Tag Archives: PC

Gone Home

header_292x136Although I have not touched a game on PC since probably 2006 at the latest, I still have a Steam account from back when that was a reasonable place to play the various Half-Life sequels. This is relevant because, some months ago, a friend gifted me a first-person (rather than text) interactive fiction game called Gone Home. I took a week or so getting the Steam client to work with my laptop (since I’m not going to put a game on a desktop and the Steambox still shimmers hazily in my future), and then I played about 45 minutes of the game and set it aside.

Which is not to say anything bad about it, I just have a habit of not completing games, which is why even one that lasts about two hours took me two or three months to actually finish, and honestly I’m a little surprised it happened all the same. So, what’s the deal? It’s 1995, and you the player have just returned home from backpacking in Europe. Only, nobody answered the phone, nobody picked you up at the airport, and the house is dark, silent, and (thanks to an ominous storm, pervasive minor key mood music, and the implausibility of every family member being away) kind of menacing. Still, it’s IF, so the only thing to do is wander from room to room, reading the notes and computer screens and various detritus of daily life that your family has left scattered around, trying to figure out what has happened here.

At two hours, “what happened here?” is pretty much the whole game, so I won’t say anything to spoil it, but I appreciated that every resident has a story waiting to be discovered, and I also appreciated that each story was opaque to the other residents, wrapped up in their own lives and troubles, only discoverable by the player because you are coming in with a fresh eye after having been gone from home for like nine months.Exciting high adventure, it’s not, but it sets a hell of an atmosphere, at turns creepy, depressing, or nostalgic. I’m not sure I’d pay the $20 Steam has it listed at as of press time, but as a gifted diversion, it definitely hits the spot.

F.E.A.R.

The video game renaissance continues unabated. Earlier this week, I finished another shooter with the unlikely acronym expansion of First Encounter Assault Recon, a government organization called in whenever the military anticipates paranormal activity on a combat assignment. In this case, a psychic with control over a thousand clone troops has snapped, started eating people, and taken control of a military contractor’s facility. What’s a guy to do but strap on some guns and start hunting clones? Except, the little girl in the red dress who keeps incinerating the normal backup units is making things… complicated.

I was surprised by how good this game was. The AI thing is really starting to get a lot better, such that part of the strategy for surviving an encounter with an enemy squad is making sure there’re enough items around to heal you afterward, rather than the old restore from save if you get hurt any trick. On top of that, I never imagined playing through a Japanese horror film, but that’s what this was, despite the wholly Americanized plotline that encases it. Several genuinely scary moments in the dark room with those headphones on.

The really cool backgrounds and graphics were ruined for me by Condemned, though. I just finished playing it in huge screen HD glory before F.E.A.R., only to find myself in another game made by the same people, which meant that I’d seen a lot of the background items and some of the background buildings just before, but in almost infinitely better resolution. (It might be time to upgrade my video card, though I won’t. It’s definitely time to upgrade my CPU and maybe motherboard, though I doubt I’ll do that either. This is why consoles hold the market share. Much lower cost to maintain, as long as you were going to get a good TV for your monitor anyway.)

Half-Life: Opposing Force

51C9XNXNT7LWell, look at me, all with the string of finished games under my belt. I like to think the trend could even continue, although past experience indicates that these things run in cycles. Except the books, of course. I always, always read. Right now, my Half-Life kick is continuing with the first expansion, Opposing Force.

In it, you play as Corporal Adrian Shephard, a member of the military forces assigned to clean up the Black Mesa incident. There are a few familiar locations and at least two very memorable scenes to watch from the original, and the designers have cleaned up the moral ambiguity of playing as army guys bent on killing all survivors and especially on capturing Gordon Freeman, by setting Shephard’s arrival late in the incident. There are a lot more aliens running around, and the military have already started teaming up with scientists and security guards and whoever it takes to survive and escape.

Unfortunately for the player, you are opposed in this goal by special-ops black forces who view the army grunts to be as big of chumps as the army grunts viewed the scientists in the original game, and you are also opposed by the mysterious strange-voiced briefcase guy who has plans of his own (which, by the way Valve/Sierra/Steam/whoever I should be talking to about this, I hope will be explored more fully in Half-Life 3). And, as always, by the extra-dimensional Xen forces that are at the root of the problems in every game.

Can it be compared to the original? Strangely, yes. Whoever is on this design team is to be praised, because every storyline so far is nearly as deep as the original. The gameplay is nearly identical, and while yes, it’s a shorter game than either main sequence entry, I’m not going to fault an expansion for not lasting 30 hours. I am looking forward to the last Half-Life expansion, Blue Shift. Not as much as I would be if it was available on Steam for free with Half-Life 2, like the others have been. But I’ll find some highly legal way or other to get it. And before I’ve lost my momentary enchantment with the series, if at all possible.

Half-Life

I haven’t really addressed the issue of what happens when I re-experience something. I watched the Star Wars movies over Christmas weekend, for example, with nary a review in sight. I’m not sure if this is good or bad, and probably I’ll deal with it on a case by case basis. My gut instinct says that while movies are too easy to review at any moment, games and books require an investment of time and energy that makes it worth revisiting them. This doesn’t mean I’ll follow that rule, of course. But I might.

The thing is, I got so thoroughly sucked in to playing Half-Life 2 that I was more interested in re-playing the original Half-Life than Doom 3. (All the random red sparkle pixels in Doom 3 aren’t helping any, but I’ll get back to it, never fear. It was just starting to get good and terrifying.)

For a game that came out seven or so years ago, Half-Life retains incredible replayability. I went all the way through the game without cheating or skipping anything, up until the very last fight. I only cheated there because I was ready to move on and had beaten it once before for real. The graphics are very descriptive for being so clunky by today’s standards, and the storyline is enthralling. Gordon Freeman, our everyman hero with a PhD in physics who works at a top secret government research facility, is caught in the results of an experiment gone awry. In his struggle to reach the surface with his hide intact, he comes to symbolize to the workers in the complex their own shining hope to survive the disaster themselves (and unlike in most games, you genuinely feel bad when most of them do not), and he comes to symbolize a threat equal to the one he wants to escape, to those forces which oppose him.

Well, I don’t want to spoil it or anything, but the fact is that nearly everyone in the world has played this game already, and I’ll spoil it when I review the next game in the sequence anyway, as it would be unavoidable there. So, yeah, it’s the military clean-up crew and the dimension-shifting alien forces. Sure, they hate each other more than they hate Gordon, but he runs a close second. What is a physicist to do? Well, clearly, he is to kill anyone that tries to kill him first, and eventually stop the alien invasion once and for all, coming to symbolize the dreams for freedom of an entire generation of humans and Xen alien slaves who… but I’m getting ahead of myself. For that, you need the sequel.

And I’m serious there. You *need* the sequel. This is shaping up to be one of the best video-game storylines available, if they can even maintain the same meager slide in story quality for the forthcoming Half-Life 3 that occurred between 1 and 2. If they improve again, well, watch out!

Half-Life 2

I know it looks like I’ve been neglecting my duties here. Instead, I just randomly finished three different things in the same 18 hour stretch. I’m not really clear on how that kind of thing happens, and yet here I am.

This time out, Half-Life 2, the story of Gordon Freeman, the rogue physicist who can’t seem to catch a break. After going through the rift accidentally opened by his fellow scientists at the Black Mesa research facility to put a stop to the creatures coming through, Gordon wakes up years later to find that his efforts didn’t result in as safe a world as he’d expected.

Then, crowbar at his side, he finds himself swept along by events once again, this time not just in an attempt to survive but due to the efforts of a resistance movement that has long viewed him as the savior of humanity. As many dark turns as were taken in the original Half-Life, this story nevertheless has a more somber feel to it. The stakes are higher, the betrayals are more deeply felt (if less surprising), and the character interactions are more fully realized. All this despite the main character never uttering a word of dialogue.

As for the gameplay: Lots of loading screens. It breaks up the game, which didn’t bother me. I can easily imagining it bothering other people, but I typically enjoyed the pause to relax and reflect. Spectacular gameplay. Well, fine, anyhow. I think that the FPS control and interaction scheme has been finalized for quite a while. No real improvements, but it’s worked very well, and continues to here.

The graphics are breathtaking. I’m on record as having said that they were a solid increment above the Final Fantasy movie, and here I mean the in-game play, not the cutscenes (of which there are none). I’ve since considered that I may have overstated that. The character movements in Final Fantasy were more realistically human, but still images and especially facial expressions don’t really hold a candle to the ones in this game. The rest of the world is essentially photorealistic. If FPSes weren’t quite to twitchy, it would be very easy to entirely forget you were playing a game.

I look forward to Half-Life 3, although not to the years-long wait for it. I expect I look forward to whatever expansions that get thrown out too. However, I do wish the game wasn’t so tightly copy-controlled that you have to be online to play the game. I didn’t pay money for it, as it came free with my video card. That smokescreen aside, I feel very uncomfortable not owning a physical copy of a game I’ve paid for. Not even the CD so much (although that too), but the idea that if I unplug my ethernet cable, I suddenly no longer have the game. For one thing, companies do go out of business from time to time. Mostly, I mistrust the precedent. Today, I can’t control my own purchases, tomorrow, eyeless crabs are latching onto people’s heads while an unelected military organization enforces the whims of our unseen alien overlords.