Tag: Valve (page 3 of 4)

Game Review: Portal

Aperture Science Forms FORM-27991563-888: Testchamber Facility After-Action Report

Per your instructions, I have begun to compile the observed and recorded data recovered following the successful completion of testing executed for and by test subject code-named “Chell.” While the repairs to the Aperture Science Computer-Aided Enrichment Center may take some time, it is with the utmost confidence that I open this report by saying that that Aperture Science’s Pro-active Operational Realization Testing And Logistics – PORTAL – was, in your words, a huge success.

Courtesy Valve

The operational and ultimate tactical functionality of the Aperture Science Hand-held Portal Device was brought to a highly satisfactory conclusion by “Chell” after her re-activation from her designated relaxation vault. From there she was instructed to proceed through the Aperture Science Computer-Aided Enrichment Center by the administrative system. From the point of this observer, the Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System at the heart of this facility – GLaDOS – issued clear and concise directions to this test subject just as with the others that came before. Aside: It may be advisable in future testing environments to monitor the overall output of the GLaDOS Sarcasm Sphere, as it seemed to generate 127.5% of the expected outright fabrication necessary to maintain a dynamic testing environment.

Courtesy Valve

The successful implementation of the Aperture Science Hand-held Portal Device cannot be overstated. The elements of success here are equal parts the brilliant design of the device itself and the instruction on its use through both the intuitive layout of the testchambers and the instruction of GLaDOS. With these elements, the test subject was able to navigate a variety of ever-escalating testchamber environments, from straightforward corridors with simple obstacles to complex platform series carrying penalties up to and including total body disintegration. No tools were provided to assist the test subject save for environmental objects such as storage cubes. The succesful navigation of a given testchamber ultimately came down to the intelligence of the test subject and their grasp of the device’s functionality. While this has been a risk in the past, as user error has contributed to more test subject terminations than any other factor, test subject “Chell” has proven a worthy investment for Aperture Science.

It should also be noted that the Weighted Companion Cube was incinerated in record time by the test subject. It seems that the test subject did not become quite as attached to the Weighted Companion Cube as previous test subjects, despite the Weighted Companion Cube’s endless patience and unwavering support. Aside: the test subject also did not react to the incineration as if the Weighted Companion Cube were screaming in agony while being burned alive as others have. Recommend more research.

Courtesy Valve

Turret systems within the Aperture Science Computer-Aided Enrichment Center may bear notice as a potential flaw in security. Once the test subject was able to master some of the nuances of the Aperture Science Hand-held Portal Device, the turrets were capable of being dispatched in a variety of ways. While it is the policy of Aperture Science to encourge the ingenuity of its test subjects, it is recommended to post more rocket turrets throughout the Enrichment Center, as a possible fail-safe deterrent from further catastrophic damage. Personal emphasis: It would be harder for a test subject to cause catastrophic damage when they’re a smear on the wall. Smears we can clean. Cascading ruptures in space-time are a bit messier.

Noteworthy is the upgraded personality systems of the turrets. Not once did a turret react with anger or frustration towards the test subject. Indeed, the programming of the system throughout the Enrichment Center further reinforced the idea of positive feedback and encouragement, prompting the test subject to continue the testing in the face of overwhelming odds, potential gross bodily harm and extreme pessimism. “Chell” in particular was able to persist in creative thinking and spontaneous bursts of quick reactions allowing for the ‘additional’ testing as mentioned in my previous report (see “Aperture Science Computer-Aided Enrichment Center Damage Causes, Inventory and Projected Repair Time”).

Courtesy Valve

[Conclusion:] Please attach to test subject “Chell”‘s Personnel File as further evidence to reinforce the note made by yourself – HUGE SUCCESS.

[After-Action Report Addendum:] ‘Stuff I Liked’ included the unique design of the testchambers, the requisite use of brain-power to overcome obstacles and the undercurrent of tragedy surrounding the empty rooms once occupied by (albeit unreliable and ultimately irresponsible) Aperture Science employees.
[After-Action Report Addendum Addendum:] ‘Stuff I Didn’t Like’ [[ERROR 601 FILE NOT FOUND]]
[After-Action Report Conclusion Addendum:] ‘Stuff I Loved’ ranges from the GLaDOS sense of humor to the length of the testing procedure, and includes the music used throughout the Enrichment Center. Recommend third-party contributor ‘Jonathan Coulton’ be honored in some way should he be among the people still alive.

[Final Thought:] It is a pleasure and honor to work within the Aperture Science Computer-Aided Enrichment Center despite having to do so within the confines of [[ERROR 187 FINAL THOUGHT REDACTED]]
[Final Thought PS:] If this were a video game I’d recommend everybody buy it.
[Final Thought PPS:] I further recommend cake be served immediately.

*** ALCHEMY SPHERE OUTPUT ENDS

Orange Box Reviews: 100% complete.

Game Review: Team Fortress 2

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I never played the original Team Fortress (now dubbed Team Fortress Classic). I don’t know if I ever had enough friends who also played that could have helped me assemble a decent team. But the appeal of the idea was never lost on me, and with the advent of Team Fortress 2, as part of the Orange Box, the burning coal of an idea concerning team-based class-focused competitive shooter action has been refined to the point of diamond pearlescence.

Courtesy Valve

With an aesthetic that’s one part The Incredibles and one part Sam Peckinpah, Team Fortress 2 introduces us to rival companies Reliable Excavation & Demolition (RED) and Builders League United (BLU). These companies employ a variety of mercenaries in an attempt to secure various construction sites. Some of them are the sources of a valuable resources and others are the secret location of some sensitive documents. Whatever the reason for the spit of land in question to be fought over, RED & BLU reveal themselves to be dedicated to defeating each other to the point of people blowing each other into juicy chunky bits in the name of their employer’s victory. It’d be a somewhat chilling commentary on the cutthroat nature of business and the brutality intelligence agencies are capable of perpetuating, if the game wasn’t so hilariously over-the-top and presented like an animated 60s Bond film with more explosions and less voluptuous women.

The focus here is on the co-operative nature of team game play, and so the aesthetic is designed to ensure that any players class, current weapon and team affiliation are easy to determine at a glance. Because sometimes a glance is all you get before parts of your body are flying in all directions. In a similar mode of thought, the maps of the game are not interested in being visually intricate in the manner of some Halo environments, nor are they the dingy corridors or dank caverns of Gears of War. While most of them tend to be somewhat arid and unadorned by vegetation, they’re also easy to navigate and provide not only open areas for large skirmishes but various ways for players interested in using stealth to get into positions while those laying traps have plenty of spots from which to choose. Speaking of which, the classes bear particular mention, in that the phrase “something for everybody” has never been more true in a gaming sense.

Courtesy Valve
Awesome comes in a variety of flavors.

The nine classes are broken into three broad categories: Offensive, Defensive and Support. Offensive classes are all about taking the fight to the enemy. The Scout is concerned with speed first and foremost, getting right into an opponents face and either blasting them with a sawed-off shotgun or beating them into a pulp with a bat. The Soldier uses a rocket launcher at range, a shotgun close-up, and a shovel when maggots just get too close to the guy’s war face. The final offensive class is the Pyro, who not only pushes back enemies with their flamethrower but can also light invisible spies on fire just as much as everybody else. Defensive classes, on the other hand, are designed to make sure that getting close to them is a bad idea. When it comes to blowing things up, the Demoman is unmatched, using either standard grenades from a launcher to blast oncoming threats or sticky ones to lay traps for unwary intruders. Fans of flying bullets and a metric fuckton of health need look no further than the Heavy, whose multi-barreled companion Sascha mows down the opposition as the player takes on the role of mobile wall of enemy deterrent. The Engineer is more of a stationary defender, building sentry guns of ever-escalating power and complexity in order to dissuade anybody from the other time from getting close. Finally, the Support classes are those that fall into neither offensive nor defensive roles exclusively, but exhibit flexibility in their specialization. Paramiliary units wouldn’t last long without a Medic, and this class is just as much at home supporting an offensive push as standing behind the Heavy to ensure there’s no shortage of gatling-flavored death for all comers. The Sniper can perch either over an area where his shots will clear the way for an offensive push or back by the friendly objective to create a place full of would-be infiltrators. Last but certainly not least is the Spy, the gentlemanly backstabber who must carefully choose when and where to reveal themselves regardless of whether they’re sneaking into an enemy base, pouncing on the stragglers in an assault or sabotaging a nest of defenses.

If you’re at all interested in shooting stuff with or at other people, chances are one of these classes will be up whatever alley happens to be yours.

Courtesy Valve
“One of you ate my sandvich! I know it! I MAKE YOU CRY SOME MORE!”

Given its emphasis on co-operative play, Team Fortress 2 is one of those games best played with people you know. This can be a group of friends or an organization like a clan or guild, but either way, my experience has been that randomly joined games are nowhere near as fun as those played with folks with whom you’re familiar. Given the pervasiveness of verbal abuse and elitism among on-line game players, especially on Xbox Live, joining a random game of Team Fortress 2 might just turn some people off of the concept. Mastering any one of the game’s classes takes practice, and doing so in an environment where you’re being reminded of how much you suck can be quite a deterrent. Then again, that could just be my opinion, given that somewhere along the line I turned into a big fluffy care bear.

Regardless, if you can find a bunch of people playing on the same platform, seeing a plan come together in Team Fortress 2 can be a fun and rewarding experience. If nothing else, the way in which the game is presented makes it notable, unique and downright awesome. The gameplay itself might not be for everyone, but I’d be surprised if there was someone out there who didn’t appreciate the time, effort and sheer amount of fun represented by the various Meet the Team videos. It’s difficult to find anything overtly critical to say about an online shooter focused on co-op play that’s balanced between the disparate roles people might wish to play, and I’ve yet to play the Steam version that includes updates with unlockable weapons and costume changes. So, instead, here’s that picture of the Sniper again, because if I do dive back into Steam to play Team Fortress 2 in the near future, you’ll likely find me donning a hat decorated with ‘gator teeth and keeping my eyes peeled for those pesky Spies.

Courtesy Valve
It’s a good job, mate.

Stuff I Liked: Balanced classes in co-operative setting under the pretty peerless direction of Valve.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: Again, it’s a personal thing, but some of the people in random games who trash-talk new players just for being new & inexperienced really rubbed me the wrong way.
Stuff I Loved Love: The aesthetic, spirit and mentality of this game and its ongoing production makes me strongly inclined to give it another go as soon as I can afford to download it via Steam.

Bottom Line: Well, I just said I’m going to find a way to get it on Steam, which is probably about as definitive a recommendation as I can muster. I don’t want to discourage Xbox owners from playing, either, and if you find a few of you are on a server hosted by Xbox Live, drop me a line. I just might show up.

Orange Box Reviews: 80% complete.

Game Review: Half-Life 2 Episode 2

After the success of the main game, Valve embarked upon an experiment in episodic gaming, the first portion of which I’ve already reviewed. The second was the keystone in the Orange Box release, and having played it, it’s clear to see why it featured so prominently. The immersion and pacing that made the previous Half-Life titles so singular continues to fire on all cylinders, and while it’s still somewhat short it’s no less satisfying to play than the previous episode.

Courtesy Valve
If this Strider could speak, it’d likely say “OH SHI-“

Half-Life 2 Episode 2 begins literally where the first episode left us, in the wreckage of a train leaving City 17. Gordon and Alyx are now outside the city limits, in the wilderness surrounding the metropolis where they spent most of the last 2 games. The core of the Citadel, having reached critical mass at the end of Episode 1, is now channeling power into an ominous ‘superportal’ hovering over the city. The data that allows the aperture to remain open is crucial to preventing a further invasion by the villainous Combine, and Alyx has a copy of that data. To halt the Combine war effort and give humanity a chance, Gordon and Alyx must get the data to the old missile complex known as White Forest, where Black Mesa scientists may have finally gotten an edge on the Combine war machine.

While Episode 1 focused on character development, the second installment takes on the themes of exploration and free-form battles. From crawling through the squick-inducing tunnels of the antlion hive to driving at entirely unsafe speeds through the forest in the Muscle Car, Episode 2 expands the world of Half-Life 2 far beyond City 17’s limits. There are some moments of tranquility amongst the chaos of war, and when battles break out there is no one correct way to proceed. Setting traps, rushing in headlong and luring enemies into sniper-friendly locations are all viable options. Antlion workers appear for the first time, giving the insectoid race some long-range support, and then there are the Hunters.

Big Dog
Courtesy Valve
Is the Hunter a portent of things to come?

The battle involving both Hunters and Striders working together makes for a pulse-pounding experience, as the player rushes from one hotspot to the next to prevent the Combine from destroying all of the effort made by the Resistance to mount a reasonable counter-offensive, to say nothing of Gordon’s friends. It’s easily the most ambitious battle sequence Half-Life has featured in any of its titles, and it rivals any of the similar sequences of games in the Halo and Gears of War franchises in terms of scale, pacing, tactics and consequences.

The best part of Half-Life 2 Episode 2, for me at least, are little things that expanded upon the story and added to that sense of immersion. The vortigaunts play a major role in the episode’s events, we get the sense that humanity is definitely no longer taking the Combine occupation laying down and there is the triumphant return of D0g. It would have been even better if we knew what happened to Barney Calhoun following his escape from City 17 with his fellow Resistance members, or if Episode 2 had not ended as it did when it did. Which is not to say the ending is bad – it’s actually pretty phenomenal. I just hope Valve will forgive us for throwing controllers and screaming in frustration because that’s how it ended and we’re still waiting for Episode 3???

Courtesy Valve
Good d0g.

As an aside: Is it just me, or did using a crossbow and a vintage muscle car make anybody else feel like Willem Dafoe in Daybreakers?

Stuff I Liked: Valve’s creativity is still center-stage, with the dialog, the area design, the intelligence of enemies, the Magnusson Devices, killing Hunters with their own flechettes… I could go on.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: DAMMIT VALVE, WHERE’S THE REST OF THE GODDAMN STORY?
Stuff I Loved: Half-Life 2 and its episodes has some of the strongest characterization I’ve ever seen in a first-person shooter. I want to play more of these games, or just play the Orange Box titles over again, just to spend more time around them. Even the new guy, Magnusson, has an interesting personality, though it borders on the insufferable at times.

Bottom Line: What do you mean, you don’t own The Orange Box yet? Here, let me illustrate my point a bit more clearly, I just need to find my crowbar…

Orange Box Reviews: 60% complete.

Game Review: Half-Life 2 Episode 1

Half-Life 2, as I’ve discussed, is a great game. But it leaves the player wanting more. Even people who aren’t playing it, who sit beside the player wrapped in their Snuggie watching the action unfold and occasionally laughing at player error or wincing at bad things that happen to Gordon, found themselves asking “That’s IT?!?” Well, happily, Valve chose to continue the story of the game in a series of smaller episodic installments, the first of which being Half-Life 2 Episode 1.

Courtesy Valve

We pick up right where Half-Life 2 left us, with silent uber-nerd protagonist Gordon Freeman separated from his would-be fixer, the G-Man, by a helpful and powerful group of vortigaunts. Gordon wakes up buried in rubble, and D0g helpfully digs him out. Alyx is very pleased to see you, but the happy reunion is short-lived. The reactor at the heart of the Citadel, which dominates City 17 and serves as the headquarters for the Combine, is on the cusp of going critical. Despite having just narrowly escaped the place just moments before, you and Alyx must venture back into the Citadel to stabilize the reactor and buy yourselves enough time to evacuate the people you can from City 17.

Much to my delight, the bulk of Half-Life 2 Episode 1 is spent traveling and fighting alongside Alyx. It never feels like an escort mission, though, as Alyx is more than capable of taking care of herself. She’ll often scout ahead of you, man gun emplacements and even snipes a bit at one point. Everything that made her a standout character in the original game is present here, and then some.

Courtesy Valve
Smart money says the antlion eats a lead salad.

Episode 1 is quite a bit shorter than the original game but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Packing the sort of action, survival horror, storytelling and humor that makes Half-Life 2 such a good gaming experience into just a few chapters is no small feat, but Episode 1 pulls it off. There’s a bit more emphasis on story and less on extended sequences of dealing with zombies, fighting off soldiers or solving physics puzzles.

Which is not to say that such things aren’t present. You definitely will be doing all of the above. It just happens in smaller chunks that make it a bit easier to play the game end to end in fewer sittings. The distance between the enigmatic opening and eye-widening cliffhanger ending is shortened, and with the amount of action, intelligent writing and humor they’ve managed to cram between the two ends, you’re all but guaranteed not to get bored.

Stuff I Liked: Everything from Half-Life 2 that worked. Great battle at the end.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: The only really negative thing I can think of is that we didn’t see more of D0g.
Stuff I Loved: Alyx. Definitely one of the best companions of all time in a video game. Some of her lines are solid gold.

Bottom Line: Increases the value of The Orange Box by an additional 50-75%. Worth getting, worth playing, worth all the praise.

Orange Box Reviews: 40% complete.

Game Review: Half-Life 2

In light of the recent March Mayhem throwdown over at the Escapist, I thought it’d be an interesting idea to pick up the Orange Box and see how well the various games within have aged. Since Valve wouldn’t exist without the ground-breaking awesomeness of Half-Life, the place to begin seemed obvious: Half-Life 2.

Courtesy Valve

Gordon Freeman, unlikely hero of the Black Mesa Incident that introduced Earth to the inter-dimensional border world of Xen. After defeating that planet’s overlord, Freeman disappeared and the way was paved for an alien conglomerate known as the Combine to conquer the planet in the Seven Hour War. That was ten years ago, and now Freeman’s returned from parts unknown because, as the mysterious and somewhat disturbing G-Man informs him (and us), “The right man. In the wrong place. Can make all the diff-erence. In the world.”

The Source Engine that drives the game debuted almost 6 years ago, but the graphics and gameplay of Half-Life 2 still feel fresh and immersive. Like the original game, everything happens from Gordon’s perspective and there are no breaks from the in-game action to pre-rendered cutscenes. This lends a sense of realism to the game and doesn’t interrupt the flow of the story. The game’s opening, with Gordon unarmed and unprotected in an environment that is at once familiar due to the architecture and alien because of things like Dr. Breen’s huge video screens, citizens discussing lost memories and missing loved ones and Civil Protection is poised to draw the player into the experience right from the start without needing to put a gun in our hand right from the off. Suddenly, in a game that’s billed as a first-person shooter, a guy with a shock baton is actually an intimidating threat, and when you do lay your hands on a firearm, it’s pretty satisfying to start shooting them up.

Courtesy Valve
“Pick up that can.”

The game’s Havoc Physics make for interesting puzzles, harrowing platforming and moments of hilarity when an explosion sends soldiers or zombies flying through the air. You collect a decent selection of weapons over the course of the game and you’re not forced to pick any one or two of them to use at a time. It can be hard to find ammo for things like the crossbow, but pulse rifle rounds are plentiful in the later bits of the game provided you’re not trapped in a basement surrounded by headcrabs.

While we’re on the subject, Half-Life 2 has three elements that really make it a stand-out experience in the realm of shooters. The first is the ability to build atmosphere. From musical stings to lighting effects, the mood of the game can slip effortlessly from pulse-pounding run-and-gun battles to spine-tingling survival horror sequences. Ravenholm in particular creates a feeling not unlike that of System Shock 2 or Eternal Darkness, with shambling grotesqueries moaning their laments as they claw for your brains. It’s especially harrowing if you play through it using the second stand-out element: the gravity gun.

Courtesy Valve
“Ludicrous Gibs” comes to mind.

The idea behind the gravity gun is simple: you can use it to pick up and/or toss items around you in the world. Grab power-ups from behind fences, pick up boxes and move them around to solve puzzles, and hurl objects like propane tanks, concrete blocks and saw blades (my personal favorite) at enemies. If you find yourself low on ammunition for your weapon of choice, or if you’re locked in an area with headcrabs and zombies where ammo is likely to be scarce, switching to the gravity gun and just using whatever’s at hand to keep them from chewing on your PhD-scale brainmeats not only conserves precious ammunition but presents a challenge that can be difficult to find in first-person shooters.

The third and final element that, to me, makes Half-Life 2 great can be summed up thusly:

Alyx.

Courtesy Valve

Women in games can be reduced to caricatures or over-sexualized playthings, even when they’re main characters (*cough*BAYONETTA*cough*). Female sidekicks often have it worse, as most games will see them being whiny unhelpful escort objectives, support characters that fall in love with or betray the protagonist for some overly contrived reason, or all of the above. Sometimes, if they’re lucky, the lady of the game will avoid these problems but will instead be so thick-skinned and unapproachable that they might as well be men.

Alyx Vance takes all of those expectations and kicks them square out the window right into a nest of headcrabs. She’s smart, capable and tough, but she’s also funny, emotional and affectionate. It takes more than a particular kind of particle shading to make a character feel real in a video game, and Alyx is one of the most realistic characters I’ve encountered, especially in a shooter. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s pretty easy on the eyes, as well. Finally, she introduces us to D0G, but I’ll save my thoughts on the big guy for another review. I’ve got a couple more to do, after all.

Bottom Line: Half-Life 2 is one of the best shooters I’ve ever played. Despite its age, it feels fresh and fun, and leaves us wanting more. Steam users can get their hands on it pretty easily, but X-Box owners who don’t already have the Orange Box should consider finding that compilation if they haven’t already. This title justifies the cost of the entire product.

But hey, if you don’t believe me and want to see how the other products fare, just stay tuned…

Orange Box Reviews: 20% complete.

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