Category Archives: FPS

Has Half-Life Decayed? – (Un)Retro Review

Nowadays it’s not uncommon for popular games to see re-releases or remasterings on newer consoles, but not every touted titled gets that privilege.  Thus it’s left to online platforms like Steam and GOG to keep these classic titles available for those of us who missed them the first time around, or perhaps wish to merely bask in the nostalgia.  But this can be a double-edged sword, as not all games have aged as well as others.  I’ve certainly had my fair share of disappointment when I boot up an older game only to find it nigh unplayable thanks to certain advancements in gaming tech since its release (more on that later).  Thus was the inspiration for this review series.  The (Un)Retro Review.  Do the old classics hold up from the perspective of a modern gamer, to the extent that they can still be enjoyed today, or are they more akin to a museum display, important historically but best left untouched?

What better game to start with than the venerated Half-Life?

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It’s always an interesting experience having played a sequel before getting to the first game in a series — and something I’ve done more than a few times.  I’d already played Half-Life 2 & the ensuing Episodes long before picking up the original, so I already had a vague idea about the plot going in.  Though not as much as I would’ve thought.  Hell, Half-Life 2 might as well have been a standalone for all that the plot was directly referenced back.

As with the sequel, we take on the role of Dr. Gordon Freeman, though “only” a theoretical physicist & not the Messianic figure he became during his absence between games.  While helping with an experiment at the Black Mesa research facility, he survives a disastrous resonance cascade, whereupon a tear is ripped in space-time, allowing hostile alien creatures to invade.  As if things aren’t bad enough, the government begins sending in soldiers to “clean up” the problem, ie. killing everyone in the facility.  And for some bizarre reason they decide that chasing a lone scientist is a better usage of their resources than killing the invading forces.  Thus it is left to Gordon to find a way to seal the portals.


Narrative: Historically, Half-Life is touted as revolutionizing the way story was presented in the FPS genre.  And looking back at a timeline of games released before this, I could see their point.  FPS games prior to this tended to have very little in the way of story presented during the actual game.  Think your Dooms, Quakes, & Wolfensteins.  You might get some brief backstory in the pamphlet that came with the game, or maybe some opening sequence, followed up an ending text blurb.  Everything else was just action, and the player assuming they’re working to some end goal.  And usually the end goal was little more than to kill the end boss, receive happy ending.

20180828202417_1But Half-Life tried to do things differently by weaving the narrative into the action.  And from a modern gamer’s perspective, it does a fine job of this.  Obviously it’s done in the same way as Half-Life 2, where exposition happens in real-time.  No cutscenes, just NPCs talking directly to you.  But neither are these moments long-winded, taking you out of the game.  I’ll give Valve credit in that a lot of the story is shown & not told.  It shows a good understanding of how details in the environment can build upon the greater story going on outside the immediate area.  The escalation, from accidental space-time ripping to taking out a dimensional space fetus, feels natural.

That being said, there were a few… odd points.  From someone who played the sequel first, I kept asking myself which of the identical NPCs were the people Gordon teams up with in the second game.  Am I to assume Dr. Kleiner & Dr. Vance are the white & black scientists who talk to Gordon outside the testing chamber at the beginning?  The ones that look like every other white & black scientist?  And which identical guard was Barney?  Yes, I know there were some standalone expansions that might explain these things, but I’m merely documenting my experiences here.

Overall, Half-Life’s story is competently paced, engaging without removing players from the experience, & takes advantage of the gaming medium.

Score: 5


Mechanics: Mmm… if you follow me on Twitter, you might have some inkling as to my opinion on the gameplay side of Half-Life, but we’ll get to that in a minute.  Firstly, I will say that despite my general ineptness at shooters, Half-Life’s combat handles well.  Gordon has this great fluidness to him that makes maneuvering on the battlefield a breeze.  I don’t know if Gordon is some track star, or if his HEV suit (which I kept wanting to call HVAC in-game) boosts his stamina, but the man can move — as evidenced by the constant squeaks his boots make on the floors.  Adding to this are the fun variety of weapons that become available.  Yeah, in the beginning you’re stuck with your more standard shotguns & pistols, but some of the later weapons are a lot of fun to mess around with.  Though I didn’t always find them very useful.  I don’t think I ever used the trigger mines or satchel bombs, & I have no idea what that alien arm gun-thing even did.

20180828203528_1I also enjoyed that, although always a shooter, the game wasn’t just combat.  As with the sequel, there’s a lot of traversal & switching up the specifics of your current objective.  Some of my favorite levels included “Blast Pit,” where you have to sneak around an alien claw monster to reach different power stations to fire up a rocket engine to kill it, “On A Rail,” where you drive around a little train, & “Surface Tension”, where you have to get around a bunch of trip mines or blow the whole place up.  It adds a nice variety over just shooting people.

That being said… Y’know, I feel like Valve has a bad habit of being impressed by one new feature of their games & then add way too much of it.  In Half-Life 2, they were so impressed by their gravity gun & physics engine that every citizens had to lock doors via see-saw puzzles.  They also seem to like vehicles, given the entire levels in both games dedicated to some form on conveyance.  But I’ll let that pass because I actually enjoyed those sections.

What I enjoyed significantly less, however, was the platforming.  And I knew this was a common complaint going in.  Most people will tell you first-person platforming is a pain in any game.  But I don’t think it’s the perspective.  I think the problem is one of the things Valve was proud of: the combat.  You may recall me mentioning the fluidness of Gordon’s movements just a few paragraphs ago.  Well, having slippery movement is good in fast combat, but unsurprisingly not so good for precision jumping.  You end up quite literally not being able to stick the landing.  Gordon seems to slide everywhere, including off the very platform I’m trying to land on.  It got to the point that I aimed to ram into something just to stop myself.  It didn’t help matters that, perhaps as a bad habit from other platformers, I tend to hit “back” to slow my jumps, which would for some reason cause Gordon to completely lose all forward momentum & fall.  Does the HEV cancel gravity?  Add to this the frustration of crouch jumping.  I get that this might make sense from a realism perspective, in that a human would probably make a standing jump higher if they crouched first.  But I did the long jump & hurdles in school track, & I know that’s bad form for jumping a distance, rocket pack be damned.  It probably would’ve bothered me less if I could’ve found a decent button to map the crouch to.  But no matter what I did, nothing made pushing W + random button + Spacebar feel anything but cumbersome.  All that, especially when taking into account that the entire last level is one big jumping puzzle, & it does drag the experience down a bit.

Despite all that, Half-Life is overall a fun gaming experience.  The combat, imagination & variety of scenarios is definitely where the game shines bright.  But the insistence on jumping puzzles keeps it from being perfect.

Score: 4


20180910204646_1Aesthetics: I mean, it is a 20 year-old game, so the presentation in some areas hasn’t aged well.  Character models aren’t the greatest, although I really only found it noticeable on the human models.  With the aliens & the industrial setting, it’s not quite as obvious.  I expect machinery to be angular.  And there’s quite a lot of detail when you take the time to look.  Honestly, I never noticed in the sequel how disgusting the headcrabs’ teeth were.  The sound design was okay as well.  A lot of those sounds were familiar from the sequel.  Is it odd to be reminded of something that was carried over to another game by the game you’re playing now?

Score: 3


Replay Value: Moderate.  As I mentioned, there are a lot of little details that you’ll probably miss the first time through, so it’s definitely worth going back through to further immerse yourself in the game.  While there’s technically no reason to play through again from a story perspective, Half-Life is well-constructed enough to stand up to multiple runs.

Score: 3


Breakdown

Untitled

Overall Score: 4

Does Half-Life still stand up?
Absolutely.

In my opinion, Half-Life deserves all the praise it receives, as well as a little criticism.  Desite showing it’s age, & a few frustrations, it remains an enjoyable gaming experience that anyone can enjoy.  If you are bothered by “old” games, there are some more modern fan updates I believe, that attempt to update the graphics & some of the more tedious mechanics.  But the original Half-Life should be remembered for its flaws & all.

– GamerDame

Fan-Made Trailer
Title: Half-Life
Console: PC, PS2, OS X
Rating: M
Developer: Valve
Publisher: Sierra Studios
Release Date: November 19, 1998
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Filed under (Un)Retro, 4, FPS, PC, PS2, Reviews

Game Review: BioShock

I love rummaging through the bargain bins or checking out used game stores because you never know what you might find for a steal.  As much as some people might harp about used games taking profits from the developers, there’s no denying that they help extend the life of a game in the social consciousness & help people who might not have otherwise paid full price experience the game, which could mean increased sales on the developer’s next project.  Besides, most people in the industry say that the only profit that matters to publishers is within the first few weeks, as that’s how they recoup their expenses & finance the next game.  So theoretically even waiting a month can hurt studios, regardless of the price you pay.  Because of this, I felt no guilt buying what is by most accounts a superb game years after its release.  BioShock is one of those games that is so often discussed in gaming culture that it’s almost a requirement to play it.  I feel like it was a strike against my gamer-cred (if such a thing exists).  So how does this game stand up from a fresh perspective looking back?

BioShock_cover

BioShock is a first-person shooter action game where you play as Jack, a plane crash survivor who finds himself escaping the flaming wreckage into a mysterious underwater city.  Completely out of his element, Jack must rely on a voice on the radio to navigate the dilapidated labyrinth filled with genetically mutated monstrosities.  But when everyone’s looking out for themselves, who can he trust?

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I think I’m outclassed

Thankfully, there are many ways to brave the trials ahead.  The boring way would be through brute force with the aid of weapons, but the more daring might prefer to alter their genetic code with Adam, a strange substance that lets you do things like shoot bees from your hands.  But the only way to access Adam is to take it from the Little Sisters, who are guarded by the baddest monstrosities in Rapture.

 

Narrative: I mentioned in my first impression that it was impossible to go this long without having some of the game spoiled, so I went in knowing a certain pivotal plot twist.  However, I don’t feel that negatively impacted my experience, aside from being a good example of gameplay-as-narrative, meaning the actual mechanics of the game are reflected through the story.  Overall, I found the story engaging, but aside from the spoiler nothing came as a surprise to me.  I’m not sure if it’s because I’m looking back almost a decade after its release, but a lot of the ideas in the game are pretty standard fare.  Destroyed utopia, forgotten past, morally questionable scientific discovery leading to ruin, betrayal… I’ve seen them before, & the game is actually quite good at giving you hints to the twists.  All the other plot twists, such as who Jack is relation to Rapture, didn’t come as a surprise.  But I do feel the ideas explored are interesting, if a bit trite.  The characters encountered all have distinct personalities & are recognizable despite us rarely seeing them.  And I think Jack makes a good silent protagonist.  I could project myself onto him, but the devs gave him enough history that he’s not a complete blank slate.  My only real complaint is that a lot of Rapture’s history is told via recordings, which aren’t bad, but sometimes it was hard to keep the minor characters separate.  Overall, though, despite seeming a little predictable now, I thought the story of BioShock was very interesting & engaging.  Score: 4

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Most impractical location ever

Mechanics: For the most part, I think BioShock strikes a good balance between giving the player freedom to handle situations as they please & not feeling overwhelmed.  You’ve got weapons, plasmids (Adam-based superpowers), tonics (grant certain skills & abilities), stuff to buy, stuff to craft, hacking, research through photography… It sounds like a lot, but you can focus or ignore whatever you want, which I appreciated.  It lets the player decide how they want to play.  Personally, I favored my weapons, sticking mostly with the electrobolt plasmid only when overwhelmed.  Between the static charge tonic, armored shell, and natural camouflage (which let me turn invisible when I stood still), there wasn’t much I couldn’t handle.  Everything feels fun to use, with one exception.  I found the hacking tedious, & odd from a world-building standpoint.  Throughout the game, you’ll come across security cameras, turrets & attack drones that will view you as an enemy if you don’t destroy or hack them.  If you hack them, they’ll attack enemies for you.  But I found the pipe mania mini-games you have to play to do so tedious.  Also, are these machines water-powered?  It makes sense based on water being readily available, but I’m not sure how semi-sentient machines could be water-powered.  Even stranger, you can pay money to override these machines.  Who am I paying?  Am I bribing the machine?  I appreciate having options, but towards the end I was either bribing the machines or using the auto-hack tools.  The lock-on system also seemed a bit laggy, especially when enemies are running around, & often seemed to stick to one side of the enemy, making it hard to be accurate during a heavy firefight.  Other than those minor points, I felt that everything worked well.  Score: 5

 

Cohen's_Collection

Horror in non-horror games

Aesthetics: Despite being almost a decade old, the graphics hold up pretty well.  The world of Rapture is beautifully unique & atmospheric.  Although structurally questionable, I love that so much of the game space shows the city at large & the ocean environment.  It really sets up this isolated, alien feeling.  Each level feels unique, whether it’s a garden or apartment, & is populated with signs of life, lending to the feeling that this was a thriving city before everything went to Hell.  The voice acting felt solid.  I don’t recall a lot of music other than a random jukebox, but I did think the sound direction was spot on.  Debris skitters, splicers mutter & scratch the walls, & Big Daddies clomp around.  Being able to hear enemies is crucial.  And the moments when everything is still & quiet can be nail-biting.  Score: 5

 

Replay Value: Moderate.  BioShock does have two endings based on whether or not you harvested the Little Sisters, but I don’t think there’s enough difference to warrant a new playthrough.  But I do think it’s the sort of story where people might want to go back to find the little clues they might have overlooked.  Score: 3

Breakdown

Untitled

Overall Score: 4

Final Word: It’s hard to judge a game’s originality years after it started influencing the medium as a whole, but any criticism I have of the themes BioShock explored don’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the title.  Aside from some minor complaints, I recommend this game for pretty much anyone.

– GamerDame

Title: BioShock
Consoles: PC, 360, PS3
Rating: M
Developer: 2K Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: August 21, 2007

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Filed under 4, FPS, PC, PS3, Reviews, XBox 360