Category Archives: Video Games

Game of the Month: The Orange Box

A few years ago I played Half-Life 2 on my PC. To this day it is one of the best 1st person shooters I have ever played. It features excellent graphics, elaborate level designs, a good story and so much more. Winning this game requires both fast reflexes and clever tactics.

Over the next few years two extra episodes which continue the story of Half-Life 2 were released on Steam. But my initial experience with Steam was very bad. I spent hours to find out why I got a network error when I tried to login. A few days later I learned that Steam suffered from a massive outage and there hadn’t been anything wrong with my setup in the first place. I never bothered to try Steam again after that incident and therefore missed out on the extra Half-Life 2 episodes and Portal, another popular video game released by the same company. When the release of Portal 2 reminded me of this loss I bought The Orange Box for my PlayStation 3.

The Orange Box turned out to be really good value for money. You don’t only get the original Half-Life 2 (which I played through once again) but also its two sequels. They feature more excellent levels from a dark underground labyrinth full of zombies to urban warfare and finally peak it the fulminant Half-Live 2 homage to the Battle of Hoth.

But let’s not forget about Portal. It is a first person puzzle game where you have to teleport your character via portals that you create with a portal gun. The levels are simple at the beginning but get more and more difficult as the game progresses. You e.g. have to use portals to gain velocity or to dispose of your enemies. Who would have thought that bending the laws of physics could be so much fun?

Overall The Orange Box is hours and hours of excellent game play for not much money and I can highly recommend it.

Game of the Month: Mass Effect 2

One of my all time favourite games is Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR), a Star Wars role-playing game. Ever since we got our PlayStation 3 I was looking for a similar game for this console. After reading several favourable reviews about Mass Effect 2 I decided to give it a try.

The splash screen revealed the first pleasant surprise: Mass Effect 2 was created by BioWare, the very same company that published KotOR many years ago. And the game cannot deny its origins. Mass Effect 2 features a lot of the qualities that made KotOR such an excellent game:

  1. The game tells a fascinating story. It takes place two years after the events in Mass Effect. Its plot is full of action, mystery and twists. It combines elements of various Science Fiction books, movies and TV series like Babylon 5 (also one of my all time favourites) into a gripping tale. Frequent cut scenes help to bring the story to life.
  2. The game features a lot of very well written and excellently voiced characters. They all have a history, particular quirks and frequently a hidden agenda. They interact not only with your protagonist, Commander Shepard, but also with each other. Some of the resulting conflicts can even jeopardise the mission and you have to deal with them carefully.
  3. At various points you are faced with different choices. It is not always obvious what the right thing to do is. You have to consider your actions carefully because there will be consequences. Some of these choices will even influence the events in Mass Effect 3.
    This concept was already available in KotOR. But Mass Effect 2 leaves you much more freedom and the outcome is much less predictable.

Overall it feels like you are playing an interactive Science Fiction movie. While the plot is mostly predetermined the game still leaves you a lot of freedom and you don’t feel restricted.

The gameplay looks similar to KotOR on a quick glance. You control a party of up to three characters which moves through a three dimensional landscape . Your party collects items, talks to other people and has to solve puzzles. But when you get into your first fight you noticed a big difference.

KotOR is a turn-based AD&D role-playing game. You have full control over all three members of your party and you can plan their actions multiple turns in advance. At any point of time you can pause a fight and change your tactic. If one of your characters gets incapacitated you can use the other two to revive her or him. You only get defeated if all three characters are knocked out at the same time.

Mass Effect 2 on the other hand is a third person shooter with elements of a role-playing game. Fights happen in real time, they just pause while you select weapons or special powers. You can only fully control your main character, and if he or she gets overwhelmed you have lost the fight. While your two companions in arms will fight alongside you autonomously the game allows you to give commands to influence their behaviour. You can e.g. tell them to use certain weapons or powers, focus on a particular enemy or to take up a defensive position. While this appears to be a bit limiting initially it makes the game feel more realistic. Giving the right commands at the right time is often challenging but crucial for the success of your mission. The wrong decision can even get one of your squad members killed. Between fights you can acquire better weapons, shields and other technology which will help you during your next conflict. Successful missions contribute to your characters experience levels allowing you to develop their powers.

Mass Effect 2 has a lot going for it: story, characters, gameplay, atmosphere, graphics, sound and much more. If you like Science Fiction role-play games you should definitely have a look. Mass Effect 2 is also as close as you can get to a Babylon5 computer game. I’m really looking forward to Mass Effect 3.

Game of the Month: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

I recently read an article which proclaimed  Uncharted 2: Among Thieves to be the best video game for the PlayStation 3 . I’ve played Uncharted 2 myself last year and liked it well enough. But I wasn’t really convinced that it was the best game ever. As I only won a disappointingly small amount of trophies during my first play through I decided to play and review the game again.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a mixture of a jump and run game and third person shooter. What really sets the game apart is the cinematic atmosphere. The plot is a mixture of Indiana Jones and Die Hard featuring a lot of very well written characters. Superb graphics, bombastic sound and excellent voice acting make the movie experience perfect.

But this is also the weakness of the game: the course of events follows a script. You cannot decide what to do next, you can never go back to a region that you just left and there is no development of your protagonist, Nathan Drake. He cannot acquire new skills and is limited to carry two weapons based on which kind of ammunition you can find in the current level. After playing an open world game like Assassin’s Creed II I felt very restricted by this design.

There is however one thing that I missed in the assessment above: I actually had a lot of fun playing Uncharted 2. So if you like interactive action movies this is your game.