Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Steam and the children of Black Mesa

Over the festive period, Steam offered some pretty fantastic deals. I had a bit of spare cash due to my uneventful Christmas, so I’m now blessed with a rather long list of games that I am undoubtedly going to struggle to find time to play. Eyes bigger than my belly, believe me.

Firstly, I picked up some big titles such as Crysis and STALKER, along with their various addons and expansions. These are both games that I’ve been looking forward to playing for a good while – Crysis, obviously for the spectacle (still perfectly good for benchmarking purposes) and STALKER because I have a hard-on for the apocalypse and related media (I really do).

Secondly, I splashed out on several creepy indie efforts such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent, The Path and The Void – all of which I am sure to write about at some point, as this year (a new year’s resolution of sorts) I plan to document my progress through a stack of horror titles. The aim is to get through one a month, at the very least. Wish me luck.

And finally (and most importantly) I picked up the remaining Valve titles that I needed to complete my “collection” (excluding the rather pointless, “Half-Life: Source” and it’s deathmatch counterpart). This reminded me of the soon to be released, “Portal 2” and the crime against gaming that I have committed by not playing the original. So – I gave myself the unrealistic task of playing everything Half-Life. That’s Half-Life (and it’s addons), Half-Life 2 (and it’s episodes) and Portal (and… well, just Portal). It’s a lot to ‘get through’, but I’ve already made a start…

It was probably the fifth time I’ve played through the original Half-Life, although only the third time I’d made it to the game’s conclusion and had to choose between certain death and G-Man’s rape closet. This was, however, the first time I’d played through the game with Half-Life: Blue Shift’s high definition pack (thanks to Gearbox). The pack doesn’t really cure Half-Life from the woes of the software ageing process, but it offers some mild relief, although not without flaws or oddities. G-Man (as seen alongside his inter-dimensional rape closet) looks like a rough approximation of his lower definition self but certainly nothing like the bug-eyed, gaunt, and quite frankly creepy Half-Life 2 interpretation.

Half Life 2’s G-Man

The high definition pack also inexplicably swapped out the Glock 17 and MP5 with the Beretta M9 and M4A1 Carbine. Odd. Supposedly some people dislike the direction that Gearbox took the military characters, but I had no issues – decide for yourself by enabling/disabling the pack here (provided you are the proud owner of Half-Life and Half-Life: Blue Shift).

I seem to be getting a little off topic…

Half-Life stands up – sure it’s a little creaky, but it’s over a decade old. From the opening train ride onward, Half-Life gave us a peak of things to come. Although visually bare compared to today’s standards, the world is enriched by ambient events, such as the comedic and sometimes gruesome deaths of Black Mesa’s staff - many of which are deeply engrained in me and were the cause of a beaming smile slapped across my chops during this latest playthrough. I also found there was a comfort to be had. From the accuracy of the weapons, to the speed of the movement – everything felt familiar. Homely. This is most likely because I’ve spent a great deal of my game playing life in and around Half-Life and it’s many mods and addons – you don’t need me to tell you how many hours people have put into playing Counter-Strike.

…but let’s not start sucking each other’s dicks just yet. The military sections were affront to my eyes, with the colour palette only ranging between shades of brown and grey. Going down ladders often led to fall damage. And then the big one. Xen. What an anti-climax to an otherwise great game. Terribly ambiguous jumping puzzles. The annoying, floating, bloated-headed baby things. And worst of all, the fucking Nihilanth. Awful. What a terrible and ambiguous final boss that was (keeping consistency with Xen), made worse by an awful character model (contrasting to the decent concept art).

The only sensible remedy to cure the empty feeling that Xen leaves you with when Half-Life is over?

Hope that Black Mesa Source is released.

Play the Gearbox expansion packs.

I managed to play Half-Life: Decay - expect a few words on that soon provided I manage to shift this blasted cold in a timely manner.