Half-Life 2

Earlier this week, we asked you to tell us the last physical copy of a PC game you bought, while sharing our own choices. Today, as a kind of sequel to that question, we ask, what was the first downloadable game you bought on PC

In the PC Gamer Q&A, we ask the global PC Gamer team for their thoughts on a particular subject, then invite you to add your thoughts in the comments below. We'll also feature a few answers from the PC Gamer Club Discord, accessible to anyone who's a part of our membership program.

You'll find our answers below, and we'd love to hear what your first paid downloadable game was too. 

Jarred Walton: Half-Life 2

I'll take the easy route on this one, because it's also true: Half-Life 2 was the first downloadable game I bought. I also played Counter-Strike 1.6 on the platform (including using the Steam beta), but that was a mod for Half-Life so I didn't pay for it. Anyway, HL2 required Steam, so what else was I going to do? I'm old enough that having a credit card and high-speed internet back in 2004 wasn't a problem, and I was luckier than some, in that Steam worked basically without a hitch for me. Sure, there were a few outages, but I don't recall them ever really affecting me. 

I played (and benchmarked) Half-Life 2 all the way to the end in the first week or so after its release, and I thought the convenience of downloading a game was pretty awesome. Others hated the idea, but I don't think any of us could have guessed how huge Steam would become over the next decade. It went from a place where you bought Valve games and maybe a few others, to eventually becoming the virtual storefront for 95 percent of all the games I own. No wonder EA, Ubisoft, and Activision want a piece of that pie.

Jody Macgregor: Uplink

I kept buying boxed copies of games for ages because slow Australian internet made downloading them a hassle, until I got into small indie games that wouldn't bust my data limit. The first was Uplink, which let me live out the fantasy of being an elite computer hacker and also the fantasy of having really fast internet.

It's designed to make you feel like you're in the movie Sneakers, and for a while it did. Like every other hacking game I've tried—games like Hack 'n' Slash, and else.Heart.Break()—it eventually started to feel like work instead of fun. Now when I want to pretend I'm a hacker I just go to hackertyper.net. What it did get me into was playing more small, personal projects and I found plenty of those to love. The next two were Atom Zombie Smasher and Audiosurf, both of which became favorites.

Samuel Roberts: Audiosurf

Right when rhythm action games were blowing up on console, but tended to focus on guitar music that I didn't really like and plastic controllers that took up way too much space in a single person's bedroom, a friend explained how there was a rhythm action game where you could play your own songs. The novelty of this was huge to me. I was 20 at the time, working on a PlayStation magazine, and I didn't really have the cash for a good PC, having wasted hundreds of pounds on a PS3 I needed for work—which broke a year later. Sigh. At least I got to play Uncharted, I suppose. Eventually, my parents bought me an okayish laptop, and one of the first things I did was download Audiosurf on Steam. 

It was pretty amazing, to upload my favourite tracks into the game and to have so many cool and challenging ways to play them, along with leaderboards. This was one of the first PC games of the modern era that really showed me why playing on PC was better—both in terms of the variety of games available, and the experiences that only PC could give you. If I wanted to play the theme tune from Max Payne 2 in a rhythm action game, I could do it, damn it! 

Now I own close to 1000 games across Steam, GOG, uPlay, Battle.net and Origin, and I don't know why I've done that to myself. 

James Davenport: SiN Episodes

Remember the short-lived SiN Episodes reboot? I can't remember why I chose to make that my first digital purchase rather than, say, Half-Life 2, but it was. It was this whole ordeal. I didn't have a credit card and Steam bucks weren't really a thing back then, so I went to a friend's house (hey, Anton, I'll find that copy of Kingdom Hearts and return it as soon as I can) just to ask their older sister to let me use hers. Digital game marketplaces were a new concept back then, and she didn't play many games anyway, so it 100-percent came off as a con. 

Your little brother's good friend rolls in with wearing the edgiest Linkin Park t-shirt he could find at Goodwill, then asks, under his breath, to borrow your credit card to purchase something from "Steam" called "Sin". My ma had just started preaching at the local Presbyterian church and everyone knew it, so the look Anton's sister threw my way had me worried her eyes might pop out. Not sure why she agreed in the end, but thanks, Roxie. Only had dial-up internet at the time, so my parents paid for it next with a phone line that wouldn't put a call through for a day or two. And when I finally played Episode 1, the only episode ever released, I remember feeling like all the trouble was worth it. The novelty of a game floating somewhere in the ether that I could call mine and play from any computer was incredibly empowering. Bit of a shit game, but SiN Episode 1 got me hooked on Steam, and set me right in the path of innumerable indie games I would have missed otherwise. 

Phil Savage: Prey, the original one

I spent most of my 2000s dealing with a laptop that became too hot to handle after just 20 minutes of Command & Conquer: Generals. As such, the advent of Steam passed me by—if it wasn't a sedate isometric strategy game or RPG, I wasn't prepared to suffer the third-degree burns required to play it. In 2008, though, I got a real job and saved enough money to buy a desktop PC. I downloaded Steam, fully intending to finally play Half-Life 2. Instead, I ran face first into a Steam sale. Prey was on offer for about £3. I didn't know what it was, or if it was any good, but at that price how could I not immediately buy it?

It was good. Prey is far from amazing, but if you don't know any better—for instance if you hadn't played an FPS since Quake because your last decade had been spent ordering many sprites to gib many orcs in the various Infinity Engine RPGs—it looked spectacular. I also bought Audiosurf on the same day, because everyone bought Audiosurf in 2008.

Chris Livingston: Half-Life 2, probably

My Steam purchase history only goes back to 2007 for some reason, but I have to assume it was Half-Life 2. I remember staying up late to unlock it. It launched fine, and I remember seeing those Combine metrocops walking around on the menu screen. Instead of playing, though, I decided to change a couple graphics options, and then had to restart. And that's when Steam completely tanked. I couldn't get back in. I missed my window to play a game I'd been waiting years for, and after about three hours of not being able to connect, I just had to give up and go to sleep because I had work in the morning. I'm sure glad that 15 years later games no longer have launch day issues, huh? Huh?

The PC Gamer Club

We got a few answers from the Club Discord, so thanks all who responded. "I'm pretty sure my first digital game was Mass Effect 1 &2 in 2010 because I'm old and until that point I always got games from a store," says user IronGnomee. "A podcast I listened to at the time was always saying how amazing Commander Shepard was so I finally tried it out." 

"As far as I can remember, it would be The Orange Box," says user Buttface Jones in Discord. "I had played PC games before TOB, like Quake, Command and Conquer, and WoW but always from a disc. I bought TOB on Xbox and fell in love with TF2, despite how bad and limited the Xbox version was. I eventually got fed up and downloaded Steam specifically to play 'the real TF2'."

User Buttz says Garry's Mod on Steam. Imbaer adds, "Orange box in 2008 for me." Fellow user erdelf adds "Stargate Resistance honestly, before that I bought games in the store or played f2p online games." 

Let us know the first downloadable game you bought below!

Half-Life 2

Former Valve writer Marc Laidlaw outlined his ideas for the story of Half-Life 2: Episode 3 last August, a bizarre, bare-bones tale of a research vessel in the Antarctic that's phasing in and out of time and space. That led a team of die-hard fans to launch an effort to bring Laidlaw's vision to life in the form of Project Borealis, named after the ship at the center of Laidlaw's story. 

The team announced today that its first-draft take on Laidlaw's tale, which was at roughly the half-way point at the end of 2017, is now complete—and work has come along far enough that it has also released a short "in-engine" video showcasing weapons, movement, and flashlight animations. 

"The writing team has taken the plot points outlined in Marc Laidlaw’s Epistle 3 and fleshed out the details and gameplay elements into a full and engaging script," the Project Borelias team wrote. "Since finishing this first draft, the rest of the team have had the opportunity to give constructive feedback, and the writing team is now working on incorporating some of those suggestions into a second draft."

Gordon Freeman's animations are working well, on the same timing as in the original games but with "some subtle flair of our own." Early levels are on the process of being blocked out for preliminary testing, and "huge strides" are being made in the creation of new environmental assets. Work on rendering techniques, physics updates, a graphics settings menu, and a new sound system are also underway.

There's a bit of new concept art to look at too, including a few images of an updated Combine Elite helmet and Alyx in some winter duds.

It's still a very long way from complete (and you should probably temper any "play it soon" hopes you may be holding onto: If there's one thing we've learned over the years, it's that large scale fan projects are slow going) but with the project picking up speed, the mod team is also looking to fill some spots. If you have relevant experience and want to get involved, you can sign up for some action on the Project Borealis recruitment page

Half-Life 2

Oh, snap! It's yet another PCG Q&A, where every Saturday we ask the panel of PC Gamer writers a question about PC gaming. You're also very welcome to share your thoughts in the comments below. This week: which game actually lived up to the hype?

Jody Macgregor: The Witcher 3

I hated the first Witcher game, and although the second one's an improvement in a lot of ways I still thought most of it was dull—apart from the bit where you get drunk and wake up with a tattoo, obviously. So when glowing reviews came out for The Witcher 3 I ignored them. There was plenty of other stuff to play in 2015: Tales From the Borderlands, Rocket League, Life is Strange, Pillars of Eternity, Devil Daggers, Her Story. I was busy.

It took a solid year's worth of articles about how incredible every aspect of The Witcher 3 was, from the side quests to the potion-making to the characters to the wind in the goddamn trees, before I finally caved and tried it. Everyone was right, it's now on my "best games of all time" list, and I've become one of those people who says you should turn the music down so you can hear the wind in Velen. There's an entire subreddit devoted to whinging about games journalism's never-ending love affair with writing about The Witcher 3, but without that constant praise I wouldn't have pushed past my disinterest to give it the chance it deserved. And now I've become one of those people who won't shut up about The Witcher 3.

Samuel Roberts: Metal Gear Solid V

Not everyone will agree with this one, but I've lived through multiple Metal Gear hype cycles (MGS2 and MGS4 most memorably), and this is the one game that really deserved it. While this Metal Gear has the worst story in the series by far, it's also a superior stealth game. With its suite of upgrades and repeatable missions, I easily played MGSV for over 100 hours, and I have no doubt I'll reinstall it someday. 

Chris Livingston: Portal 2

I think the original Portal was a near-perfect experience. You learned to play as you played and each test chamber increased in complexity at a rate that was challenging but never frustrating. It was funny and surprising and satisfying, and short enough that it didn't have time to wear out its welcome. When trailers for Portal 2 began appearing, I was just as excited as anyone else, though I wasn't really expecting to love it in the same way. More complex, more characters, more story, more puzzles, more more more. I just couldn't imagine it matching the original, which proved (to me at least) that less is more.

It definitely lived up to the hype, though. Portal 2 is amazing, funny, challenging, surprising, and every bit as brilliant as the first. Maybe it's still true that less is more, but that doesn't mean more is less.

Jarred Walton: Half-Life 2

Piggybacking off Chris here, Half-Life 2 was an incredible follow-up to one of the best (if not the best) games of the '90s. The original Half-Life surprised the hell out of me with ways it changed the first-person shooter. After playing a ton of Quake and Quake 2, story seemed to be an afterthought, but Half-Life revolutionized the genre. Okay, the Xen levels at the end almost ruined it, but I still wanted more.

And then I waited, waited, and waited some more. Daikatana proved that games too long in development could suck, and HL2 felt like it might be doomed to the same fate. But with the addition of the gravity gun and physics, plus a great setting and story that made you care about the characters, it exceeded its source material in every way. I'm still holding out hope for HL3, naturally, but those are some massive shoes to fill.

Tom Senior: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

I was dangerously excited when a new Deus Ex was announced. I was hyped to the extent that it would have really stung if a new Deus Ex fell well short of expectations. Human Revolution had a few problems, but it was exactly the atmospheric cyberpunk playground I wanted and the art direction added a new dimension to the Deus Ex universe. Due to the technological limitations of the era the old Deus Ex games struggled to show art or architecture (apart from that silly Earth-in-a-giant-claw statue at the start). Human Revolution decided that everything would be gold, and full of triangles, and its depiction of futuristic augments was gorgeous. I would quite like a pair of Jensen arms.

Human Revolution really got Deus Ex. It had hacking, vents, and intricate levels. But it also had something else, something new: retractable arm-swords. Not many people would look at the groundbreaking masterpiece of Deus Ex and think 'this needs retractable arm-swords', but Eidos Montreal had the vision to make retractable arm-swords happen. I will always respect them for that. 

Andy Kelly: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

I remember the buzz around Vice City vividly. Every time I saw that stylish advert on TV, the one with 'I Ran' by Flock of Seagulls, I got a tingle of excitement. Magazines were full of gushing previews, treating every morsel of information like it was the biggest scoop since Watergate. And then when it came out, it was everything I dreamed it would be. A bigger, more detailed city. An incredible soundtrack. More fun and varied missions. A better story. An all-star cast. HELICOPTERS. Being able to fly around a city of that size back then was a genuine thrill.

GTA III was great, but it felt like an experiment in places; a concept for what a 3D Grand Theft Auto game could be. But Vice City was the first time Rockstar really nailed it, and laid a solid foundation for the 3D era of their world-conquering series. The '80s (or at least some exaggerated, romanticised version of it) has begun to saturate pop culture to an annoying degree lately, so I can't see Rockstar returning to that setting. It's too obvious. But I would like to see Vice City again in a different, more contemporary era, perhaps showing the bleak, faded aftermath of its hedonistic '80s heyday.

Andy Chalk: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

The first time I saw this teaser I made a noise like a ten-year-old opening the latest issue of Tiger Beat. Then I saw this teaser, and I pretty much hyperventilated and passed out. I knew in my heart that DX: Human Revolution couldn't be that good, because Deus Ex was lightning in a bottle: Ugly, clunky, with terrible voice acting and a ridiculous, incoherent story, all of which somehow got smushed together into basically the best game ever made. How do you fall down a flight of stairs and land in a bed of roses twice? 

But then Human Revolution came out, and it was that good. Not perfect, and I will never not be mad about those boss fights. But Adam Jensen is the perfect successor (predecessor, I suppose) to JC Denton, I loved the visual style (including the piss filter) and the music (because it's not Deus Ex without a great soundtrack), and the whole thing just felt right: Not as off-the-conspiracy-theory-hook as the original, but big and sprawling and unpredictable—a legitimate point of entry into that world. It took more than a decade to get from Deus Ex to Human Revolution, and it was worth the wait. 

Half-Life 2

Gabe Newell gives a presentation at Valve about upcoming card game Artifact.

At a presentation for upcoming Dota 2-themed card game Artifact at Valve's offices in Bellevue, Washington today, Gabe Newell reiterated that Valve is getting back into developing new games beyond its current roster of multiplayer titles. After talking about Valve's focus on Steam and hardware during the past several years, which he described as "an investment in the future", Newell said "Artifact is the first of several games that are going to be coming from us. So that's sort of good news. Hooray! Valve's going to start shipping games again."

That's games, plural: Artifact isn't the only game Valve is working on. In a January 2017 Reddit AMA, Newell did confirm that Valve was working on at least one fully-fledged singleplayer game. And the following month, in roundtable interviews with PC Gamer, Newell said that Valve was working on "three big VR games." Today's statement doesn't make it 100 percent clear whether Valve has projects in development beyond these previously mentioned games, but it is a possibility. "We aren't going to be talking about it today," Newell said, "but sort of the big thing, the new arrow we have in our quiver, really, is our ability to develop hardware and software simultaneously."

Newell gave some background on Valve's projects from the last few years, like SteamVR and the Vive headset, explaining that the company was worried about the PC heading in the direction of an iPhone-esque closed ecosystem. "You can see that Microsoft was like, wow, how can we make Windows more like that? Or Zuckerberg is saying, 'well I tried to compete in the phones, I got my ass kicked, so I'm going to create this new thing, VR, which will allow me to recreate the kind of closed, high margin ecosystem that Apple's done.' And that really started to worry us, because we thought that the strength of the PC is about its openness … So we started to make some investments to offset that."

"We've always been a little bit jealous of companies like Nintendo."

Gabe Newell

Those investments, Newell said, meant they hadn't released a new game since Dota 2—but that work wasn't wasted time. "The positive thing about the Vive is, in addition to making sure that nobody created an iOS closed platform for it, was also that it gave us the opportunity to develop our in-house expertise in hardware design. Five years ago, we didn't have electrical engineers and people who know how to do robots. Now there's pretty much no project in the hardware space that we wouldn't be comfortable taking on. We can design chips if we need to, we can do industrial design, and so on. So that added to that."

With Valve's new hardware chops, it seems like we can expect more than new games from the company. "We've always been a little bit jealous of companies like Nintendo," Newell said. "When Miyamoto is sitting down and thinking about the next version of Zelda or Mario, he's thinking what is the controller going to look like, what sort of graphics and other capabilities. He can introduce new capabilities like motion input because he controls both of those things. And he can make the hardware look as good as possible because he's designing the software at the same time that's really going to take advantage of it. So that is something we've been jealous of, and that's something that you'll see us taking advantage of subsequently."

Half-Life 2

A rustle. A breath. A bang. Everything about a good videogame sniper rifle is sexy, sleek, and dangerous, from the look of a long steel barrel to the echoing crack of gunfire heard for miles around. We love playing games with great sniper rifles not because of how they look or sound, though, but because of something much deeper and darker: we want to play god. The allure of the sniper rifle is the allure of the divine power to reach out—way, way out into the distance—and snuff out a life.

It’s twisted, but that really is the heart of it. For proof, compare the sniper rifle to its Big Boomstick cousin, the shotgun. Both are typically slow to shoot, but they hit hard when they do. Both are loud. Both make explosions of fire and gore.

But a sniper rifle is unusual because its entire purpose is to make a fight unfair. We want to see the enemy without being seen. We look our enemy in the face without being in danger. Invisibility, invulnerability, and instant kills: the sniper rifle is a cheat code with a trigger. This is what Zeus feels like when he throws thunderbolts.

Today we’re celebrating the sniper rifle by talking about how it changed games, and all those pieces that make it a great videogame weapon. It starts with distance.

How to make a great sniper rifle 

Counter-Strike's AWP locks down entire sections of a multiplayer level. The AWP s power isn t just in killing, but in threatening to kill.

Almost all of the godlike power of a really fun sniper rifle comes from its ability to shoot at long range, so let’s start there. A great sniper rifle has to have a scope that lets us see deep into the microscopic horizon.

The best recent example of this is PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, where your ability to see other players is your most useful skill. There’s something so disconcerting about running across an open field late in the game, looking around, and seeing no one. You know other players have to be close, but the hills seem quiet. This is where PUBG’s rare scopes come in. An 8x or, inshallah, the 15x scope brings you all of god’s many powers: eliminate a contender from the island in one shot before they know you can see them at all.

Counter-Strike’s AWP is a legend itself, and arguably it helped start the "all-powerful bolt-action sniper rifle" trope that we’re celebrating today. Counter-Strike is a game where split-second accuracy and twitch reflexes decide every battle, and using the AWP demands the patience of a tortoise and the reflexes of a hare. If you’re good at it, the AWP locks down entire sections of a multiplayer level. The AWP’s power isn’t just in killing, but in threatening to kill.

Giving players a better view from the inside of a multiplayer melee is one thing, but sniper rifles can do so, so much more than that. Games that focus on realistic simulation turn sniping into an advanced physics problem that only the best shooters can manage to solve under pressure. Throwing a tiny piece of metal at a target a mile or two away—so far that you have to account for the Earth moving as it rotates—only makes a great sniper shot feel more god-like.

Arma 3’s military sandbox is the best rifle simulation you can play today, and it only gets better with community-made mods that model everything from air pressure to wind speed. Making a shot at one or two miles away stops feeling like marksmanship and starts feeling like flying a spaceship to the moon: up a bit, left a bit, now turn this dial and flick this switch at the same time, and don’t forget to breathe. But only after you pull the trigger.

Arma 3 may have the most accurate long-range sniper shots, but the most famous must be from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s best level, "All Ghillied Up." Working your way through long-abandoned farmhouses in Chernobyl's radioactive exclusion zone, there aren't even animals around to break the silence. The tension grows as you sneak past soldiers and into town. When it's time to take the shot with your M82 sniper rifle, music stirs as we watch a little red flag dance around in changing wind, holding our breath and waiting for the perfect moment to throw the lightning.

Bring the noise

It’s obvious that a good sniper rifle has to be loud as all hell. I understand that there are some that prefer their sniper rifles to be utterly silent for stealth reasons, but these poor souls are mistaken. A sniper rifle has to sound like the Earth breaking because, again, a good sniper rifle is the fist of god.

When it comes to noise, nobody does it like the boxy brick of a rifle in HALO: Combat Evolved, a hideous piece of technology burdened with the equally hideous name SRS99C-S2AM. We’re not here for looks, though. The Halo rifle has a boom that rocks around any level followed by reverberating echoes. It’s the echoes that really get me. And it’s not just the loud noises: the SRS99C is a symphony of little beeps and whirs.

Even though the reloading sound is pretty good, it’s the only thing wrong with the SRS99C. Since it’s a semi-automatic rifle, it lacks the the iconic, metallic bolt-action clanks that come with the best sniper rifles. Racking the action on a bolt-action rifle sounds so good, that even in our ode to the greatness of shotguns, we had to admit that maybe, just maybe, bolt-action rifles sound even better.

The sound of thunder and clanking machinery is even more jarring, more fantastic, when it’s contrasted with total silence and tension. Once the silence is broken, it’s OK to chime in with a really good soundtrack, as seen in this great clip from Far Cry 2.

History lesson: the first sniper rifle 

A well-made sniper rifle is a smoothly oiled machine, a clap of thunder you can hold in your hands, and the fist of an angry god all rolled into one.

After celebrating all that makes a good sniper rifle "the cheat code of weapons," it might be obvious how difficult it is to build a game around a worthy sniper. Giving the player god-like powers makes it hard to design levels and enemies that challenge them—and of course, you can’t tone down the sniper rifle without ruining the whole damn thing.

But for a long time, difficulty balance wasn’t the thing that stopped videogames from featuring sniper rifles, it was technology. In the early years, one of the things that games couldn’t really do was distance; we had height and width, but no depth.

There were some strong attempts, though. In 1988, one of the first sniper rifles ever depicted in a game came from the French videogame Hostage: Rescue Mission. The game came out on platforms like the Apple II, the Commodore 64, and the Amiga. In the game, a police sniper sneaks around an embassy full of hostages to reach a vantage point, then uses a myopic little scope to scan the windows for bad guys.

But without 3D spaces, there couldn’t be any real distance. Though conventional wisdom claims that the first true sniper rifle in videogames was in Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64, the truth is actually much closer to PC gamers’ hearts. A full year earlier, in August 1996, Quake Team Fortress released as a mod for Quake. Included among the Soldier, Spy, and Engineer was the Sniper. Snipers came equipped with a "Sniper Rifle," a menace that could kill at distance with one shot—as long as the player was fast enough and had great eyesight.

In March 1997, LucasArts released Outlaws, a western-themed shooter that seems to be mostly forgotten today. Those of us who played it, though, saw something new. Attached to the standard lever-action Winchester rifle was a sniper scope that magnified objects in 3D. As far as I can find, this real-time 3D magnification had never been done before at the time. Outlaws did it five months before Goldeneye launched.

LucasArts was sort of a pioneer in gaming back then, but I still think it’s unlikely that Outlaws started a trend. It’s more likely that the time for the first-person sniper rifle had just arrived. In the next year alone, 1998, we saw zoomable, first-person sniper rifles pop up in Half-Life, SiN, Starseige: Tribes, and Delta Force. Multiplayer games in particular started to play on larger maps, and the sniper rifle quickly became a staple for long-range battles. In 2000, the original Counter-Strike launched the AWP, and Deus Ex brought sniper rifles into a free-form immersive sim setting.

By the time Operation Flashpoint (the pre-cursor to Arma) launched in 2001, Battlefield 1942 arrived in 2002, and Call of Duty released in 2003, the sniper rifle was an essential part of any videogame that included guns at all.

Lasers, etc.

Not all sniper rifles throw lead. Despite my grandstanding up in the "Bring the noise" section, a rifle that shoots lasers or—gasp—silently flings arrows can still be a lot of fun. The obvious example here is Half-Life 2’s incredible crossbow, a hideous sci-fi monster that nailes people to walls with superheated pieces of rebar.

The joys of Half-Life 2’s crossbow are numerous: the all-seeing perspective of a decent scope, the one-shot power of that glowing slab of iron pinning a Combine soldier’s body to the architecture.

Even the loud, bass-heavy thunk and twang of the crossbow, though obviously not as good as a huge boom, is really nice to listen to—and possibly even kind of musical? The best crossbow noise doesn’t come from the crossbow at all, but from the slightly muted, high-pitch whine of the "soldier down" Combine alarm heard from a long way off.

For laser-throwing sniper rifles, the powerful Darklance from XCOM 2 is one of our hands-down favorites. A shot of boiling, angry red death rays flying at aliens is, in general, pretty fun, but the Darklance has another edge. Unlike every other sniper rifle in the game, soldiers can fire and move in the same turn. If you do it right, a sniper armed with the Darklance can flit around the edges of a map, firing and moving, smiting and disappearing. Darklance might not give you the joy of a first-person perspective, but its power is no less biblical.

In conclusion

Videogame sniper rifles are rad. Though they can be monstrous in multiplayer games and their effects can be more pornographic than 10,000 dicks on parade, a well-made sniper rifle is a beautiful thing. It’s a smoothly oiled machine, a clap of thunder you can hold in your hands, and the fist of an angry god all rolled into one.

But for all its power, the reason the sniper remains so compelling is how well it's balanced out by its limitations, and all the tension they bring. Missing a shot can mean an eternal few seconds of reloading, standing naked in front of the world. That moment can give way to panic, and without a cool head, you're lost. So goes one of the greatest sniper shots ever captured on video.

There's one more tool in the sniper's belt, which forgoes range, its greatest asset, to make you feel somehow more omnipotent. If there's a more rewarding shot than the no-scope, an impossible doming that spits in the face of the sniper's intended balance, we don't know it. The no-scope defies nature and reason. It's the ultimate trump card. 

Using a sniper well is an instinctive skill or a physics problem or both, and great games use them to make you feel unstoppable. Long live the scope.

Half-Life 2

We may never see a third Half-Life game, but Half-Life 2 continues to thrive—not least by way of its ever-intriguing community and catalogue of player-made mods—despite its age. 

Gunship Mark II's work-in-progress Half-Life 2: MMod has been around for some time, however is now gearing up for release and has a new trailer. Let's check that out first:

Despite first announcing the mod back in 2014, the creator says real life distractions have since hindered their progress—before Mark Laidlaw's 'Epistle 3' bombshell kickstarted their interest. Learning of what could have been has now inspired the mod's third and final iteration, which is now due in 2018.

"Development of v3 started right after Epistle 3 from Marc Laidlaw. You can guess, I was devastated, as many of us were," says Gunship Mark II on the mod's ModDB page. "People were saying 'That's it, Half-Life is over, Half-Life is dead'. But then it struck me: 'Bullshit', I said, 'We'll show 'em how dead it is'. I got fresh Source 2013 code base set up, I've got my tools ready, I've got Visual Studio installed, and I've started porting features from older iterations of HL2MMod, while simultaneously enhancing them and cleaning up the code. 

"Some parts of the code were rewritten from scratch, some features are totally brand new, a lot of features were ported from City 17: Episode 1 mod, for which I am super grateful. I've made brand new particle effects for everything, I even did a couple of live streams to show some features off and to tell people that I am not dead."

Again, Half-Life 2: MMod is due at some stage next year. More can be read via the mod's ModDB page, and can be seen via the following GIFs:

Half-Life 2

This feature originally ran in issue 310 of PC Gamer UK. You can currently subscribe to both US and UK versions of the magazine for less than their usual price thanks to a holiday promotion.  

My name is Pritus Jenkins, Citizen #00670. I know this number by heart because in the last few hours I've had to recite it around five times. Such is life as a citizen in City 17, where the alien Combine which patrol the streets love nothing more than to stop and harass me. I'm playing on a multiplayer Garry's Mod server, roleplaying Half-Life 2. But the role I play isn’t that of a hero. I am no Gordon Freeman. I am Pritus Jenkins, a 55-year-old man with a limp. And I’m hungry.

If Half-Life 2’s roleplaying community were a food, it’d be the bland, mushy packet of rations I receive hourly from the dispensary located just off the central square of the dystopian city. This isn’t a place for grand adventures and bravery, but a community of hundreds dedicated to experiencing the hopeless oppression of a society crushed under authoritarian alien rule.

Half-Life 2 roleplayers are a hardcore bunch. Even the Combine soldiers, toting weapons and bureaucratic power, are hopelessly chained by their dedication to believable roleplay. When it’s my turn to receive my rations, which are handed out by Combine players every hour, I’m asked to 'apply'—to state my name and Citizen ID. The Combine soldier uses emotes to inform me that they're looking up my file in the tablet they’re holding. I stand there, silent, for an uncomfortably long number of seconds. Then the Combine soldier turns around, grabs a unit of rations, and shoves them into my character's hands. That player will do this countless times as other citizens, like me, stop by to get their food.

As I walk around and explore the ruined alleys and dilapidated streets of this City 17 district, I can see the other citizens looking at me. Some talk amongst one another in whispers, while others lean against walls using in-game emotes to smoke imaginary cigarettes. It's an almost perfect recreation of the mood of Half-Life 2's opening hour, only with real players instead of computer actors playing out the mundane minutes of their pointless lives.

After a few minutes, one player approaches me but just as he's about to say something, a Combine soldier comes around the corner. He turns away. When the Combine soldier passes, the man immediately turns back and heads back my way.

"Ugly," he says.

"What did you just call me?" I type back. There is no voice chat, so every exchange is written in a text box on the lower left of my screen.

The man turns and walks away. Hesitant about what I should do, I decide to pursue him at a distance. I don't know these streets, I don't know these people. But maybe if I follow this man to his destination, he'll do something suspicious and I can report him to a Combine soldier and get him arrested.

After a few minutes of stalking him, the man stands before a locked gate. I crouch behind a piece of corrugated steel, watching and hoping he'll do something dumb.

"Citizen, apply!"

I turn around to find a Combine soldier right behind me. Without complaint, I tell him my name and Citizen ID.

"Face the wall," the soldier commands, and I wonder if the few minutes I spent on this server are about to come to a depressing end. "What were you doing?"

"N-nothing, sir," I say. "I thought I dropped something."

Without another question, the Combine places a zip tie around my hands, binding them so that I can't attack him—not that I'd be able put up a fight anyway. Out of the corner of my eye I see the citizen I was following scoff at me.

"I've been watching you for a while," the Combine soldier tells me. "You’re acting pretty suspicious. I'm going to take you in for questioning. Follow me."

Not sure what to do—or even what I could do—I turn around and begin to follow the soldier.

"Ugly."

I turn around and see the other citizen staring at me. His character wears a blank expression, but there's a smugness about it too. I've been roleplaying in Garry's Mod for maybe 20 minutes now, and already I've come face to face with the cruelty of its world. Somewhere, far from here, Gordon Freeman and the Resistance might be fighting to liberate the people of City 17, I imagine. But as the Combine soldier leads me to the ebony black doors of the Combine headquarters in this area, I fear I won’t be one of them. 

Half-Life 2

The images in this piece were originally posted on Valve Time. We reported on them earlier this year.

Junction Point Studios is best known for developing the Wii-exclusive action adventure Epic Mickey. But this wasn’t the first project for the studio founded by Warren Spector after his departure from Ion Storm Austin. Somewhere between the end of 2005 and mid-2007, Junction Point studios worked on an additional Episode for Half-Life 2 that was ultimately cancelled by Valve.

In the interceding years, only a handful of details about the Episode have emerged. The Episode would have introduced a new weapon called the 'magnet gun', although it was never explained how the gun worked. In addition, earlier this year, purported images of the project leaked online, depicting what appeared to be the zombie-infested town of Ravenholm carpeted in snow. But whether these environments formed part of Junction Point’s final vision for the project, or to what extent Ravenholm would have appeared in the Episode, was never determined.

Now, though, PC Gamer can confirm that not only was Ravenholm to feature in Junction Point’s Episode, but it was to be the focus of the entire game. "We wanted to tell the story of how Ravenholm became what it was in the Half-Life universe. That seemed like an underdeveloped story that fans would really enjoy," says Warren Spector. "In addition to fleshing out the story of Ravenholm, we wanted to see more of Father Grigori and see how he came to be the character he later became in Half-Life 2."

Part of the reason little has been revealed about the project is because Spector’s memory of that time is hazy at best. Aside from that Father Grigori would have featured prominently, Spector remembers little else about how the story would have unfolded. When the images of the Episode were placed online, the map’s content suggested two characters named Duncan and Scooter would accompany the player, but Spector cannot recall them. Indeed, he isn’t even sure whether the player would have assumed the role of Gordon Freeman or played a different character.

The magnet gun was Junction Point s twist on the gravity gun idea from the original Half-Life 2. Instead of drawing objects into the player s grasp, it would attract metal objects to a remote location...

What Spector can recall, and in considerable detail, is the magnet gun, and how it would have functioned. "If I remember correctly, it was team lead Matt Baer who came up with the idea for the magnet gun," he says. "It went through several iterations, but the one I remember was one where you’d fire a sticky magnetic ball at a surface and anything made of metal would be forcefully attracted to it."

The magnet gun was Junction Point’s twist on the gravity gun idea from the original Half-Life 2. Instead of drawing objects into the player’s grasp, it would attract metal objects to a remote location designated by the player via firing the magnetic balls at a surface. Spector cites several colourful examples of how this could have been used.

"You could fire it at a wall across an alley from a heavy metal dumpster and wham! The dumpster would fly across the alley and slam into the wall. You can imagine the effect on anything approaching you in the alley – either squashed or blocked. Or you could be fighting two robots and hit one with a magnet ball and they’d slam together making movement or combat impossible for them. Or you could be trying to get across a high-up open space with an I-beam hanging from a cable in the middle. Stand on the I-beam, fire a magnet ball at the far wall, the beam swings across the gap, walk off it, done."

Although Half-Life has always been a linear shooter, Half-Life 2's Episode Two expansion experimented with a slightly more open-ended structure, especially toward its conclusion. Meanwhile, Spector’s own games have always been geared toward letting the player explore and interact with the environment in numerous ways. Would we have seen an open world version of Ravenholm in Junction Point’s Episode? Spector says no. Well, mostly no. “We would have followed the Half-Life pattern. Half-Life players had expectations and thwarting them would have been crazy. Having said that, introducing the magnet gun would inevitably have opened up new gameplay possibilities players would likely have exploited in unpredictable ways," he says.

This was Junction Point’s rough design pitch for its Half-Life 2 Episode. But how much had Junction Point put into production at the point of cancellation? Spector says it had "put in a solid year" of work into development and had a "small area that demonstrated how the game would look when we were done" in place, alongside a "vertical slice" that showed the magnet gun in action.

Spector doesn’t know why Valve decided to ultimately cancel the project. But he describes the news as "frustrating". "We had just figured out how to really use the Source engine, how to get the most out of it and we had just started building what I thought was amazing stuff. And that’s when Valve pulled the plug," he explains. 

"To this day, I don’t really know why [Valve] decided not to move ahead with the Episode, but they did and, frankly, that worked out okay. If they hadn’t we might not have been available to work on Epic Mickey for Disney," he concludes. "Everything happens for a reason, I guess."

Half-Life 2

Image credit: Getty Images

Robert Guillaume, the American actor who voiced Half-Life 2's Eli Vance, has died of cancer, aged 89-years-old.  

Guillaume was known outside of videogames for voicing Rafiki in Disney's The Lion King, playing Dr Bennet in 2003's Ewan McGregor-starring Big Fish, and as Benson DuBois in the popular sitcom Soap. 

The latter performance netted him an Emmy for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series in 1979. In 1985, the same role saw him become the first black actor to win an outstanding lead actor award. 

Actors, celebrities and personalities have taken to social media to pay tribute to the esteemed actor, such as this from Soap co-star Billy Crystal:

And this from Valve writer Marc Laidlaw:

According to the BBC, Guillaume is survived by his second wife, a son and three daughters.

Half-Life 2

A Half-Life 2 mod released this week adds locations, characters and story beats that Valve cut from the original game. Dark Interval takes all the tidbits of information we know about drafts of the genre-defining FPS and stitches them together into a standalone game. 

This week's release is just part one of the overall project, containing 11 levels in total including a revamped prologue, a reworked Kleiner's Lab section and a new locale called Manhack Arcade, where the player sees citizens of City 17 remotely piloting Manhacks (those annoying flying robots with twirling blades) to kill fugitives in the city.

The development team have filled in some of the gaps too, adding their own original work. "Dark Interval doesn't include original levels found in the 'leaked' version of Half-Life 2, and instead features brand new maps which were built from the ground up. It was decided that this was the only way to make them both stand out and be actually modern and not just modernised fix-ups," the creators said.

You don't need a copy of Half-Life 2 or any of its episodes to play Dark Interval, but you will need to download Source SDK Base 2013 Singleplayer, which is readily available in the 'Tools' section of Steam. Dark Interval can be downloaded here—that page has all the instructions you'll need to get it running. 

Here's some more screenshots from the mod:

Cheers, DSO Gaming.

...

Search news
Archive
2018
Sep   Aug   Jul   Jun   May   Apr  
Mar   Feb   Jan  
Archives By Year
2018   2017   2016   2015   2014  
2013   2012   2011   2010   2009  
2008   2007   2006   2005   2004  
2003   2002