisure hours drinking, socializing and playing video games is a sign of their immaturity?
Continue reading The Child-Man
As you can see, my copy of The Orange Box is finally here. I’d actually ordered it a couple of months back from PCGame.com.my to be delivered to my wife’s house so that she could get it from her parents when they visited Australia. Unfortunately, when I tried activating it, I got an error message about how my license key is only valid for Russia and surrounding territories. I suppose that the Russia part is some mistake by Valve, and in any case, it clearly says on my box that this copy is only valid for Brunei, Cambodia, Indonedia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam and the Solomon Islands is not in this list.
Continue reading My Orange Box
Hollywood action blockbusters like National Treasure hold little appeal for me these days, and games like Call of Duty 4 are a big reason why. After all, why watch a big name actor go through the familiar paces of fighting against impossible odds when you can be the star and do it yourself? The Call of Duty series, or at least the installments that were made by Infinity Ward, have always emphasized the cinematic aspect of the gaming experience, and true to form, their latest effort is probably the most refined example of the video game as interactive action movie on the market today.
Everything in this game from the slick loading screens that double as mission briefings to the constant running commentary of your ever present companions and the relentless linearity of the campaign serves to reinforce the impression that this is gaming Hollywood-style. The great thing about Call of Duty 4 is that it mostly works. When your squad members are screaming at you to get on with your mission objectives while the nearby explosion of a grenade is ringing in your ears and you see wave after wave of turbaned generic Arab terrorists coming at you and there’s shooting and confusion everywhere, you really do feel like living an action movie.
Continue reading A Game: Call of Duty 4
Monsters’ Den is a newish, free to play, flash-based game that replicates an old-fashioned party-based dungeon-crawler. You control a party of four characters out of a total of five different classes and take them through multiple levels of a dungeon, killing monsters and getting loot. Each character has detailed statistics and different skills, which you get to upgrade every time you descend to a lower level of the dungeon.
The thing about Monster’s Den is that despite its simplicity, it has a surprising amount of depth. Do you customize your warrior to be a sword-and-shield tank or give him a huge two-handed warhammer to go to town with? Do you play your mage in the traditional way of staying in the back and flinging spells or have him front and center with protective spells and a magic-enhanced sword? With a loot-colouration scheme that seems lifted straight from World of Warcraft (green, blue and purple items with a decent variety of different bonuses), savable games and plenty of abilities to experiment with and enemies to fight, it can be pretty addictive. My only complaints are that the default difficulty is perhaps a little too easy and there aren’t enough different classes to play around with.
Between this and the flash version of Portal, it’s amazing to see how far flash games have come. They make a good argument that 2D games aren’t dead and that good gameplay can overcome skimpy graphics.
The lesson that Crytek must have learned by now is that advertising your game by boasting that its graphics engine is so powerful that it will bring most computers to their knees is probably not a good idea. Everything in Crysis’ pre-release marketing hype heavily touted it as the game to get to show off your ultra-powerful and expensive system that puts gaming consoles to shame. But as Bill Harris noted in his blog, it didn’t even manage to sell 100,000 copies in its first three weeks of release while the 10th rated console game sold over 300,000 copies in the same time. It is a telling fact that Crytek recently announced that their next game, a sequel to Far Cry, will be available on both the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 as well as the PC.
The sad thing here is that Crysis is a game that does deserve to sell better. It has the greatest graphics ever seen in a game thus far, yes, but it also has a huge playing area that allows an open-ended approach to solving tactical problems in-game, it gives the player a cool set of abilities that combined with the nifty physics in the game makes all sorts of wacky actions and situations possible, emergent gameplay of the most spontaneous kind, and it’s the kind of game that, innumerable flaws notwithstanding, make you sit back and grin when you think of the crazy shit you’ve just managed to pull off.
Continue reading A Game: Crysis
Ever since lead designer Cliff Bleszinski famously posted photos of himself hobnobbing with celebrities at E3 while promoting this game on the SomethingAwful forums, I’d been predisposed to dislike Gears of War. It didn’t help that the look and feel of the game leans heavily towards testosterone-fueled machismo of the worst sort. So it came as a pleasant surprise to me when I finally got my hands on the PC version this month and found it to be a more than decent game.
The machismo is all there of course: huge guns with chainsaws for bayonets, grunts with big bulging muscles and anatomically implausible jawlines who make frequent references to kicking ass and toughing it out while the only female presence is a lieutenant who is mostly heard and not seen. The well above average dialogue however manages the difficult task of making it seem familiar rather ridiculous. Combined with the excellent duck-and-cover mechanics and satisfying shooting action, it adds up to a very playable shooter.
Continue reading A Game: Gears of War (PC)