Rock, Paper, Shotgun - (Alice O'Connor)

“Laughter is the best medicine,” say people who are about to discover laughter actually makes a broken nose worse. Laughter’s pretty okay, though, as are other emotions – and creative mediums can help stimulate them. Valve have rolled out the red carpet (it smells rusty?) for the year’s finest Source Filmmaker machinima, little films mostly starring Valve characters, declaring which are the bestest best so you too can easily experience such human emotions as Action, Comedy, Drama, Short, and Extended.

… [visit site to read more]

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - (John Walker)

An envelope arrived in the post this morning. Thick, stuffed with books. Diaries, in fact. Someone has sent me Gordon Freeman’s diaries from the last eight years. I don’t really know what to do about this. I mean, this is obviously big news, but this is also someone’s private life. But what if it was Gordon himself who sent them? What if he wants the… the misery therein to be exposed?

I’ve decided on a compromise. I’m going to publish some extracts, picked almost at random from the lot. If Freeman wants them taken down, he can get in touch and we’ll honour that right away.>

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer
PC Gamer

When I saw the release trailer for Half-Line Miami, I assumed it was a gag whipped up by somebody bored with the wait for Half-Life 3, or a set of skinned levels built in Hotline Miami's level editor. It is neither. Half-Line Miami is a free, fully playable mash-up of Hotline Miami and Half-Life 2, complete with the G-Man introduction, and it's really good.

The actual gameplay is straight out of Hotline Miami, but the maps, enemies, and sound effects are taken from Half-Life 2. And instead of the usual assortment of blunt objects and firearms, you're equipped with the gravity gun, which works exactly like it does in HL2: Pick something up—explosive barrels included—and then fire it at your enemies to turn them into pulp.

There are eight levels in all, one for each area in Half-Life 2. For players who are into the DIY thing, it comes with a level editor as well. The soundtrack by Sung is pretty fantastic too. And it's free!

"I made this game as a declaration of my love for these 2 games, and as an experiment in game design," creator Thomas Kole explained.

Grab it—trust me, it's worth your time—at

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - (Philippa Warr)

I have just booted up Half-Line Miami [official site] – a mashup of Hotline Miami and Half-Life as created by student Thomas Kole.

As someone who has never really played Half-Life 2 or Hotline Miami (I did about one level of Hotline Miami at a demo booth one time and apparently own it on this here PC – who knew? As for the Half-Life games, I played the original until a bit where you have to climb into a ceiling vent which you reach by dragging a box over. I’d killed something directly below the vent and their corpse became an immovable object so I couldn’t put the box in the right place to climb up. After trying all the solutions I could think of I gave up rather than restart at my last save which was ages away. I tried the second game as part of the Orange Box on XBox 360 and got as far as Water Hazard.) I feel well placed to explain Half-Line Miami.

… [visit site to read more]

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - (Alec Meer)

Quake III's Q3DM17

Level 28! No, the other kind of level. The type that you run around in, shooting people or jumping on their heads and that sort of thing. Adam, Alec, Alice and Graham gather to discuss their favourite levels and/or maps from across the vast length of PC gaming, including selections from Deus Ex, Call of Duty and Quake III. Someone even makes a case for Xen from Half-Life, and means it.

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer
PC Gamer

Why I Love

In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, Phil praises the Half-Life 2 soundtrack.

I sometimes hear it argued that the best soundtracks are the ones that go unnoticed. The theory is that a good soundtrack should work in tandem with the work its attached to—subconsciously enhancing a game or movie without going out of its way to reveal itself. The reasoning seems sound, but I don't agree. I'm perfectly capable of noticing music while simultaneously appreciating a stunningly realised set piece or top notch wall texture, thank you very much.

I mention this because, to me, most FPS soundtracks do go unnoticed—moreso than perhaps any other genre. Partly its because shooters are designed to offer tense firefights that sharpen your focus until survival and the elimination of your enemies is all that matters. Partly, though, it's because so many FPS soundtracks borrow from each other to the point that they all blur into a haze of hurried orchestral suspense, deep, rumbling guitars and that dark ambient soundscape that seems to state, "hey, war is all technological and complicated now. That's cool, right?"1

This, basically.

There are a lot of great things about the Half-Life 2 soundtrack, most of which are tied to how and where each individual track is used within the game. But on a broader level, the thing that I love about it is that it sounds like nothing else.

Half-Life 2's soundtrack isn't afraid to make itself known. In addition, it's not afraid to make itself scarce. Valve is content to let long stretches of the game go without an accompanying track. Instead, they let the sound design come to the fore. By trusting in the strength of the sound design, Valve is able to hold back the soundtrack for those moments when it's needed. When the music does appear, it's usually for a reason. Shit has, is, or is about to go down.

It's not just that the songs are good, it's that each is perfectly tailored to the moment it's used in.2 Take the obvious example: Hazardous Environments.

It comes at the point where Gordon is finally able to take some control over his surroundings. We're never privy to Gordon's state of mind, but the opening of Half-Life 2 must be a disorientating experience for the physicist. He's awoken from stasis, dumped onto a train arriving at the dystopian centre of an unrecognisable world, and forced to escape a brutal police force operating under the orders of an alien collective.

Now, finally, he's among friends, and in possession of the suit that helped him survive the last deadly situation he found himself in. It's an artefact that links that world to this one, and so it's fitting that it's accompanied by the corresponding song from Half-Life 1. It's nostalgic, slow and assured.

Throughout Half-Life 2, the soundtrack plays with elements of techno, drum-'n-bass and industrial, and never lets itself get tied down to one genre. Just as one chapter of the game may play differently from another, so a music track can stand apart while still somehow feeling cohesive. It helps that the music is artificial throughout—perhaps as a parallel of the story's ramshackle resistance force, and how they repurpose and rebuild old machines and enhance them through the stolen tech of the alien race now subjugating them.

Take Ravenholm Reprise, which builds on the dark horror of that chapter with what essentially amounts to an extended electronic howl. It's unnatural and unnerving. Earlier in the game, players are treated to CP Violation—a perfect accompaniment for the Civil Protection, in that it sounds like an alarm that builds in intensity as you're hunted through the city's abandoned tunnels, warehouses and sewers.

My favourite track isn't tied to action or foreboding, but quiet reflection. It's called Triage At Dawn, and it plays shortly after Ravenholm, as you stumble across a recently attacked resistance outpost.3 Someone's been hit. It's Winston.

In isolation, the scene is kind of ridiculous, but it's effective in game—a reminder that the Combine's actions aren't simply limited to the isolated horror of Ravenholm, but affect everyone fighting for their freedom. Death hangs over them all. Or just being injured a bit. Winston's probably fine.

It's the music that sells this moment. It's a haunting, sad refrain that lends poignancy to the action. It's a manipulative shortcut, sure—the scene is otherwise too short to make anybody care about Winston—but then, that's a soundtrack's job. And Half-Life 2's soundtrack does its job exceptionally well.

1Yes, this is an exaggeration. But I'd argue that there is a noticeable homogeneity among military shooters in particular—a phenomenon that is perhaps ironically fitting, given the stories that tend to lay at the heart of these games. That said, even noting this, the individual compositions can be excellent. It's a shame that in adhering to a particular style, so many of these pieces are lost. Outside of this one particular sub-genre, though, there are plenty of distinct sounds. Borderlands 2's electro-Southern rock strikes me as an obvious example.

2Valve is continually a master of this, and I could have easily written this piece about any of their games. Of particular note is Portal 2, the music of which nicely mirrors the plot of the game. Its music sounds broken and chaotic, as if degraded by thousands of years of disuse. Portal 2 is also worth praising for its use of dynamic music—giving it a playful quality as it reacts to your interactions with the game's puzzle elements.

3My favourite track from the Half-Life 2 series as a whole is Sector Sweep, from Episode 2. It comes at the perfect time, after a tense encounter with a Combine Advisor. It's such a driving, adrenaline-building instrumental that it makes what could be a difficult fight in tight hallways feel like a liberating licence to take out your frustration on the Combine forces. It's the sort of song that says, "no, no, get the shotgun out for this bit."

PC Gamer

I've never played the Killzone games, owing to the fact that I don't possess the precise living room box required, but now at least I've gotten a taste of the Helghast. Killzone Source doesn't recreate an entire Killzone game in HL2, but provides a particular mission called Strange Company.

It represents several years of work by Moddb member zombiegames, and while I can't personally vouch for its representation of Killzone, it's pretty cool and looks great. With an AI companion, you fight your way through the interiors of a multi-floor building, battling Helghast at every turn, then proceed outside for more gunplay. You can carry a pistol and one of several rifles, use frag grenades, and are also armed with a knife. The Helghast look great, and I don't know if this is true of the original game, but they scream entertainingly when they die. Every time. I couldn't get enough of it.

They're tough as hell, too. Even on normal difficulty they killed me repeatedly. I had to disable AI using the Source console just to get close enough to them to take their pictures. At one point a dropship appeared over a shattered courtyard and they rappelled down on ropes in front of me. They're also pretty good at using grenades.

My AI companion was a little worthless in a fight, but she's still cool to hang out with. While I was remapping my keys (the default keybindings are a little odd) she helped herself to a soda from a vending machine. 

The guns are fun to use, and plenty challenging due to recoil, and the maps are dressed with various bits of detail like Helghast propaganda. There are some other touches, like flying enemy drone that I presume has roots in the original game.

To play, you just need a Steam account and to have the opt-in beta of Source SDK Base 2013 Singleplayer installed. For the beta, right-click the SDK base on Steam, select properties, open the Beta tab and choose '-upcoming' from the list. (You don't need to input a beta access code.)

As for the mod itself, here's its page on Moddb. If you've tried it, and you have experience with the Killzone games, I'd love to hear if you think it's a faithful recreation of the mission.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - (Alec Meer)

Gathering together the best shooters is no easy task, but if you’re looking for a new PC FPS to play, look no further.

Your favourite game is at number 51.

… [visit site to read more]


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