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Friday, November 30, 2007

Welcome to City 17!

When I got home from work last night, I wasn't sure what to expect in the way of "free time". It was bath night and my youngest enjoys the occasional evening scream. Well, thanks to my wife's generosity, I was able to put in a couple of hours with Portal and Half-Life 2! I can't remember the last time I had that much time to spend gaming so I made sure to put my time to good use.

Before I get into some "achievement" talk, I wanted to comment on Half-Life 2.

Until I owned my very first Playstation 2, I very rarely finished games. Between 1995 and 2001, if a game wasn't made by Squaresoft (now SquareEnix), Bioware, or EA Sports, I very rarely played right to the game's conclusion. During this time period, I also played Half-Life. I thought the game was great: awesome graphics, great sound, spooky atmosphere, excellent story telling, and fun game-play. And like a growing number of other games, I never finished it.

When I told a friend how far I'd actually gotten in Half-Life, he was quick to point out that I hadn't even made it through the first third of the game. This is pretty sad given how ground-breaking Half-Life was to the game industry. I guess that a part of me wasn't sold on the game's cinematic sequences all being played out within the in-game graphics engine. You have to remember that Half-Life came out in a time when the many top-selling games contained cinematics sequences featuring live actors!

Take, for example, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II. I must have watched this opening cinematic a twenty or thirty times:

Back to present day...

When I first loaded up Half-Life 2 I was a little "lost", to put it mildly. I, as Gordon Freeman, was on a train headed to City 17. An old guy on a large screen was talking about City 17 being home to his base of operations. There were a number of scary looking guys carrying guns and prod shockers herding me and others ahead. I was baffled: I had no idea what was going on nor did I know where the story was going.

And then, everything went to Hell! Unless you've played Half-Life 2, I don't think that I can adequately describe the sense of fear when you find yourself racing to the rooftop of apartment complex while being chased by Combine troopers (see picture to the right). Valve did an incredible job at getting my heart pumping and my hands shaking as adrenaline flooded my system when my fight-or-flight response kicked in. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any other game that throws you into the thick of things as quickly or as well as Half-Life 2. I think Condemned comes close but Half-Life 2 really nailed it! Those guys at Valve really know how to create an atmosphere and game-play situations that will test your skill and your nerve every step of the way!

I've only played the first 20 minutes of Half-Life 2 and I have to say that I'm looking forward to spending a lot more time with the game. I have a feeling that the story is going to be epic - and I'm not even counting Episode 1 or Episode 2 in my assessment. I guess what I'm saying is that The Orange Box is a must-buy game. I'm sure I'll repeat that phrase a number of times as I continue to play through Half-Life 2 and the rest of The Orange Box's goodies, so please forgive me if it starts to grow old.

In any case, enough talk about my Orange Box man-crush. Let's talk achievements!

The Orange Box holds a staggering 99 achievements worth 1000 gamer points! According to My 360 Stats, the game has been played by almost 23,000 users. The average number of achievements earned by gamers is 26 achievements worth 203 gamer points. I'm going to try to pick up all 99 achievements if I can, though I'm sure I'll probably fall short when it comes to Team Fortress 2. I can't give an honest assessment at this time since I'm avoiding looking at any lists of the The Orange Box's achievements. Ask me again in a month's time!

Last night, I played Portal and Half-Life 2.

I've made to the end of Level 18 in Portal; however, I'm well and truly stumped at the moment. I've made fairly good headway through the game and avoided getting stuck or stumped until now. I'm not sure how I'll finish off the level but I've got some ideas. I just spoke with a friend and he seems to be suggest that I'm on the right track. Stumped or not, I managed to pick up a couple more achievements in Portal:

Friendly Fire [5 GamerPoint]: By knocking down one turret with another, I was awarded this achievement. Although I've seen this type of thing done in online videos, my solution was a little less elegant. I made a blue portal above an active turret and an orange portal in the ground before me. I picked up a downed turret to my right and was preparing to drop it through the orange portal in the hopes of knocking over the active turret. Well, I accidentally fell through the orange portal and landed atop the active turret. In my frantic scramble to find cover, I hit the active turret with the turret I was holding: the active turret fell over and I unlocked the achievement. Not pretty but it worked...

Fratricide [5 GamerPoint]: I wont' divulge what this achievement is awarded for, though I will say that it's part of the story and can't be missed. It's also one of the funnier moments in the game thanks to the level design and the comments made by the sarcastic computer voice that follows you throughout Portal.

Shortly after picking up the Fratricide achievement, I was stuck. When Half-Life 2 called out my name, I was quick to put aside Portal and start a new game. Within a half-hour of playing Half-Life 2, I'd picked up the following three achievements:

Submissive [5 GamerPoint]: Give a hoot, don't pollute! It seems that even Combine soldiers believe in a litter-free environment. By picking a can up off the floor and putting it in the trash, I was awarded 5 GamerPoint. I wonder what would have happened had I not picked up the can? I'm guessing a sound drubbing and/or execution at the hands of the Combine.

Malcontent [5 GamerPoint]: This achievement is unlocked by escaping an apartment block raid. Remember the heart-pounding action sequence that I was raving about earlier on? Well, this raid is where it all starts! And it's awesome!

Trusty Hardware [5 GamerPoint]: Gordon Freeman was reunited with his trusty "friend" - the crowbar; I was reunited with 5 more gamer points. As scary as the Combine soldiers look, their heads crack open quite nicely after a gentle taps of the crowbar. I must have taken out ten soldiers before I even felt the need to use a gun.

Indeed, I had a great night of gaming! I'm not sure what the weekend holds for me on The Orange Box front but I'm sure I'll manage a little time. I'd like to finish off Portal this weekend and get through a little more of Half-Life 2, though the amount of free time at my disposal depends solely on how well my youngest sleeps over the next few days and nights.

Have a great weekend! And don't forget to pick up your copy of The Orange Box if you haven't already done so: it'll make your weekend!