It is not often that a sequel, in any entertainment category, is able to follow its critically acclaimed predecessor successfully. Yet that is what Half-Life 2 was able to accomplish, and in style. Released in 2004, it was the showpiece for Valve’s new Source engine and has been praised for its story, graphics, physics, and gameplay. However, the Source engine has been around for ten years, and Half-Life 2 is looking dated when compared to today’s graphics.
Valve has updated the SteamVR feature it debuted earlier this year, adding support for the Oculus Rift DK2 head-mounted display (HMD) that began shipping late last month. With this update, the still-in-beta SteamVR, which is essentially a Steam interface for HMDs like the Oculus Rift, now supports positional tracking on Windows and OSX.
I am frightened. I am alone. I feel like there are eyes following my every footstep, stripping away chunks of my calm, collected guise as though clawing open a Christmas present. I don't think I can keep it together for much longer, but I can't run. My legs maintain a disarmingly leisurely pace, like they're trudging through a quicksand-flavored Jello mold. Will I spot a ghost first, or will it spot me? Where? When? How? I'm like a child who's afraid of the dark. The suspense makes me want to toss a blanket over my head until a Real Adult chases the Bad Things away. Unpredictability, as it turns out, is terror at its purest.
This is my third playthrough of Dear Esther, and it's the hardest hitting yet. I still haven't figured out this amorphous, ever-shifting puzzle of an island, and I don't think I ever will. Moreover, I'm not some improbable mix between a Ghost Buster, Rambo, and Wolverine. I'm not even sure if I have hands. I feel utterly powerless – all at once breathless with both awe and fear. This world doesn't revolve around me. I am not its master. I can only speculate as to what it all means and why I'm here. In a word: incredible.
Then the peanut gallery chimes in: “Wait, I can't shoot stuff? This clearly isn't a real game. Yuck.” And now we have a very, very serious problem.
Gordon Freeman is a coward. Or at least, he is when I play him. It's those damn poison headcrabs. As soon as they start hissing – shrouded in darkness, probably fresh off the assembly line from some Nightmare Factory – I turn into an orange-and-black blur and beeline for the nearest corner to cry in. When Alyx is around, I push her into the poison headcrab's Terror Lair and hide until she makes the bad things that can kill me in two hits go away. Meanwhile, in real life, I lean away from the screen until my spine feels like it's recently been on the receiving end of a Mortal Kombat Fatality. If you haven't gotten the picture yet, I really, really don't like poison headcrabs.
I love, however, that they exist. Half-Life 2's enemies in general are some of the most memorable I've ever encountered. In fact, I haven't experienced such a visceral reaction to any game enemy since.
We don't like it when things sound too good be to true. For instance, we'll never forget the time IHOP's Nutella Crepes cruelly stabbed us in the back by boring a hole in our intestines. The world is a disappointing, briefly delicious place, so we prefer to approach it with caution. That said, Arkane Studios' Dishonored sounds so freaking amazing.
You know that stereotype of the total loser from high school – busted glasses, craggy acne canyon of a face, every spoken word followed by a refreshing mist of saliva – who goes on to become rich and successful beyond your wildest dreams? Well, that's the gaming industry's past ten years in a nutshell. No longer is gaming that shameful hobby you mumble in between “hanging out” and “...uh, other stuff.” Now, it's just something everyone does. With the exception of a few stragglers and the occasional re-emergence of Jack Thompson, gaming has finally arrived.
In that spirit, we thought it'd be fitting to spotlight some of the games that helped put our favorite past-time on top of the world. So, without further ado, we present the 30 best PC games of the past decade!
It's pitch black, and your teeth are chattering so loudly that you barely even notice the three simultaneous heart attacks you're having as you creep through the tall grasses of an open field. Suddenly, the bushes behind you rustle. You jerk your head so quickly that your body nearly doesn't get the chance to follow, as the hulking, foreboding figure of a baby bunny hops out from the bush. Phew. Heart attack number four averted. For now. You wipe the sweat from your brow – which, at this particular moment, is the world's most accurate model of what would happen if the polar ice caps actually melted – and continue onwards.
For about two feet. That's when you see it. Yep, there it is – right in front of you. Oh sweet mother of mercy. No, no – not the sprinting, groaning gray guy who's licking his unhinged chops and eying your neck. I'm talking about the thing behind him. That's right: a thermos full of coffee! Finally! Awesome! Sorry Mr. terrifying zombie man; just a second. You see, I need that coffee for an achievement.
The game in question? Alan Wake, a game quite capable of keeping you on the edge of your seat right up until the moment it spills hot coffee all over your lap. And it's certainly not alone. For the longest time, triple-A games polished their graphics and tweaked their ambient bunny-in-a-bush sounds in pursuit of a holy grail known simply as “immersion.” Gamers wanted it; game developers wanted it – for everything around the player to just melt away. To be utterly, hopelessly, and completely lost in the game world, without even the thinnest bread crumb trail back to reality. These days, though, immersion is about as prized as an airplane seat surrounded by screaming babies with no nearby emergency exit to fling yourself from. Or at least, it certainly seems that way.
Massively multiplayer online everythingamajig Second Life’s total player numbers may be debatable at best, but the dedication of said, er, eclectic legion sure isn’t. According to a study conducted by Nielsen Media Research, Second Life gets more average playtime per week than games like StarCraft, Warhammer Online, and even World of Warcraft!
Lest you cry foul of Nielsen’s study, however, know this: World of Warcraft players still far outnumber those of Second Life, racking up 46.710% of total PC gaming time, while Second Life picks up a silver medal with 3.206%. Second Life’s significantly smaller group of players, then, just loves its game of choice a bit more than players powering Blizzard’s piggybanks.
Even so, however, Second Life still far outstrips most every other MMO on the market -- in terms of average playtime and total percentage of the pie -- including Warhammer Online and Eve Online, both of which didn’t even make the top ten.
Just for clarification’s sake, the study was conducted among a sample of almost 200,000 people –- not just hardcore gamers. It was, apparently, a random sample.
The only thing that makes us question this study? That’d be Dark Horse of Might & Magic in third place. Um, really? Not to question the alchemy behind Nielsen’s algorithms, but do you know anyone who actually plays that game anymore -– on a regular basis, no less?
Yeah – this is getting pretty ridiculous. Just when you thought Valve’s market-dominating Steam service couldn’t cut any more off its game prices without bleeding money, they go and prove everyone wrong.
This weekend, Valve’s offering the Orange Box – a complete steal even at its original price – for $9.99. For those who haven’t been keeping score, the Orange Box contains Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episodes One and Two, Half-Life 2: The Lost Coast, Portal, and Team Fortress 2. Really, the only things this virtual incarnation of said box lacks are, well, actual oranges and any sort of box. But hey, you’re saving the trees for cheap, and isn’t that basically the American Dream?
So, six amazing games. Ten bucks. Breathing lightly on piggy bank will yield you that kind of scratch. Seriously, if you haven’t played these games, what are you even waiting for? Afraid you might lose your job while utterly engrossed in your new purchases? Well, if Steam keeps topping itself like this, you probably won’t need much money to keep your gaming appetite sated anyway.
In the beginning, Valve created Half-Life 2, and it was pretty flippin' awesome. Then, more towards the middle of the beginning, Garry Newman whipped up Garry's Mod, bestowing upon gamers a simple interface behind which they could all wield Valve's body-flinging, face-pinching powers. And after that, things got a little weird. But not for creator Garry Newman, who -- after selling his mod for $10 a pop on Steam -- found a new breadwinner.
Now, two years later, Garry's Mod has stripped 312,541 kids of their lunch money, bringing the total haul up to roughly $3.1 million -- or about 30 Midways.
"GMod hasn’t just given me financial stability," Newman said in a champagne-stained blog post. "It’s also made me a lot more experienced in c++. I learned how game engines are meant to work. I got to fly to Valve HQ and meet some game making dudes. I got to tell a nice bearded fellow how I was sick all over myself in the shower after eating airline food, and then realising I was talking to [Deus Ex creator] Warren Spector."
"And it’s my hope that it has inspired other people to do stuff. I mean, I’m a fool like you, I’ve just got more experience in pretending I’m not, and I did it... So why can’t you?"