Do you have a high-end PC and want to play Half-Life 2 without the dated visuals? While the Source Engine is nearly a decade old, it still surprises everyone with what it’s capable of. After the release of Episode 2, everyone was stunned by the new lighting effects the engine could do. It same for when Left 4 Dead 2 was released and then Portal 2. The engine continues to deliver quality, but it doesn’t have the next-gen flair that every PC gamer craves. Cinematic Mod gives us this option with advanced lighting effects and higher-resolution textures.
I won’t review Half-Life 2 itself. All I will say is that it’s the best FPS game ever made, hands down. The Cinematic Mod is noticeable right away while you’re on the train ride to City 17. You can see the sun rays beam down, the ambient occlusion along with the benches, and the characters look much better. Once you get into the security room with Barney you will notice that the interior lighting looks 10x better thanks to the AO. Once you step outside into City 17 you will notice how the light just falls so naturally and beautifully. You will also notice the depth of field and various other effects working in the background. This goes across all three HL2 games and is worth a play-through even if you have played the game 50 times.
Of course, you will need a pretty decent rig to get the sweetest effects up and running at a decent clip. Light reflects through the water more realistically and the eye adaptation when coming out of tunnels is just awesome. I have never seen such a beautiful mod for HL2. There have been countless re-skins, models updates, and re-textures, but Cinematic Mod hits the nail on the head and drives the whole package home. When you hit Episode 2 you will really be in for a treat. The glowing bugs in the Ant Lion tunnels look great, and all the light refracting around the forest is just amazing. The mod does the series justice and every gamer with a high-end rig needs to download this. I also need to mention the original take on the characters, some are good and some aren’t. There are various re-iterations of Alyx that make her look completely different, but what’s wrong with variety? Some hardcore fans may bash this mod for that, but it’s completely optional.
Black Mesa: Source has been one of the longest-running Half-Life 2 mods, as well as one of the most anticipated. 10 grueling years later the mod is actually stand-alone using the Source SDK 2007 instead of being a Half-Life 2 mod. BMS re-creates the original Half-Life game in excruciating detail with a few minor tweaks. Every morsel, texture, pixel, and polygon has been redone to use the Source engine’s advanced graphics features. The game looks stunning and pushes the engine to its limits.
This could really just be another review for Half-Life, but this is about a better HL. Does this make the game better? Hell yes. In fact, people who couldn’t stand the dated visuals of HL should check this out. The best thing about the game is that so much love was put into it. Every sign, clipboard, paper, poster, mug, pencil, everything was recreated and it looks fantastic. All the enemies were upgraded, voices re-done, and the game just feels tighter and more fluid than the original. Several famous areas that I remember really stood out for me such as the mountainside in the chapter “Surface Tension”. The desert vista looks gorgeous instead of a low-resolution picture posted in the background. The reactor levels toward the end look so much better, but the graphics also help in navigation. The lighting is better so I could see things that were difficult to figure out in the original.
What makes Half-Life so great is that you have to figure out everything on your own. There is no compass, no map, no objectives even. You figure out puzzles and navigate your way by yourself. There are no cutscenes, just characters you meet that talk to you to give you slight hints. The game does have some cinematic moments, but it’s a unique atmosphere that Valve created that makes this series so famous and so memorable. No other shooter has been able to replicate this type of feeling in a game. There is a very interesting story of Gordon Freeman arriving at the Black Mesa research facility for work. A project goes wrong and all these weird alien creatures start pouring out and overrunning the facility. Suddenly the military shows up to wipe out every single person here, but Gordon needs to escape and find out how to stop the aliens from spreading to the rest of the planet. However, there are a set of problems that make playing the game a little frustrating.
The game is extremely difficult. There’s no regenerating shield and cover will do you little good. You have a large arsenal of cool weapons that are both original and well-known. Shotguns, revolvers, rocket launchers, pistols, crossbows, and all those weapons you are used to being here, but Valve made each one useful and memorable. Some weapons have an alt-fire mode like the sub-machine gun having a grenade launcher. The shotgun can shoot one and two shells, the crossbow also has a scope. The weapons are balanced for the level design of the game because you will rarely be far enough from an enemy to need a sniper rifle. Most firefights are close to medium range, and that is due to the excellent level design. You are wearing an HEV suit which is like a shield, but you need to power it up at stations and the same goes for health packs.
What also makes this game frustrating is not having the map or compass because you can get lost in these hallways with no idea what to do. Your goal or path isn’t always clear sometimes, but HL incorporates a strange navigation system where you climb around on pipes and places that other games won’t let you do. There’s even a frustrating jump mechanic that is the crouch jump that makes platforming very difficult, but fans have grown to somehow love this. The game can also get repetitive after a while because you are just running around shooting enemies with innovative yet boring storytelling. The game is also about atmosphere, but people who are so used to today’s hand-holding in shooters will probably scoff at this.
Black Mesa: Source is a wonderful re-creation of Half-Life, but is missing the final Xen chapter. This is because the team has decided to use this as a whole other chapter and re-create another 8-10 hours game starting here. I have to knock the game a bit though because that is the ending and now we have to wait for God knows how long for it. Longtime fans won’t mind so much, but people who have never played Half-Life will find this annoying and probably stupid. You went through all this to not get the ending. With the few issues I mentioned aside, as well as a lot of crashing and glitches, BMS is a wonderful mod that isn’t a mod.
Before I start here Dark Messiah suffered bad reviews because of all the terrible bugs that launched with the game. now that 2 1/2 years have passed Dark Messiah‘s bugs have been pretty much ironed out and you now have a pretty fun action RPG. Before I start explaining the game DM uses the Half-Life 2 engine so you can expect some wonderful graphics and effects. DM uses the HL2 engine very well, but the engine is a bit supped-up so you’ll need a fairly beefy rig to run this game. If your computer was being pushed with HL2 then your computer will have a hard time running this game. I also have to mention that DM felt a lot like Oblivion Lite in the sense that it is set in Medieval times, melee combat is in the first person, and the art style is a little like Oblivion (not as unique of course).
You play as a young protagonist named Sareth and you must stop the evil Arantir from using the Skull Crystal and bringing the Dark Messiah back to life. You have a choice to either stop him yourself or let the Dark Messiah live on. The story is actually fairly interesting and will keep you on the edge throughout this 15-20 hour adventure. Now DM is a linear RPG (it’s not free-roaming like Oblivion) but makes up for it with an intricate combat system. You have about 30-40 different item slots and you can carry things from health, mana, weapons, magic, etc. As you progress through the game you will earn skill points for completing objectives and you can upgrade a variety of things from endurance, health, stealth, archery skill, learn new skills such as heal, fire arrow, freeze, sanctuary, etc. There’s a lot to learn and you won’t upgrade 100% in a play-through. You can either concentrate on being a Knight, Mage, or Archer or just go down the middle.
There are a variety of unique weapons you can pick up throughout the adventure such as the awesome rope bow (shoot an arrow at any wood overhanging and a rope will come down), ice staffs, flame swords, poison daggers, and even a cool electricity shield that stuns enemies when they attack you. Now there are no shops where you can buy things so everything has to be picked up throughout the world. This keeps the action constantly going, but will disappoint people who are used to having stores in their RPGs.
Combat consists of left-clicking for your basic attack, but if you hold it down you do a Power Strike and whether or not you strafe, move forward, or backward will determine whether it’s a sideswipe, impale, or overhead strike. This can let you easily dodge an attack and quickly strike back. You can use the right mouse button to block (and when you get the ability) left-clicking to knock enemies back. Hit enough bad guys and you’ll get your adrenaline bar up and this results in a gory slow-mo instant kill. This applies to all weapons and each of them has its own unique advantages to them. You have a kick button and this is great when you are on a ledge so you can just kick them off. Every so often you’ll find spike beds on walls you can impale enemies on, also you’ll find traps that can be kicked down to crush enemies.
While the combat is really fun and you can do a lot with it; it will get repetitive after about halfway through unless you use different weapons and toss things up. Every so often you’ll find a blacksmith room where you can add bars of metal and forge your own weapons. Now when it comes to enemies there aren’t too many of them (knights, undead, spiders, necromancers, evil demons) and that’s about it. They are mixed up a lot, but you still can get bored of them after a while.
Every so often, though, you will get a great boss fight and these are huge creatures that require key items in the environment to kill them. These are pretty awesome and are very satisfying to take down. My biggest complaint must be the level design. A lot of times you won’t find most of the hidden secret areas since they aren’t even in places you’d remotely think they’d be in. There will be times you’ll wander around for over 30 minutes in the same place wondering where to go and this has to do with poor-level design. The levels are very linear, most of the time dark, and really hard to navigate. Other than this Dark Messiah is a pretty good game, and you can even get it off Steam for $10! I highly recommend Dark Messiah to any action RPG fan.
Once again Valve brings us another great game using their Source engine that brings all the elements of Left 4 Dead to life (or death???) The first thing you’ll notice (mainly Valve fans) is that the Source engine has had a next-gen upgrade (even more so than Portal) and everything looks amazing. While HL2 fans will notice some sounds and elements of the engine from those games it doesn’t really bother you. The game looks stunning with excellent lighting effects, awesome AI (enemy and friendly), great character models, hi-res textures, and just everything you’d expect out of the Source engine. L4D, however, isn’t really a single-player-only experience; in fact, you won’t even see the full potential of this four-player game unless you play online.
The game is comprised of four campaigns and each campaign has five levels. Each level gets longer and more and more difficult with a final level where you have to face off hundreds of zombies until your rescue transport arrives. At the start of each campaign, you get to choose the four characters (each character just starts out with a different weapon). Speaking of weapons I was disappointed in the small selection that there was (just pistols, shotguns, machine guns, and a sniper rifle along with bombs and Molotov). The basic idea is these four characters have to cover each other’s butts through these levels while you face off massive hordes of zombies. The whole idea is a bit more in-depth with some gameplay elements thrown in there. For example, zombies are attracted to noise and light, so if you keep your flashlight on near zombies they’ll charge you. Shoot a car that has its headlights on and you’ll have to face off dozens of zombies charging at you because you set off the car alarm. Killing these zombies is fairly easy since a few shots will bring them down, but it’s sheer numbers that make up for this.
There are over 150 different zombie types, but there are a few “special” zombies that are harder to take down. These are the Tanks (massive zombies that will take all four people to bring down), Smokers (these guys have super long tongues that snatch you up), Boomers (no not like in Gears of War if these guys vomit on you they attract more zombies and same if you blow them up if they’re too close to you), Witches (you hear them cry through levels and if you disturb them they’ll take you down and you are down until someone revives you), Hunters (which are super fast-moving zombies that pounce on you and eat you until someone saves you). This changes the gameplay up along with certain sections requiring you to do something such as hit this switch to move this and while this is happening you have to fend off hordes of zombies. The game is probably the only “zombie simulator” out there because they just act and look so real and you really do feel helpless in the middle of nowhere with hundreds of zombies around you.
Of course, you’ll blow through the four campaigns in about 3-4 hours, but it’s the great online play that extends the replay value. The way levels are played out is very original as well since you have to get everyone into a “safe room” at the end of the level (look for the red door) and close it thus the next level loads and you get to restock on health and ammo. Throughout levels, you may find rare ammo stocks, pipe bombs, etc. It’s the final levels that really are hard since you have to fend off so many zombies and this can be hard in a single player since the AI won’t go anywhere unless you do. When your transport arrives you MUST start heading towards it before it gets to you because if you’re surrounded by dozens of zombies you’re dead. If your teammates die they tend to respawn in closets or behind closed doors. Once you run out of health you can be healed by other teammates or take pills to temporarily fill your health. L4D is a wonderful game, but it’s tight on content and lacks more maps that we need (Valve sucks when it comes to DLC). I highly recommend this game as a great online multiplayer game.
Man O’ man does this bring back a lot of good memories. I remember almost dying because my mom’s computer couldn’t run HL1. I begged her to get the computer upgraded (at the time not even knowing how this was possible or the cost) she just wouldn’t do it. All I could do was stare at videos and screenshots until I thought would be forever *da-da-da!* until I heard about the PS2 port! I was so excited I babysat my bratty sisters for a whole summer and laid down $200 smackeroonies on a used PS2, but to my luck, HL was nowhere to be seen. It turns out not many copies of the game were made so they were scarce. Settling with a rental I finally was able to play the game, but it was starting to feel old because I didn’t get ahold of it until late 2003. Realizing that I was missing out on a lot AT THE TIME I wound up losing my save and being so angry never touched the game again. Four years later I can finally play the game again thanks to Steam (I actually ordered the HL1 Anthology off of EB games for $20) and I DEFINITELY realized what I missed now that I have finally been able to finish the game.
Half-Life used the Quake II engine at the time which was fighting against the Unreal engine technically. While Half-Life never looked as good as Unreal Valve pulled some strings and did some custom stuff with the physics, water, and lighting effects that weren’t originally on the Q2 engine. HL isn’t just your regular run & gun shooter the story is told all in real-time by running into certain characters and by just progressing you get an idea of what’s going on without much dialog. This was revolutionary at the time and so were the weapons, graphics, sound, physics, and enemies. The game has your usual weapons like machine guns with grenade launchers, pistols, revolvers, etc. but HL has some weapons up its sleeve that was never seen before. Those such weapons happen to be a laser-guided rocket launcher (you guide it with your mouse!) I remember people buzzing about these weapons back in the day and it’s still pretty cool. You also have the Bee Gun which is a weird slimy thing that shoots killer bees, you have some strange electricity guns, mines, laser mines, satchel charges, etc.
The enemies were also something never seen before like the Head Crabs, Head Crab Zombies, the Ichthyosaur, the Vortigaunts, etc. The game also had HUGE bosses which were amazing back in the day and seemed very epic. The game was dark, creepy, and very hard as well. Most shooters back in the late 90s were just run & gun nonsense in dark tunnels, military complexes, etc. Half-Life is not innocent and does do this, but there are other places to see like climbing a HUGE canyon and looking out over the *ugly* vista that looks like the Grand Canyon. Today it looks like someone slapped a low-res JPEG image in the background, but in the late 90s things like this seemed like you were staring over a GrindLift in Gears of War 2. Half-Life was just so real and so amazing back in its day that it really kind of shocks you how such an old game can still make that kind of impact.
The game also consists of a lot of maze-like halls that you can get easily lost in and I found this the main problem with HL. Some of the puzzles were a bit confusing to do and navigating the endless halls calls for a much-needed walkthrough. While the level design is excellent and you pretty much know where to go there are those occasional moments that make you wander around the whole area a few times and look in every nook and cranny wondering what switch you missed or what you need to go through. Some neat things back in the day were being able to have the Blue Shift men help you and ask scientists to open doors for you. While this is standard these days this kind of AI was unknown to the late 90s PC gamers. This added to the realism and made you feel like you really are stuck in Black Mesa trying to fight off the alien invasion.
You’re probably wondering what the story is right? Well it’s simple really, Gordan Freeman (that’s you) arrives in Anomalous Hazards as a regular employee and an experiment goes awry and Gordan must escape the facility and figure out the source of the alien invasion. The story, as I’ve already said, isn’t told through cutscenes, but rather in real-time while you play. This helps add to the experience, but of course may bore most younger PC gamers who are used to FEAR, Crysis, CoD, etc. Half-Life is for the hardcore old-school PC shooter fans only and really takes cunning skill to finish. The game will give you less and less healthy as you go and you’ll have to figure out how to take out a room of 10 bad guys with only 2 health. While this isn’t impossible it can be done and requires precise skill (thus only for hardcore fans).
Most of you have probably played HL2 already and these games are pretty much completely different besides the content. You still have your hazard suit, most of the weapons are the same, but there is more stuff in HL1. About 40% of the weapons and enemies in HL1 aren’t in HL2. HL2 is more realistic while HL1 is more of a sci-fi type game. Thankfully you can play HL2 without even touching HL1 (which I did), but HL1 explains a lot of things that aren’t explained in HL2 and there are bits in HL2 that are for fans of HL1 that you normally wouldn’t know about unless you played this game.
Now, of course, HL1 has a lot of flaws like floaty physics, being able to run 100mph, cheap deaths, and poor graphics but these are flaws seen from age. If you were to warp back to 1998 the game was almost flawless. Now when it comes to upgrades and mods there is an endless ocean. There are a ton of amazing multiplayer and single-player mods available and I have spent hours and hours on most of them. You must go to FilePlanet.com and download these mods because they are super fun. HL1 also has a free hi-def pack that you can download to update the graphics a little bit. If you want to go even further pick up Half-Life: Source which uses HL2‘s engine to make things look more modern. I highly recommend the Source version for people who just can’t stand “old graphics”, but old-school shooter fans should just get the hi-def pack just for nostalgia’s sake.
I’m going to write this review as if I were writing a review for 5 different games. After that (here at the top) will be a summary of all 5.
Overall TOB is one of the best deals in video game history. With Valve’s ingenious talent backing this package, there’s no stopping it. Everyone has to pick this masterpiece up because there is something in here you’ll love.
I bought this on my PC about 2 years ago and played it to death (including ALL the mods). Even if you’ve played it on your PC you’ll love it even more on your 360 (or PS3) due to the achievements, and people who can’t run the game very well can experience the game in all its glory. You are Gordon Freeman who has mysteriously wound up in City 17 between a civil war against Dr. Breen and the Combine thanks to Gman. You and your sexy companion, Alyx Vance, have to reach the Citadel and take down the Combine. Instead of explaining what you already know, I’ll explain what’s new. Nothing really. Just the achievements involved (and they are cleverly thought out). You have all the same weapons, levels, and monsters. Just sit back and enjoy the first part of the HL2 saga and you’ll have the best 8-10 hours of your life. Back when the game was released I gave this game a 9.5, but due to its age, it drops half a point.
Half-Life 2: Episode 1=8.5/10
The story takes off after the Citadel blew up and you now have to escape and stop the reactor before all hell breaks loose. With Alyx once again by your side, you have to push back the Combine once more. While EP1 uses the same engine as HL2 with no enhancements (literally everything’s recycled to death) you still get a great experience. Well, there is one new thing ZOMBINES FTW!!! While the game is a bit more on-the-rails-cinematic than HL2 you get more clever puzzles this time around along with some memorable firefights. In the end, if you’ve played EP1 on the PC there’s nothing new here either, but for first-timers, it’s a blast.
Half-Life 2: Episode Two=8.5/10
While this is the best HL2 entry yet with more cinematic gameplay, and some NEW content you’ll love this one the most. After escaping the Citadel and City 17, you and Alyx must head through White Forest to her dad to stop the Citadel portal from letting loose monstrosities beyond our imagining. In EP2 we finally get new content such as acid ant lions, antlion larvae, Combine Hunters, a new vehicle, and an evolved story. EP2‘s story is more touching than ever before and we finally get some background on Gman. EP2 is a couple of hours longer than EP1 and you’ll want to play through it more than once.
This is a whole new creature. Portal is the introduction of brand new technology. You are an unknown tester for Aperture Science and you are given a Portal gun which you use to solve puzzles. This is probably THE most clever puzzle game ever made…ever. You use velocity to launch yourself over obstacles, use portals to navigate through rooms, and even move objects. The game is just so clever it really works your mind but in such a way that you won’t get frustrated. The game has a next-gen engine and looks fantastic as well. After you beat the 3-4 hour game you can go back and beat the advanced maps and challenges for more achievements. There’s nothing more than I can say than to pick TOB for just this game…it’s worth the $60. The game even sports an awesome, and memorable, story that you’ll joke about for years to come…THE CAKE IS A LIE!!!!
Team Fortress 2=8.5/10
I remember playing TFC back when I bought HL1 Anthology and it was a blast. TF2 sports a unique graphical style and wonderfully balanced characters to use. You all know what the characters are unless you’ve been hiding under a rock this whole time. You have a heavy weapons guy who is as slow as molasses in January but packs a serious punch, a spy who can disguise as the enemy, and sneak into the other side, and a sniper who also sports a machete and a machine gun. This is why I love TF2 so much. Everything is perfectly balanced. Instead of being a vulnerable sniper with just a pistol, you get a moderate machine gun. Instead of being a slow heavy weapons guy you get a shotgun. Instead of being a weak Pyro with a flamethrower, you get a shotgun as well. If you love online gaming TF2 will keep you hooked for hours. This is just the 5th reason to buy TOB and you’re bound to be happy.