Tag Archives: PC

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?


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



Overall Score: 4

Does Half-Life still stand up?

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: The Old City Leviathan

Sometimes I feel like I have a personal vendetta against philosophy.  As interesting as I may find it, there were many times during my studies when I would’ve killed to have a time machine for the sole purpose of going back & yelling at the person whose work I was reading to tell them, “Get to the point!”.  Were they getting paid by the word?  How hard was it to say, “Let people think you’re a good person but secretly do whatever you feel is necessary regardless of ethics”?  There; I just summed up the entirety of Machiavelli’s The Prince in one sentence.  Or maybe I’m just bitter because I was always the one who had to explain the books to my classmates because making high schooler’s read ancient classics is an exercise in futility.

The point is that while I enjoy studying philosophy in theory (dissect that), it’s far too easy to slip into pointless rumination & navel-gazing, until I just want to tell to suck it up & contribute something useful to society.

Why go on this little tangent?  Because a recent indie game I finished, The Old City: Leviathan, at times teeters on the edge between insight & uselessness.


The Old City is the first title released by PostMod Softworks, & as the name implies, is set entirely in what is known as “The Old City” (to the point that’s how it’s listed on welcome signs).  We find ourselves thrust into the shoes of Jonah, a mix of wanderer/scavenger/historian, who despite living in a fallen society has plenty of time to ponder the nature of the universe.  Jonah’s goal, & by extension your own, is to reach the surface & hopefully uncover some insight into what’s been happening.  But it’s not so easy, for as the game warns you in the opening screen, “You are about to inhabit a broken mind.  Not everything you see or hear is trustworthy.”

At its core, The Old City is an exploration game — or as more commonly deemed, a walking simulator.  There’s no fighting.  No enemies.  No inventory.  You merely wander to your heart’s content, occasionally finding notes to read from those gone before you.

20170530180033_1Narrative: At the end of the day, I find myself with very mixed feelings about The Old City’s story & how it’s portrayed.  At times, I actually really enjoyed it.  While it had a slow start as you spend time escaping a sewer while getting immersed into this strange dystopian world, when the game starts playing with your perceptions, it really gets interesting.  There’s a strong sense of disconnect with the world around you.  I started questioning if the monologuing was my own, or some alien “parasite” like it referred to itself.  Was I Jonah?  Was the voice Jonah?  Was I Leviathan?  Fortunately, these questions (at least) are answered if you take the time to immerse yourself in the game.

I also enjoyed how Leviathan was framed as, maybe not quite a split personality, but more a coping mechanism the player developed to protect their fragile human mind from the sheer depressiveness of this new world.  I liked the whole  mixing reality with the fantasy, & how at times entire levels will play out like dreams, making you question what exactly happened.  The height of intrigue for me, however, was seeing what becomes of the world after this fantastical layer of reality disappears.  Once the veil was torn & I really saw the world for what it is, I completely sympathized with the character & understood why he preferred his fantasy to reality.  While not as drastic as something like Cry of Fear, where everything is basically a delusion, it’s very effective at making its point.

Despite most of the story pieced together through the voice in the player’s head & pieces of journals left lying around, The Old City also uses the environment to tell its story.  I didn’t notice it at first, but there were lots of little hints in the environment.  Some of my favorite examples were the soda cans labeled “NO ORDER” & a box in seemingly every room marked “MAKE THE LEAP,” which directly plays in to the ending.  And while the reading can ramble, it’s realistic for what a crazy person who has too much free time would right.  Not to mention several little sparks of insight.

That being said, I do feel that The Old City’s story & philosophical themes are a bit more than your average gamer can stomach.  Most people probably won’t be able to hold their breath to get to the level the game’s monologuing wants.  A quick way to tell how lost you’ll be is how familiar you are with the concepts such as Gnosticism, Relativism, & Nihilism.  Not having working knowlege of these concepts won’t prevent you from understanding the overall story, but you probably won’t enjoy it either.  On a purely subjective level, I grew annoyed with the excessive soliloquizing in the last few chapters as it veered from inquisitive speculation to full-blown navel-gazing.  Personally, I neither like nor agree with any of the concepts I named a few sentences ago.  But I do understand the thematic importance of having a character named Jonah diving into the belly of his Leviathan (ie. his delusions) before he can bridge the gap between his fantasies & reality.

In the end, while I fully expect this type of story won’t appeal to your average gamer, from my own personal opinion, I enjoyed The Old City’s story.  While it got a bit rambling toward the end, & is deliberately set up as a prologue of sorts to a larger story (clearly spelled out on their homepage), I found it an intriguing, at times thought-provoking experience when it tied its philosophy into the actual game.

Score: 4

20170530205754_1Mechanics: In comparison to the vastness of discussion the plot can produce, the gameplay is cut-and-dry.  It’s an exploration game.  You walk.  A lot.  I highly recommend utilizing the controller support, otherwise you’ll be like me & longing for a auto-walk.  You can “run,” which is more like power walking.  You can “interact”, which is relegated to opening doors &  few instances of pushing buttons.  You can zoom in, so either you’re sticking your face right up to something or you have extendo-eyeballs.  But it’s useful for reading notes & exploring in general.  And you can jump.  Strangely, you can’t jump on or over anything.  I honestly think this was added just so players wouldn’t get stuck on the iffy collision detection.  I got stuck on railways & crates a lot.

And that’s it.  If there’s anything else to say about the mechanics, it’s that the chapters tend to play out a similar way.  You can either go straight toward the exit or explore around, typically entering some delusional state that reveals a bit of Jonah’s psyche before being plonked back near the exit to continue on.  But this is only toward the beginning, really, so it didn’t feel tedious or repetitive.

Other than that, there’s not much to say.  What little there is in terms of actual gameplay works to serve its purpose, & nothing more.

Score: 3

20170530174154_1Aesthetics: I’m not sure what engine The Old City was built in, but it is a gorgeous game.  I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time getting the perfect angle to take a screenshot in a game.  But it’s not just the graphical quality, although there is some spectacular lighting effects.  No, I think the game’s strength is in the variety & scope of the environments.  Each level has its own theme.  While you start in a dark, damp sewer, you don’t stay there for long.  You’ll travel through an office building, then reach the surface & traverse a water treatment plant.  Then you’ll be in a dream world with floating islands, mythical creatures & giant statues.  I oohed & aahed a lot during this game.

The sound direction is pretty good, as well.  Whether it was ambient noises, such as pipes leaking or the waves crashing on the shore, or musical accompaniment, I found all the sounds to help set the mood of whatever scene or environment I was in.  The single voiceactor in the game, while a bit prone to ramble, did an admirable job of portraying proper emotion during his ramblings.

Score: 4

Replay Value: Low.  Although very time-efficient at 5 hours, I doubt there’s much reason to play a second time.  There are only a handful of notes to collect, & you can always replay a specific chapter once you’ve cleared it.  Think of it like going to a pretty but desolate location.  Go through, take lots of screenshots, & be done.

Score: 2



Final Score: 3

Final Word: The Old City Leviathan is a beautiful, at times thought-provoking game set in an interesting world.  However, despite this, I have a hard time recommending it to most gamers due to the heavy philosophical themes & lack of interactivity.  At best, I’d say if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t mind going on a brief, nihilistic sightseeing tour or thought you could like Dear Esther if it had a interesting story, check it out.

– GamerDame

Title: The Old City Leviathan
Consoles: PC
Rating: N/A (personal rating T)
Developer: PostMod Softworks
Publisher: PostMod Softworks
Release Date: December 3, 2014

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Filed under 3, Indie, PC, Reviews