The week in video games:

First Impression – The Orange Box: Half-Life 2

It may come as a shock, but I’m not a PC gamer. Growing up in a Mac family, I turned to the consoles for my gaming needs. I didn’t even own a PC (which is the same one I use today) until I began law school in 2001. When I tried loading a classic game collection onto it, the computer ran like garbage. After that, I was done with PC gaming. The drawback, of course, is missing out on some incredibly wonderful games, like Half-Life.*

Having missed the Half-Life games on PC and hearing nothing but glowing praise for the series, especially after Bioshock’s success, I knew that I shouldn’t miss this latest opportunity to jump on the bandwagon.

What amazes me about Half-Life 2, is how seemless it is. Chapters melt one into another. I didn’t even realize that I was already in Chapter 4 until I took a break and exited to the main menu. But the fluid nature goes to the core of the story. Having never played the game, I had no clue what a Gordon Freeman or a G-Man was. Frankly, in my first couple of hours, I just wanted to make it to Robert Guillaume’s lab to figure out what the hell is happening.

While players familiar with the series have more of a backstory, I am loving the hell out of my ignorance, learning about this new world. And that’s the key, while the main character is Gordon Freeman, in reality the experience falls squarely on the player. It’s not Freeman’s story, it’s your story.

That connection ran so deep, that my wife, who couldn’t care less if another non-puzzle game is ever made, sat on the couch, fixated on the game for hours, taking in the experience as her own. I doubt EA will want to put that on the (orange) box, but being able to provide that unique experience, even to someone who is unfamiliar with the series, is a true accomplishment.

Having now played this, it does take a bit of the shine off Bioshock (wrench = crowbar, telekinesis = gravity gun, etc.). In terms of gameplay, while the physics engine is near perfect, the player’s motion becomes choppy at times. While trying to evade a helicopter, it’s incredibly jarring that I have to navigate around, or eventually through ,an invisible wall. The cause is more likely connected to the porting, rather than the original design, but I can’t wait to see where this game heads.

Halo Shit

On the other side of the FPS experience, Halo, this week, provided its first matchmaking update patch. Included in the update was the reduction of the occurrence of the Shotty Snipers game, which came up more often than other games. I wouldn’t have minded the frequency of sniper games, but somewhere between the Bond games and Halo, I went from Berenger to John Starks in Game 7 of the ’94 NBA Finals. How does someone become worse at sniping? No clue.

As for the other updates, Slayer games will be more frequent in the Lone Wolves setting and now Big Team Battles will allow a maximum of 16 members, which will reduce the number of people secretly wanting to kick the seventh Chewer out of the party. Still no update to fix the shittiness of Campaign.

Earlier this week, I finally slogged through the misery that is Campaign mode on Halo 3. Now I understand why Bungie wanted to split from Microsoft, embarrassment. What a fucking horrible, wretched single player experience. When it was over, I sat there and wondered about what I’ve could have done with the 8 hours I sacrificed playing that pile of feces. Don’t get me wrong, the gameplay is fine, but you what the Omega Halo’s secret weapon is, boredom. How do you make a shooting game, with explosions left and right, so exponentially dull? On top of having a laughable story, which was probably written by some failed Dragonlance spec authors, the climax of the game, with it’s awfully lame final boss battle (I wanted the Guilty Spark to laser my 360) and the slowest fucking car escape mission in the history of video games, reaches new levels of lifelessness. Adventure for the 2600, on Game 1, had more suspense than that pile of Jack Thompson.

Oh and that eighth level wasn’t difficult, it was broken. Random indestructible enemies in a tight cavern, which randomly injure you for no reason, without any clear-cut path? Fuck you.

PS3, starring Steven Weber and Chris Elliot

For the past few weeks, rumors have been floating about the 40 GB PS3, including its pricing, its bundling and its backward compatibility. Some reports have it not being backwards-compatible with PS2 titles, while some say the lack of compatibility is only in Europe, while some say all 40 GB models won’t be backwards-compatible, and some, like me, are tired of it.

Hey Sony, pick a model and go with it. This is a prime example why everyone shies-away from the PS3, Sony won’t just settle on a design. While I rarely play my PS3, I am thrilled to have a 60 GB model with full backward compatibility (non-emulation) and not have to wade through this mess.

But instead of figuring out a uniform composition of the PS3, Sony is releasing a white PS3 in Asia. I always laugh at different colors for consoles. As if the crux of the decision to buy a $500 console would be the color. “You know, I really wanted to play Warhawk, but not on that white monstrosity”. But the biggest problem with the white model, you can’t play it after Labor Day. Don’t worry, Sony, I imagine the white PS3 will generate that sales spike you’ve been looking for since last November.

Brawl Smashed

About a month ago, I mentioned that the proposed December 3, 2007 release date for the perpetually developing Super Smash Bros. Brawl, appeared rushed in an attempt to make the Christmas holiday. This week, Nintendo announced a delay for the Japan launch and changed the US launch date to February 10, 2008. Probably for the best to get all the bugs out and avoid the holiday season gridlock, instead of being the AAA that gets left behind.

In more “positive” news, Nintendo announced Sonic the Hedgehog would be added to colossal list of playable characters for Brawl. With Sonic’s addition, this leaves only Karnov and Seeman (from Mega Man XXX) as the only video game characters missing the cut.

That’s all for now.

* I know they both were eventually released for consoles, but just roll with me on this.

** As a brief programming note for my fan, I’m headed to Orlando next week and as a result the Random Setting will be off for a week and return on October 26.