Sunday, September 25, 2011

Portal 2

So finally got around to playing Portal 2 and I liked it but I do have some concerns and some things I did not like about it. One of the annoying parts of the game is that it simply did not work until I tried it two days ago; The game would not start and I had not even heard of many people encountering this problem and I am normally the last person to have problems playing games with my computer.

Basically, Portal 2 is Portal with a normal game like plot, a longer single player campaign, and a quite long cooperative two player online multiplayer, and new puzzles elements.

Lets start with my first point and, what I would call, the most controversial part of of the entire game, how it is far more like a normal game. There are long, numerous, and unskippable cutscenes throughout; A whole lot of dialogue, and lots of new environments and situations. In a lot of ways this is fantastic, most of the dialogue I love, it is simply hilarious; But it is not the same elegant minimalistic unique game that Portal was and is. This part of the game is quite well done and a very enjoyable but it is not Portal. While Portal gave you extremely well written witty and well placed dialogue, in Portal 2 someone is almost constantly chatting into your ear and there is as many cut scenes as puzzles. And a lot of the dialogue is fantastic but some of it is not, for the most part there is just so much dialogue that eventually you go over the same stuff multiple times. So yes it is terrific and better then almost all mainstream video games but it is not in a whole other category like the original.

On to the length; I would call it a four hour game (single player campaign), which is ridiculously short but then a lot of people will probably take longer. And then add onto that the multiplayer which is supposed to be almost the same length again. But I for one have no interest in coop, and of course should not be included in any game length stats. Coop sounds interesting but unless you have a friend who wants to play it with you then it is going to be a very hit and miss. You simply cannot progress one single step if your partner is unwilling or unable to help.

So what about the puzzles? The puzzles are another controversial feature in my opinion. Yes, the additions work pretty well and are fun to use but they just seem too complicated. The original Portal works so well because it does something basic and simple, bridging two areas of space together seamlessly. But my biggest problem with the puzzles is simply the design, that is it is far too closed.  The original Portal was great partly because quite a lot of the walls were made of portal-supportable materials, basically unless a surface needed to be inaccessible or ruin the entire puzzle it was left usable; This allowed multiple solutions, the very enjoyable challenges, and a lot or real analytical problem solving; That's all gone now, instead you have puzzles where every portal-able surface will have to be used at some point to solve the puzzle, which is a linear one solution puzzle (with not very many steps). So basically all challenge has been taken out of the game.

If you have not noticed yet I am really not sure how to rate this game. It is good but it is a horrible sequel to Portal. It is a very fun game, but ultimately I think it is more like a very well polished turd then anything else. Portal is great because it has a inner beauty, but most of Portal 2's beauty is just skin deep.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Half Life Universe, The Story Thus Far

I have been playing a lot of Half Life (1, 2, 2: Episodes) games recently and one key aspect of all of them is the passive plot. There is a lot going on in the Half Life universe but it is not shoved down your throat, you have to work for it and often you will be in the dark and have no idea what is happening. So I recently set out to figure out what was going on while I was playing the Half Life games and what did I miss between and before the games, the following is a summery of my findings (for more detailed information check out The Half Life SAGA Story Guide).

Prior to the our first contact with the Half Life universe in Half Life original quite a lot was going on. Apature Science was developing its portal technology and GlaDOS was made operational; And the Combine Empire invades the Vortigaunts's, unseen and unnamed, homeworld. A long interplanetary war ensues and in a final desperate act they flee to Xen (the alien world that you encounter in Half Life), a "dimensional transit" station.

GMan orchestrates The Resonance Cascade by supplying the test sample that Gordan Freeman uses. The denizens of Xen notice and begin to flee to earth but the Combine has already taken notice itself. The Black Ops are sent in to clean up the incident and kill anyone they find. Barney Calhoun escapes the facility with a group of scientists (Blue Shift). A third never named race of aliens start teleporting to Black Mesa and attacking both the humans and aliens from Xen they find there; Shephard kills the Gene Worm facilitating this second invasion, and who is itself coming though a portal to Black Mesa at the time. He is then taken into custody by GMan to prevent the story of Black mesa getting out and the facility is destroyed in a nuclear explosion, originally set by the Black Ops, disarmed by Shepard, and then rearmed by GMan (Opposing Forces). By the time of the arrival of the second aliens, Gordon Freeman has already travelled to Xen and now he defeats Nihilanth, the leader of the Vortigaunts (freeing them from his slavery like absolute control), and is recruited by GMan to work for him and put into stasis, ending Half Life.

The following is a recount of the chaos that ensued between the original and Half Life 2; Sometime within this mess it is believed that the events of Portal take place. The Resonance Cascade spreads creating The Portal Storms depositing aliens from Xen all over earth. The human populations huddle together in urban areas behind fences and armed guards abandoning the outside world to the aliens. The Combine launch an all out assault on earth using these Portal Storms, and the Vortigaunts ally with the humans in this struggle. The Combine immediately start building their Citadels and converting humans to the Overwatch. Dr. Breen is modified and made administrator of earth, and in his first act he surrenders earth, and for the most part major opposition is ended (7 hours after the invasion started). The Survivors disperse into the country and rebel fighter groups start to form while the remaining major cities are renamed to City 1, ..., City 27, etc..

Humanity is repeatedly told that this is simply a traditional period in joining the Combine's Universal Union, but of course the Combine has already started their Borg like genocidal assimilation of the Humans and enslavement of the Vortigaunts. The Overwatch implement their Suppression Field, blocking human procreation. A chemical is put into the water to make people gradually forget the past and the Combine begin to drain earth's oceans.

Gordon Freeman returns from stasis, sent by GMan to help the rebellion. He lands a huge blow against the Combine at Nova Prospekt sparking a major rebellion. Continuing to be directed by GMan, mostly from the shadows, Gordon is successful in destabilizing the reactor of Combine's capital on earth City 17's Citadel. GMan's objective accomplished, and the Citadel about to blow leaving the Combine leaderless and fractured, GMan returns Gordon to stasis ending Half Life 2Episode 1 starts immediately after this with GMan going back to rescue Alyx Vance but being blocked by a group of Vortigaunts who rescue her themselves, transporting her to the Citadels base and then forcing Gordon Freeman out of stasis and sending him after her. These Vortigaunts continue to block GMan from now on, severely restricting his ability to guide and communicate with both Alyx and Gordon. Before they lose the Citadel completely, the Combine set it to create a super portal and send a transmission to their homeworld asking for reinforcements. This portal is created and the request sent, destroying the Citadel in the process and ending Episode 1, but soon after the resistance is able to shut down this portal and in the process learn the location of the long missing Aperture Science research vessel, the Borealis, thought to have far advanced portal technology on board. And in the final scene of Episode 2, Eli Vance, one of the leading scientists of the resistance and Alyx's father is killed, by a newly hatched Combine advisor.

So the Combine on earth have been thrown into a fractured chaos and reinforcements from their homeworld have been delayed, but the Combine Advisors have also just entered the scene and proven to be nearly unstoppable personally and likely will prove quite effective at regaining control of the dispersed Combine forces.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Kaptain Brawe: A Brawe New World

Just posted over at The Indie Elitist about a great adventure game I just finished playing, Kaptain Brawe: A Brawe New World.

The following is a excerpt from the article:

The graphics are nice and really good but I would not go so far as to call them great. The puzzles similarly are good, there are a few problems, a few good parts, and few sections that show a lot of promise, but overall it is just good/decent. Probably the most interesting part of the entire thing is the setting, which is a steampunk Victorian, scifi, alternative past. But by far the most well done part is the dialogue. For the most part I find games that try to be funny, just corny and forced sounding; Which is not at all how Kaptain Brawe turned out, it is quite funny and more then worth not skipping.

But everything is not rosy. The game is a little buggy and way too short. It has around three hours of gameplay and not really worth the original selling price of $20 (you can find it for less now). Also at some points the dialogue is just filled with mistakes and the ending seemed really inconsistent to the rest of the game; The entire game seemed to be trying (quite hard at some points) to keep the adventure G rated and then at the end the villain gets sodomized by two inmates, which just seemed out of character.

Overall it is a great game and I liked it a lot. I hope that they produce sequels and I will play them, but there are two things that would really benefit from some polish. In the game you control a total of three different characters, by switching between them, and Rowboat the robot, who is used like an item. And it works great, they have very different personalities and often they must be used in tandem to get past a obstacle. But the characters are so diametrically different that I would of loved puzzles that could be solved in different ways depending on which character you are currently controlling and puzzles that are only solvable using a specific person because it requires a specific mental or physical trait. As it stands now the puzzles and their solutions are just too generic, Kaptain Brawe is supposed to be a overly brave stupid action obsessed hero type and yet he solves normal mental puzzles like everyone else and shows a complete lack of interest in just charging in and solving a puzzle disregarding of the dangers. The second thing I would love to see improved is the setting, it is supposed to be the 1800's but in space with one major invention and conceivably a bunch of others that it inspired. But the technology level is just far to high in all areas. Sure Kaptain Brawe's ship is made of wood but it still is absolutely filled with technological marvel after technological marvel and some places actually look like a futuristic normal scifi location, with metal domes and force fields. In some areas the technology should be extremely lacking and far more Victoria era steampunk architectural really should of been used (even the oldest looking, least technically advanced, things looked at least one hundred years too new).

Friday, September 16, 2011

Half Life 2: (Episode 1, 2, Lost Cost, Mission Improbable)

While Half Life 2 (my review) has a moderately self contained story and is a full game, the end of it does not end the Half Life 2 story arc. From the onset three episodes were planed that would take place immediately after the events of Half Life 2 and would theoretically provide some sort of stable situation regarding the Combine and the resistance. Simply named Episode 1 (2006), Episode 2 (2007), and Episode 3 (unreleased, and long delayed), this series rivals the original Half Life 2 game in quality in many aspects; And together with the non-cannon short game Lost Coast, and dare I suggest, non-official (but with a similar quality) Mission Improbably mod, you get the entire Half Life 2 universe.

What I really liked about the two episodes was that they were not at all afraid to try something new. They are filled completely with short, interesting, and unique situations and quite possibly better then the much longer Half Life 2; whether you are exploring a huge complex antlion burrow, defending against waves of Mawmen in complete darkness, or lobbing bombs onto striders, it is just terrifically unique and well worth playing. And one tiny, but very much appreciated, improvement made in Episode 2 is the separating of the flashlight from the suits main power and a improved battery for the flashlight.

Your partner, Alyx Vance, sniping through the window in Episode 1.
A tiny section of the beautiful antlion nest in Episode 2.

Lost Coast is a short tech demo/single level Half Life 2 game. While you play Gordon Freeman and you are playing in the Half Life 2 world the story's events are not considered canonical as far as I can tell, and there is really no timeline that could include them and make sense. Lost Coast takes place completely on some cliffy coast, where you must travel up the cliff face and explore the monastery on the top, shutting down the Combine headcrab artillery. Its decent, nothing special compared to the rest of the Half Life 2 collection.

While you never get to go to this town, across the water, it is almost
always visible and plays an important part in the plot.

There is just one more Half Life 2 game I want to talk about, and I believe it is the only other game of note that features Gordon Freeman set within the Half Life 2 universe. Mission Improbable is a three episode (only the first two are currently released) Half Life 2: Episode 2 mod with a completely new story. While the gameplay of this mod is actually very well done, it is the visuals that impressed me the most. It looks absolutely amazing; By far the best to be seen in the entire collection of Half Life games. With huge open spaces where you can see for miles and actually go there, the graphics are simply fantastic. Add to that great solid gameplay and interesting situations and puzzles and you get a game that is every-bit as good as the other, official, Half Life 2 games mentioned here.

Adventure Lantern Issue (September 2011)

The September issue of Adventure Lantern had just been published, and like always it is filled with adventure gaming goodness. And while the issue is small I did manage to sneak three of my own reviews into it.

In this issue I submitted my slightly improved The Immortals of Terra review, with its incredibly deep scifi universe; A brand new review on The Silver Lining: What is Decreed Must Be, which is a great start to a series I am still very interested in (but I really need to make the time to play a few more of its sequels); And the second review in my series on the Dracula trilogy. Additionally, Ugur Sener reviewed the first two Adam's Venture episodes.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Finally got around to plaything this commercial turned free action platformer. I, and I can only assume every other person with any sense, has admiring this great retro looking game from afar and now that it has been released for free I no longer had any reason to put of giving it a try. And here is the recounting of my experience:
  • First try, died after about 5 seconds on second encountered enemy.
  • Second try, died after about 5 seconds on spikes right after third enemy.
  • .....
  • 6th try, died after about 10 seconds on the 7th enemy (pretty sure I am still only about 1% done level 1).
  • Gave up.
  • Tried a few more times and got to the first level boss, but no apparent way to even damage him.

So while the game looks amazing, and does not even look all that hard, it is; The strange thing is that you actually have quite a lot of health and I normally love games that give a challenge. Still it looks great, and seems to play quite good as well, I just could not get into the hang of it.

I recommend anyone who is a fan of Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts style super challenging action platformers give it a shot, but I for one am done trying to completely it (or even just a single level).

You can download Arvosine here.

No Time to Explain

No Time to Explain, the instant KickStarter success, has just got significantly more cool and been released. What they did was upload there own game, very shortly after release, to The Pirate Bay (a torrent site), allowing anyone to download it for free (normally $10). The one catch is that the version they uploaded is all pirate themed and apparently moderately more buggy.

So you can download this game right now and give it a try before you buy, and while you are waiting for it to finish downloading you might as well read this interview on the pirate version and why they made it.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Half Life 2 (a review and a comparison to the original)

Half Life 2 is the 2004 sequel to the critically acclaimed original Half Life (my review) and set fifteen years into the future. Since Gordon Freeman's victory, things have taken a turn for the worse and the earth is now under the totalitarian and dystopian rule of the Combine. These Combine, in addition to running a quite normal totalitarian police force, also employ a few alien monsters/creatures you will recognize as well as a few new ones, which they unleash onto the resistance.

In Half Life 2 you run, you jump, you shoot, you platform, you drive, and you solve physics based puzzles. The puzzles are actually quite good, if far too infrequent and being physics based make the game seem really down to earth and immersive. The platforming, and in particular the driving, is also quite well done and entertaining, but I think more of it could of been done without the constant pressure of enemy fire; Which is really my biggest gripe with the game, the near constant action.

For the most part you are in firefights, and while I think that Half Life 2 handles this action better then the original I sure enjoyed the greater amount of peaceful and non-action sequences in the original. Additionally, while the plot of the of the original had a few mysterious unexplained sections you had a basic idea of what was going on and what you did not know; This is not at all present in this sequel; You are working for the still completely mysterious G-Man; Fighting against an enemy that you have never seen before and other then the obvious observation that they are some sort of totalitarian police force you only know their name, you know absolutely nothing about where they come from, what they want, or even what they have been doing; And the rebels, you suddenly appear after fifteen years and everyone takes it in stride, does not even bother to get you caught up in recent events, and apparently have recruited the vortigaunts, a common enemy from Half Life who apparently have become a race of Yodas (incredibly wise and powerful) in your absence.

For the graphics I am somewhat divided, Half Life 2 still looks great and has even better graphics then the original is a few ways but I also think that a few things look significantly better in the original. Overall, I would say that Half Life 2 is superior but it is not quite as cut and dry as you might expect, but no matter where you think it stands with regard to the original it still holds up even to today's standards in attention to details and high resolution realism (while it is obvious that the original looks dated).

Overall, played basically back to back with Half Life original, it is simply not as good a game as the original. It is still a great game, and different enough that I hesitate to say it is objectively worse; I sure enjoyed the original  more, but I am sure that some people will enjoy Half Life 2 just as much or even more. But Half Life 2 does not really need to be compared to it predecessor and standing with the other games of its era it looks quite good, and it is undoubtedly one of the top FPSes of its decade.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Limbo is a very famous indie XBLA platformer that recently got ported to the PC, giving me and many others the ability to finally play it. At its core it is simply a platformer with some puzzles but what makes it great is its style.

It is wonderfully dark, and I am not just talking about the graphics. The giant spiders, zombie worms, murderous children, and effective traps are all fantastically realized and delightful cruel, made all the more poignant because you are playing as a child. And while the officially explained plot is minimalistic I think it is safe to say that it all takes place in a dream that he has after falling asleep in a forest.