I haven’t played a new game in over 2 months now. Drastic, I know, but you can’t really blame me. I haven’t been tempted by any new release and there are quite a few games in my expanding back catalog, thanks to the Steam sale,  that I am yet to play. You can’t blame the industry either; who would want to launch their games a month before the likes of Boderlands 2, Black OPS 2 and Assassin’s Creed 3, to name a few? This is, in fact, the best possible time to go through my list of veteran games. Here now, is my pixel sized review of the games I have been playing.

The Half-Life series: Before you judge my gamer cred, understand that I was never able to properly play these games due to circumstance. I played the first game on release and remember not being impressed by it. The progress was slow, the story was jumbled and the weapons were boring. Hey, I was 18, infected by Duke Nukem roid-rage and on the lookout for virtual hookers to throw my money at. Head crabs just did not cut it for me. As a gamer interested in the culture of video games and their impact on people and their popular mediums, it was getting hard to avoid conversations that merited HL or Gordan Freeman in one way or another. For that, I sucked it up, purchased the whole set, including Opposition Force and Blue Steel, and sat down to play them.

Half-Life: Gamers who don’t go through this game will miss out on a true interactive gem. The opening sequence is still supreme and the over-all ambient is without a doubt one of the finest I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. The story, however, is a mess and I challenge anyone as passionate for narrative as I am to disprove me. Sprinkling random elements like a teleporting G-Man does not create a story, it just makes it more mysterious.

It’s like presenting an argument with only adjectives and half-way through, my only incentive to go through the game was to finish it. Gameplay wise, quite a bit of backtracking was needed, but that’s old school gaming for you,  and having to fight my way to the surface only to be told to go back down did not score highly on my ranks.

Then there’s Xen, The alien home-world that was probably meant to shock you with its absurdity but fails, not because of its production value, but because it felt like someone threw up a set of levels on me because they got sick of all the food on offer. I understand why you were narratively expected to go there, but it just refused to click with me.

Any ways, by that point nothing made sense in the story and Valve may as well have substituted Nihilanth with a rainbow farting unicorn as a final boss and still have people in awe at the appearance of G-Man at the end. Opposition Force and Blue Shift were interesting diversions, with the latter proving to be a hint better, and since their stories take place on a parallel timeline with the Black Mesa incident, it was interesting seeing and hearing elements of Gordon’s story as you progressed.  Ultimately, the 20+ hours I spent on the game and its add-ons were enjoyable and managed to properly introduce me to one of video game’s most absurdly beloved and mute protagonists: Gordon Freeman.

Half-Life 2 (+ Ep1 & 2): The first game was a ridiculous success and hipster nerds were awash with Gordon frenzy. The game was probably singlehandedly responsible for the spike in red crowbar sales and Physics major applications, but all that apparently was lost in translation with the sequel. You see, while the first game took place in a lab, justifying your presence as an MIT grad who was at the wrong place, HL2 finds you inserted in to a subway headed towards City 17 where the Combine have taken base. Da Fuq? First of all, exactly how did I get here and why am I still fighting head crabs and indoctrinated zombies who suddenly now appear en-mass around areas of high radioactivity? Never before was I forced to double-back and perform constant research to confirm that I did not miss out on any ‘subgame’ between the first and the second and that I did not miss out on any potential literature that may assist in explaining the situation. Valve want to play the mystery card again? Fine. It’s a good thing the art direction is stupendously gorgeous and breathtaking, otherwise I’d be nagging mor…..what the fudgenuts is a vortiguand doing talking to me? “The Free Man”? Your kind was griefing me the last time around! And what’s with the Jedi mentality? I’m not sure about you, but wouldn’t it make sense for Gordon to lose his mind in a proverbial freak-out fit as he tries to remember his last 10 years? Also, If like me, you chose to not accompany the G-Man at the end of HL1 and faced the throngs of aliens, exactly how did you survive and why did the G-Man, who decided to abandon you, illusively chose to ‘use’ you again? Moving on…

Story brain farts aside, the gameplay is awesome and some of the set pieces should really become proper studying material for current and upcoming game designers, specially in regards to standout chapters like ‘We don’t go to Ravenholm’ which possessed excellent buildup & superb voice acting from Jim French who voiced Father Grigori. Each location is expertly conceived and save for the needlessly long vehicle rides, not once did I feel restless or stunted as I trodded along shooting this zombie, crow-barring that head crab and eliminating the CP, which brings me to my second only complaint. The obsession with humanizing the adversary in modern games is a let down for me. It seems for any game to maintain global success, the enemy must be human, regardless of ethnicity or gender. That said, and just as a side note, do all soldiers have to be middle-aged men? I love gunning down strange freakazoids that have four hands and three eyeballs. I’m just saddened Valve dropped the whole alien involvement and just stuck with two basic species: the head crab and the barnacle.

Each of HL2, episode 1 and episode 2 end with cliff hangers that prompt you to go through the next game, something that has been driving the fans raving nuts to play episode 3 or HL 3, whichever comes first. I found Episode 2 to be stellar and a much stronger offering than episode 1 and HL2 is some aspects. The whole crawling-through-underground-tunnels bit fighting off a new breed of Antlions is great and the battle with the striders at the end had me on edge! The ending, also, is both blood curdling and sad at the same time. If you haven’t played them yet and were not exposed to any spoilers, do so now because after I finished episode 2 and started my routine research on the games, I discovered that the ending is a heated subject and one that has generously been mentioned on online forums.

Next up, Portal 1 & 2…..

The Half-Life games are available on PC (reviewed), PS3, XBOX360, Mac OS X