Tag Archives: Half-Life

The Games Clearout

I’m a terrible sucker for a bargain. I can’t resist snooping round charity shops on the off chance of finding a rare book or CD that I’ve always wanted, or scouring eBay in the hope of coming across some fantastic old game at a rock bottom price. The only trouble is, when it comes to games, I end up buying them quicker than I can finish them. My shelves are groaning under the weight of games I’ve snapped up for a pittance but have never got round to playing, and it’s got to the point where I can’t justify buying anything new until I’ve got rid of some of the ‘bargains’ that are gathering dust in the corner of the room.

So here we go, it’s time for a clearout. It’s raining outside and I’ve got the day off work, so the conditions are perfect for playing through some classic games and deciding which ones are destined for the local charity shop.

Metal Arms: Glitch in the System (Xbox, 2003)

8.40am – I bought this game about two years ago in a secondhand shop in Camden. I’d recently read an Edge magazine Time Extend feature on Metal Arms, so I picked it up with high expectations of the “randomness, lunacy, sadism, idiocy and comedy” promised by the review. Sadly though, the first one or two hours played like an extended tutorial, and the game ended up back on the shelf not long after I’d started playing it.

Coming back to it after all this time and picking up where I left off, it’s interesting that the very point I abandoned the game last time is the very point where the “chaos” promised by the review begins to emerge. The environments start to get a bit more interesting, the enemies get a bit more challenging and the weapons suddenly become more plentiful… but after an hour of playing the game still hasn’t grabbed me. There’s just something about it that’s not quite right – perhaps it’s the awkward, clunky controls or the frustrating level restarts. Whatever it is, Metal Arms becomes the first game to go into the charity shop bag.

Red Dead Revolver (Xbox, 2004)

9.32am – Next up is Red Dead Revolver, which I picked up for an absolute pittance (£1.50 I think) on eBay last year. I’d been reading about the upcoming Red Dead Redemption for Xbox 360, so I thought I’d give myself a taster of what’s to come by playing the prequel. The only thing is, as I found out later, Revolver is absolutely nothing like the critically lauded open-gameworld of Redemption. Whereas Redemption is a pure Rockstar game in the vein of Grand Theft Auto, Revolver is a weird hybrid that’s the result of the game being started by Capcom and finished by Rockstar San Diego.  The end product is a game with an identity crisis – it doesn’t seem to know whether it wants to be an all-out third-person shooter or an RPG, and when playing I felt oddly disconnected with the character. I’d previously played through the first couple of hours of the game, and another 20 minute session today confirmed what I’d suspected – this is another one for the charity shop bag.

Jade Empire (Xbox, 2005)

10.02am – The reason I haven’t yet played Jade Empire (which I bought over 2 years ago in a charity shop) is the same reason I still haven’t read the 1,500-page novel A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth, which has been sitting on my bookshelf for longer than I can remember. I know that once I get into them, I’ll enjoy them both immensely, but the thought of starting something so long and complicated is enough to put me off beginning at all. Sure enough, I’m sucked into Jade Empire immediately, and it’s immediately apparent that it shares plenty of characteristics with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, another BioWare game that I absolutely loved. It’s decided then: Jade Empire is a keeper, but I’m going to have to turn it off right now otherwise I’ll be playing it all day…

Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Operation Resurrection (PS2, 2003)

10.47am – My God, it’s amazing how much first-person shooters have moved on over the years. I didn’t realise just how many changes have overtaken the genre until I started playing Return to Castle Wolfenstein this morning: as soon as I spotted my first Nazi my initial instinct was to tap the X button to go into cover… but of course this game came out three years before Gears of War made a cover system standard fare for any FPS worth its salt. The result is that I’m standing toe to toe with a German soldier, tapping the fire button repeatedly until one of us falls down in a situation reminiscent of a Monty Python sketch. In fact, the game feels more like a cartoon than anything else (and not in a good way like XIII). Add in the utterly pathetic sound effects and you’ve got a game that’s destined for the charity shop pile a mere 25 minutes after it’s been turned on. Next!

Viewtiful Joe 2 (PS2, 2005)

11.23am – I bought this game last year at the same time as Return to Castle Wolfenstein – they were both part of a ‘4 games for £10’ promotion – but what a difference there is between the two. Whereas Wolfenstein felt positively archaic, Viewtiful Joe 2 feels fresh and modern, despite the fact that it’s five years old. I loved the original Viewtiful Joe, but I was worried that the sequel would just be a rehash of the previous game and, even worse, that the side-on beat ’em up format might seem a bit old hat in the brave new world of 2010. I shouldn’t have worried – the game is bursting with imagination and charm and I don’t want to put it down, but I still have a pile of games to get through and half the day’s gone already. Needless to say though, Viewtiful Joe 2 is a keeper.

Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy (PS2, 2004)

12.38pm – Like Metal Arms, I bought this game after reading a Time Extend feature about it in Edge (although annoyingly I can’t seem to find the feature online). Seeing as it was released just a year after Return to Castle Wolfenstein, I thought it might seem similarly dated, but it’s actually aged rather well. The graphics are pretty good, the controls work well (it even has a rudimentary cover system) and the mind powers add an interesting twist to the gameplay. The sci-fi nonsense plot is a little hokey, but it’s quite interesting and it romps along at a fair old pace. Not bad for a game that cost £2.50! Looks like we’ve got another keeper…

Yakuza (PS2, 2006)

2.39pm – After a break for lunch it’s back to the gaming coalface with Yakuza. I bought this game last year after hearing good things about the sequel, and I was impressed on my first go – until I had to save the game. One of my pet hates is games that will only let you save your progress at certain ridiculously far apart save points, and Yakuza is a prime offender in this category. It’s all very well having restrictive save points if you’re a teenager with hours of leisure time at your disposal, but having to sit through lengthy cut scenes and wander round various backstreets for 20 minutes before you can save your game quickly begins to grate if you’ve got limited time. And especially if your girlfriend is waiting by the door, tapping her foot and making remarks like, “We should have been at the restaurant half an hour ago, what on earth are you doing?”

Of all the games I’ve played today, Yakuza is perhaps the most instantly engrossing. It shares many similarities with Shenmue (one of my favourite Dreamcast games) and the attention to detail is brilliant. The Tokyo side streets look amazingly authentic – I used to live in Japan, and just wandering around the gameworld started making me feel nostalgic for the place, especially when I found out you can wander into a conbini and buy random Japanese drinks like Dekavita C and Natchan Orange. It’s just a shame about that damn stupid save system… If it had an autosave feature this game would be a definite keeper, but there was a point today where I was playing for 40 minutes with no opportunity to save, which is frankly ridiculous. I ended up playing Yakuza for far longer than I meant to, partly because of the save system and partly because I was really enjoying it, but sadly it’s one of those games that I doubt I’ll ever have the time or the patience to finish. It’s a shame, but this one’s for the charity shop.

Half-Life (PS2, 2001)

5.09pm – I missed Half-Life the first time around, but I bought the PS2 version after I finished playing through Half-Life 2 on the Xbox and wanted to know what happened in the first game. I got about three-quarters of the way through (to the Lambda Core level) before it became too frustrating and I gave up. Loading it up again now, I’m struck by just how primitive it looks – but then again, it did come out about ten years ago. Having said that, you can see how it completely revolutionized the first-person shooter genre, and the game excels in providing a sense of place and purpose rather than just a succession of bigger and badder enemies to gun down. The weapons are ingenious too, and ab0ut ten minutes into Lambda Core I come across the Gluon Gun, which introduces me to the joys of vaporising aliens in a maelstrom of blue light. Lovely.

Unfortunately, the frustrations I felt when first playing the game quickly resurface, and the game becomes a constant grind of creeping forward, saving, dying horribly, restarting, creeping forward, saving, dying again… you get the picture. It gets to the point where I really just can’t face crawling through the remaining five levels at this glacial pace, and I decide enough is enough. Half-Life, you may be brilliant, but it’s the charity shop for you.

And so I come to the end of a productive, sometimes frustrating, but mostly fun day. The charity shop bag is full, I’ve enjoyed the all-too-rare delight of having a day to myself to do nothing but play games, and there’s a satisfying gap on my games shelf… which leads to the question: what can I buy next?



Filed under Feature

#60: Half-Life 2

Format: Xbox Genre: First Person Shooter Released: 2005 Developer: Valve

You know a game is good when you just can’t stop thinking about it. Half-Life 2 was pretty much the only topic on my mind for the whole time I was playing it, and it preoccupied my thoughts for months and months afterwards. There’s just one word to describe it – amazing.

amazing: (adjective) causing great surprise or wonder; astonishing.

Half-Life 2 was amazing because it showed people that games could reach heights of entertainment, interaction and storytelling that just wouldn’t be possible in any other medium. The story has the slickness and polish of the best action films, but with the added benefit that you – as the voiceless Gordon Freeman – are the one who’s controlling it (or at least the game makes you feel as if you’re controlling it). Not only that, Half-Life 2 did a fantastic job of letting the environment do the storytelling, rather than relying on lengthy, potentially dull cut scenes. As you emerge into the devastated City 17, your first glimpse at the alien, impossibly tall monolith that towers above it gives you all the information you need to know in one glance.

The first appearance of the alien monolith. I think most of the screenshots here are from the PC version, but the Xbox version is much the same (although a little less pretty).

In my opinion, the game’s greatest triumph was its characters. The acting is some of the best I’ve ever seen in a video game, and the characters – particularly Alex – draw you into their story in a way that I’ve yet to see bettered. Half-Life 2 very deliberately avoids the use of cut scenes – you’re in control the whole time – and it’s a testament to the power of the story that I hung on every word the non-player characters uttered, rather than blithely ignoring them.

Shock horror! A computer game in which you actually care about the characters! So if Valve can do it, why can’t everyone else?


Then of course there’s the real-time physics. Who’d have thought physics would suddenly become so interesting? For years after Half-Life 2 was released, developers clamoured to stick new and improved physics engines in their games, all because some bright spark at Valve invented  something called the Gravity Gun.

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as grabbing a nearby bin with the trusty old GG, carefully lining it up at a row of oncoming soldiers, then unleashing it with the force of a 1,000 Geoff Capes, knocking your enemies down like skittles. Finally, a worthy successor to the BFG as gaming’s Most Satisfying Weapon.

The walkers were deadly, but brilliant. Anyone remember The Tripods?

And I haven’t even mentioned the sound yet… The inhuman electronic gurgle of the enemy soldiers can be heard long before they’re seen, and it instantly puts you into a state of high awareness as you edge around corners. It’s a brilliant sound effect, carried over and improved from the original game, and whenever I think of Half-Life 2 it always pops into the back of my head. Even if I don’t want it to. Brr.

I think you might need a bigger gun...

I could go on all day about how amazing this game is, but I think I’ll end by saying that Half-Life 2 was way ahead of its time – it showed that engaging storytelling and intense action don’t necessarily have to be mutually exclusive concepts, and it set a benchmark of gaming excellence that, frankly, has yet to be reached by most of the games on the market today.

Now witness the genius of the Gravity Gun:



Filed under 2005, First Person Shooter, Valve, Xbox