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Half-Life 2: Episode Two

Game review

Half-Life 2

Game review may contain spoilers - 25 agree - 2 disagree

Sadly it never ends for Gordon Freeman, he is gaming worlds Jack Bauer, consistently going from one bad day to the next.
No sooner have you blown up the head of the Xenian Nihilanth and discussed career prospects with the mysterious G-Man than he tosses you in the mix again. Another train ride another mysterious situation leaving Gordon (and you the gamer) none the wiser, but thats what we like about the Half-life series and all it's canonical universe, Valve will always give you a Palm d'or plot which reveals itself to you as you play.
From the first moment of play you see Valve's hard work at play, 6 years have been very kind to this game and the blocky characters ad textures of the game-changing Half-life are gone, replaced with realistic motion-capture characters and real world textures which will make you retract any bad words said about the franchise.
Where Half-life was good little has changed, game play and environments are still vast, thoughtful and extremely gripping, but my word how it has grown. The world of City 17 - the Eastern-European dystopia you find yourself in - is a rich landscape of glaring sunlight, gloomy alleys and gravity. Yes, gravity, the work Valve put in one the physics engine is through the roof, even employing you to use your knowledge of the real world to solve problems of weight and balance.
The game still holds it's ground in the FPS revelry we knew and loved from its predecessor but your new enemies 'the combine' have given you a whole new arsenal.
You'll follow Gordon's story as an almost messiah figure to the downtrodden and controlled human population around him while joining the human resistance to destroy Dr Breen and unpick the combine occupation from the inside.
The half-life saga continues with a new razor sharp set of teeth and a malleable world to sink them into.



Game review may contain spoilers - 3 agree - 2 disagree

Half-life, the beginning of Gordon Freeman and and the reign of Valve as one of the most innovative FPS game developers in the business.
At least once a year I dig out my copy of half-life and give it a run through. By todays standards the graphics are blocky and generally undercooked, its physics engine pales in comparison to its successor but the game is deep, well written and ridiculously immesive, which ultimately makes it one of the greatest FPS gaming experiences of the past 20 years.
The flaws it holds only exist due to its aging an the moore's-law-pace at which computing power is taking us - proof of its play ability comes directly from the eagerlly anticipated full game conversion mod to the Half-life 2 engine 'Black mesa'. If fans are willing to invest their time into just updating the look and fell of the game its hard to deny that the game play and plot are timeless.
You are Gordon Freeman, physicist and tardy researcher at the vast black mesa research facility. Your begin your story on the mono-rail ride to the lab (which in itself is a fulfilling, original way to begin a game) you go about your business testing specimens in the anti-mass spectrometer, when you create a resonance cascade bringing alien and aggressive life for to the facility.
You proceed in your escape attempt through the bowels and plethora of areas in the hugely imaginative in game facility, only to find that the military want no survivor to the 'black mesa incident'.
You are helped along by scientists and security guards alike who increasingly believe you to be their only hope of escape. Battling aliens and soldiers on both sides the fate of this apparent invasion rest on the shoulders of you, Gordon Freeman.
If you want to know how it all began and how one man has spawned a universe and slew of still unsurpassed games, you need to play half-life, forget the graphics and all your preconceptions about modern gaming and get back to some good old fashioned FPS action.


Blue Portals

Mod review may contain spoilers - 4 agree - 1 disagrees

So here it is, one of the biggest portal mods released since Prelude and what can one say besides congratulations. This mod is positively stunning and filled to the brim with newness that its hard to find the words. So let's start at the beginning:
Texture & Look > Everything is new and the look of the test chamber holds together wonderfully well, almost better than Portal itself in the intricacies, the glass plates and scattered yellow metal feels like the most fully formed idea. Once all this has been absorbed you still have the sheer scale and wonder of the BS areas, which easily surpass valves ideas in Portal. The modelling of various debris, lifts, cone and bins makes for a complete idea of the BPDC.
Character & Gameplay > Once again unsurpassed, the level of unique input of this mod really does give it an edge that future modders should look towards. With a new omniscient presence (why would GLaDOS be here?) guiding you through the various new testing facilities, which, can only be described as inspired, portalling light, propelling fans, fire, ice, waterfalls, the list is more than impressive. Plus there is the addition of the new voices to the turrets, which will make you want to get shot just to hear their brilliant quips (my personal favourite being " 'Appy face!")
Puzzles & Ability > Sadly this is where the praise stops, I love this mod, I wanted to love its shiny, quirky uniqueness completely. But to put it bluntly it is incredibly difficult, almost every jump is a mis-calculated 'I hope this works' moment. Find the solution alone takes time -which you don't have as almost every puzzle has a timer in it.
The rule of thumb becomes, spot it fast, do it fast and be sure you're right. The new elements are superb but I found I couldn't have the fun I wanted with them as I was too busy being furious with every room and its, my-way-or-the-highway solution.
A great looking and unique mod, if a little difficult, A plus for the scope and development.



Game review may contain spoilers - 3 agree

What can one say about Portal that has not been said before? It's a game that has almost redefined the FPS /puzzle as we now know it and has paved the way in innovation for many games since.
Built off the backs and scraps of half-life and set within its universe, Portal follows the path of Chell as 'volunteer' test participant at Aperture Science Laboratories, who is guided through a series of test chambers by the omnipresent voice of GLaDOS, your host and possible captor.
Using the unique ASHPD you create interconnected, inter-dimensional portals, linked in order for you to past instantaneously from one point in space to another. The premise is difficult to describe but so simple and enjoyable you'll be flinging yourself around the cold, clinical chambers in no time.
The unique and unnerving tie between Chell and GlaDOS, the quirky puzzle-***-shooter nature of the game and the cute yet dangerous claustrophobia of the environment have made Portal an instant success and has allowed to companion cube to replace the hearts of many now hardened fans of the game.
Portals success comes mainly from its unique perspective and gameplay, its quirky and lovable characters (if you don't feel a minor pang as a turret dies and confesses "I don't blame you" then you may very well be an android) and it's surprisingly immersive storyline - which at little over four hours of solid play time - claims a fuller and more thoughtful plot than most Hollywood movies.
Fans of Half-life with spot the odd minor nod and essentially Chell plays like a pacifistic Gordan Freeman, both being dropped into bizarre scenarios and plowing through their environments uncovering their own story as they go.
Couple all this with the loving dedication of fans who have provided us with a myriad of mods to extend the Portal game life and the imminent arrival of Portal 2, you really need to get aboard this game as soon as soon as is humanly possible and get ready to fffling yourself...fling into space.


Portal: Prelude

Mod review may contain spoilers - 5 agree - 2 disagree

It must be admitted that if you take nothing else from this mod, its sheer scale is quite exceptional. With new characters, voicework, puzzles and approximately double the length of the original portal (not to mention its difficulty in places) it is hard to den the dedication and hard work that has gone into this mod.
The storyline is fairly solid – although I expected the malice of on of the observers to continue – which is impressive and a testament to what can happen if a mod team sit down with a plot in mind. The plot in Prelude is simple enough, you are one of the first few test subjects at Aperture Science, and are set upon to complete the chambers in order to finally see the first run of the new GLaDOS system.
The test chambers themselves are not exceptional in terms of visual but what they do provide is an extension to the game play once you have completed the original game, the storyline ties in quite well as so as a prelude it seems to fit almost to the point where can feel Valve’s wicked sense of humour creeping through.
The puzzles themselves lead you through in much the same way as the original, giving you all the instruction you need in order to succeed in some of the trickier chambers to follow.
As you progress you will find that the difficulty ramps up rather quickly and far surpasses the original game, this is perfect for those who have just (disappointedly) finished the too-short 3 hours of portal and now want more and harder.


Portal 2 Mappack (it's for portal 1)

Mod review

Not only has Skinnycap achieved more in this map than most portal 2 themed maps over recent months, but the speed of its release showed how dedicated a mapper can be when having an itch to prove their skills to fans. You may have played Portal or any of the fan-made maps; some are loaded with canonical nods to the original. Some pose puzzles more time consuming than the entirety of portal 1. This is one of those very rare and ingenious maps which fall between the two, without the need for narrative or rehashing GLaDOS's voice resounding from chamber walls, the absence of any GLaDOS figure gives a feel of being watched silently.
You awake from a chamber surrounded by other (supposed android) chell’s.
This is the dropped-into-place feel most would find synonymous with half-life 2, you don't know what your goal is but familiar surroundings give you clues as to what is going on. In each room you must 'rescue' one of the personality cores and for what each room lacks in puzzles it make up for in sheer visual joy. Most maps were happy with you completing the same tasks as portal 1 - cube-on-button, huge-leap etc. here we have lasers, moving platforms, deep and beautiful backstage areas (sadly as visual elements only) and glistening new textures.
The new game play elements are fun and breathe new life into the portal dynamic, popping a laser across a room using portals is uniquely satisfying, the moving arms are a treat to watch, but the aesthetics of this pack are its stand out feature. Skinnycap has captured a clean and clinical look to his chambers; they shine, have depth and feel somehow more spacious than the actual room. Beyond this, if you look down you can see the deep underbelly of aperture. Not the rusted backstage of portal 1 but a clean and friendly environment that feels believable as a laboratory. I for one would love to see this expanded, allowing the beautiful aesthetics; interesting gameplay elements and eerie silence to be given their full potential.


Memories Only Chapter 1-2

Mod review may contain spoilers - 1 agrees - 1 disagrees

Coming straight off the back and incorporating the fantastic Portal 2 mappack, Skinnycap dishes up another innovative and surreal take on what we think we know as portal.
Skinnycap's obvious skill was more than successfully shown off in the astoundingly efficient and effective portal 2 mappack which as another review stands on its own and as it takes the form of the first episode of this piece-by-piece mod I wont do it the injustice of attempting to summarize it in a few lines, let us instead proceed to episode two.
I was very pleased to see the same skill and atmosphere which the player faced in episode one continued into the facility areas of episode two, although this time it is clear that we are definitely part of a showcase piece for the developer. The episode is split into 4 distinct ideals, as before we are sent to 'rescue' the personality cores only this time they seem to be hiding in a house.
Personally i couldn't work out the significance of the house, and as one of my favorite parts of portal is flinging myself about gargantuan rooms it seemed almost too cramped to get any good 'portalling' done.
The first phase is a simple run around the house, nothing flash, some good texturing but really just a house.
Second time in the house the familiar toxic-ooze floor is applied which does make thing significantly more interesting and difficult.
Upon our third visit the house is on fire which does get you using the ASHPD a lot more.
It's the fourth installment that really showed off the skill for me though. We arrive in the house, dilapidated 100 years in the future, taking full advantage of some great texturing and problem solving. I would have loved to find a way out of the house, maybe to discover a facility which was storing its remnants?
Either way episode two does do well in once again showing off Skinnycap's skill but it lacked to puzzle element in my eyes, I'm hopeful to see these assumed experiments expanded on in the future.


Gamma Energy

Mod review
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