The Infinite Zenith

Victory costs. Every time, you pay a little more.

Notable Games

A good game is one that is well-polished, easy to learn and has replay value. Much of my gaming occurs within the window offered by summer and winter break, where I actually have time to sit down and immerse myself in a virtual world. As I am generally busy during the academic year, I prefer playing time consuming games like MMORPGs and Simulation games only if time is available. However, if I do have a moment during the academic year, I will hop in to an online multiplayer FPS match. This is partially one of the reasons why I enjoy FPS games- they are designed such that I can choose a game, hop in and join the festivities without much thought, and act as incredible stress-relief mechanisms. I often find that during periods with numerous assignment and paper deadlines, my performance in a game will increase dramatically. The rush of success then relieves stress, allowing me to focus on my assignments. 

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007 NightFire

James Bond 007 Nightfire is a first-person shooter video game that is based on Ian Fleming's British secret agent James Bond, of the secret British intelligence agency, MI6. This marked Pierce Brosnan's fourth appearance as James Bond before the release of his fourth and final Bond film Die Another Day, however, in the video game, his likeness was featured.  007: Nightfire was developed for the PlayStation 2, Nintendo GameCube, and Xbox video game consoles. A PC version would later be released, but this version would feature different elements compared to the console versions.

Personal Opinion

The story of 007 Nightfire is excellent, and integrated into the game exceedingly well. Unlike some games that are all about shooting, Nightfire is built around the story, being praised as one of the better 007 shooters (if not the best since 007 GoldenEye). The gameplay itself is very user friendly, the graphics are fairly nice, and the weapons are realistic. Conforming with 007 titles, Nightfire has plently of gagets, all of which have a useful function. In addition, you get to drive in a few levels. With all these aspects in consideration,  there is definetely replay value.

  • For a game of its era, 007 Nightfire had superb graphics; in the winter cold, you can watch as the guards' breaths leave vapor clouds or interact with some of the guests at the party and note the realistic facial expressions they display. The castle is well designed, having warm lighting and props that give impression of an aristocratic mansion.

  • As with its predecessors, 007 Nightfire relies on the health and body armour system to gauge how much damage the player could take. Picking up body armour overlays a fair amount of defense over your health, making it an invaluable asset. Health is not regenerating, so players who complete missions with more health obtain better score bonuses, which are used to unlock bonuses like additional multiplayer characters and improved weapons.
 
  • Stealth missions are the best examples of how 007 would normally operate, requiring the player to sneak into a secure office building, retrieve crucial data files and get out.

  • Nightfire featured a good range of weapons, ranging from assault rifles to shotguns. The AIMS-20 (Advanced Individual Munitions System) is based off the weapons developed from the OICW program. It is a powerful assault rifle with a 6 round grenade launcher and an infrared scope. While you can only carry 120 rounds (30 chambered and 90 in reserve), ammunition is extremely common. Use the grenades to defeat the assassins you face in the blast pits, and be sure to enter a blast-proof room before each shuttle launches. You will also pick up the Phoenix Laser Rifle from Rook. He is quite easy to beat; just pound him with grenades from the AIMS-20.

  • One of the things that impressed me most about Nightfire were the diverse range of locations the missions were set in, ranging from a Japanese mansion to the reaches of outer space. The Phoenix Laser Rifle is the most amusing weapon to use throughout Countdown, once you pick it up from Rook. While the AIM-20 is the most effective weapon throughout countdown, the laser has unlimited ammunition, being limited by a cooldown after a few shots. On Equinox, it's the onlyweapon you get. the best tip is to focus on the missile couplings: should a missile launch, it'll be game over. 

Black Mesa

Black Mesa (previously known as Black Mesa: Source) is a third-party total conversion modification for Valve Corporation's Source engine. The stated goal of the project is to recreate Valve's critically acclaimed 1998 video game Half-Life using the more advanced capabilities of the Source engine. Black Mesa is a first-person shooter that requires the player to perform combat tasks and puzzle solving to advance through the game, and has a story that is almost identical to that of Half-Life.

Personal Opinion

Black Mesa began development back in 2004 as a mod, and although it was highly anticipated by the community, the eight years it spent in this development stage meant that many people began to forget about it, at least until they released a statement saying the game was going to be released on September 17, 2012 at 0821 MDT. I myself had only heard of the mod a few days prior to the release date, and resolved to obtain a copy of the game (which is free) to experience Half Life. I have played through all of Half Life 2, Episode One and Episode Two, but never had the opportunity to play the original: my only exposure to Half Life was through Freeman's Mind, which was a machinema video which parodied some of the aspects in the original. The original Half Life was released in 1997, and a Valve-made update, called Half Life: Source, was released in 2004. However, Half-Life: Source did not add any new content, instead providing improved dynamic lightmaps, vertex maps, ragdolls, and a shadowmap system with cleaner, higher resolution, specular texture and normal maps, as well as utilisation of the render-to-texture soft shadows found in Half-Life 2's Source engine. While impressive, these improvements pale in comparison to what the Black Mesa team designed: the mod breathes into Half Life brand new graphics that rival those of Half Life 2, and reworks some aspects of the original game. The end result is a game that is distinct from the original, while simultaneously being familiar enough for it to be an update to a classic. Half Life was a revolutionary shooter when it came out, and Black Mesa successfully carries all of these strengths over while giving the game a more modern feel. It could be said that Black Mesa is to Half Life: Source, similar to how Halo Anniversary is to Halo Combat Evolved. In both cases, we have remakes of a classic game that add revamped graphics and sound, bringing the best of FPS into a world with sharper, better-polished graphics.

  • The Glock 17C makes a return with revitalised sound effects and simply sounds amazing. It is the first firearm the player acquires, and is the only weapon available for the first few levels. Much as it was in the original, the player must fight classic Half Life enemies, and here, I fondly remember a scene from Freeman's Mind, where Gordon contemplates the issues surrounding some of the unusual architectural elements found at Black Mesa, such as the presence of a ladder in an elevator shaft that is used to fix a broken elevator but can only be reached using said elevator.

 

  • Most of the story is retained from the original story, although some parts are lengthened, and others are shortened. Here, I found myself at the dam, where the HECU soldiers deploy a chopper to try and take down Gordon. After the resonance cascade, Aliens from another dimension known as Xen subsequently enter the facility through these dimensional seams (an event known as the "Black Mesa incident"). Gordon soon finds himself in combat with both the the hostile aliens and the Hazardous Environment Combat Unit, a United States Marine Corps Special Operations division dispatched to cover up the incident.

  • Contrasting Half Life 2, ammunition for the magnum is slightly more common, and the mod adds a the ability to use the magnum's iron sights. In practise, the iron sights actually block off some of the screen, making it difficult to aim properly. The revitalised graphics are apparent almost everywhere in the game, making the experience fully refreshed, as evidenced here by the cool lasers. The gauss gun is incredibly fun to use and will destroy anything it hits, but ammunition for it is crazy scarce.

  • The MP5 is one of my favourite weapons in Black Mesa; fulfilling the role of a general purpose weapon, ammunition for it is fairly common and it is quite accurate at medium ranges despite being capable of fully automatic fire. The under-barrel grenade launcher is something I hardly ever use, given that grenades for it are so scarce. However, as an explosive weapon, it is capable of reducing enemy HECU soldiers into chunks of meat. The more powerful weapons can literally (and grotesquely) blow the enemy's brains and eyes out, or outright vapourise them.

 

  • The game is still incomplete at the time of writing, ending at the chapter Lambda Core with Gordon's teleportation to Xen. I have no idea when the rest of the game will be released, but I nonetheless find that this mod is probably the single best mod I've ever played, allowing me to experience the most famous aspects of the original Half Life game in refreshed graphics and sounds. I found myself recollecting various lines from Freeman's Mind earlier in the game: some of the more memorable moments have remained with me since I began following the series back in 2009.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is a first-person shooter video game developed by the Swedish firm EA Digital Illusions CE. Within the campaign, the player reassumes the role of Preston Marlowe, as his squad attempts to thwart a plot by rogue Russian forces to detonate a scalar weapon over North America. Multipayer is based around four classes, each possessing a variety of unique weapons and pieces of equipment, and serves a specific role in combat. Bad Company 2 heavily emphasizes destructible environments. Large sections of most buildings can be destroyed by explosives; some walls and fences break down under barrages of bullets. The game's physics engine realistically simulates the destruction.

Personal Opinion

The multiplayer of Bad Company 2 is likely what most people play the game for; there are more guns and options in multiplayer, although I personally enjoyed the campaign more. The story present in the campaign is a simple one and is fairly easy to follow: the objectives this time are to learn more about the mysterious "Scalar Weapon" and its whereabouts. The quest to retrieve it takes the player across the jungles and mountains of South America. In both the campaign and multiplayer, the guns are remarkably satisfying to fire, and the surroundings are beautifully rendered. This game was a superb experience for me, especially in the campaign, where I was treated to a storyline with suspense, comedy and of course, a lot of gunfire. Patient players will hear Marlowe's squad-mates discuss morality and religion at times, while at other times, make comments on popular movies. These conversations are interesting to listen to, and continue until the player fires the first shot at some NPC.

  • The XM8 rifle is the default starting rifle, having good-all-around performance. The inclusion of a scope and grenade launcher make it one of the most versatile weapons in the game, to the point where it is possible to finish the entire campaign using this rifle in conjunction with an RPG or sniper rifle when the situation demands it. 

  • The graphics in Bad Company 2 are impressive: this feels like an actual jungle. I am wielding the Type-88 rifle here, one of two sniper rifles usable in the campaign. The other rifle is the M95, which is more powerful than the Type-88 (body shots are a one hit kill), but is slower to fire (although it has a cool chambering animation) and has a smaller magazine size. For most purposes, the Type-88 is superior, having a faster rate of fire and bigger magazine. I refer to the Type-88 as the "Slenderman rifle"; my first experience with it was at a friend's place, where I played "Upriver" to try the game out before he introduced me to Marble Hornets. I felt that Jay would have had an easier time surviving those entries where he was exploring the abandoned house, industrial area and wooded areas, given that the design of this rifle, with its range and magazine size, would be ideal for defending himself against Slenderman.

  • "Crack the Sky" is one of my favourite levels in the game: you start by ripping apart ground forces using a minigun to clear out a LZ, then sprint up a snowy mountain to get to a command centre at the top. The radar dishes on the landscape are an added bonus. On your mini-map, the cartridge symbols refer to ammo resupplies. Feel free to fire liberally when these are around, because they will replenish all of your ammunition.

  • Shotguns in Bad Company 2 are useful at flushing enemies out at medium range and are essentially one-hit-kills at close range. In the level "Cold War", you are pursued by a military chopper. It looks fairly well-armed, although you can down it with a variety of weapons. Rifle grenades are the most effective; here I was trying a shotgun for the sake of amusement.

  • The later stages of the game involve Marlowe and his squad actively chasing down Kirilenko through an abandoned city to prevent him from firing the scalar weapon. The Scalar Weapon has one of the most intimidating warm-up sounds prior to firing. The sound is heard for the first time in "Operation Aurora" as you find your way off the island, acting as somewhat of a warning to evacuate the island quickly.

Battlefield 3

Battlefield 3 (commonly abbreviated BF3) is a first-person shooter video game developed by EA Digital Illusions CE and published by Electronic Arts. A direct sequel to Battlefield 2, the campaign allows players to take on the personas of several military roles; a Force Recon Marine, an F/A-18 weapons system officer, an M1A2 Abrams tank operator, and a GRU Spetsnaz operative. The campaign takes place at various locations, from Iran to New York, and follows the story of Sergeant Henry Blackburn and later, Dimitri Mayakovsky, as they try to recover nuclear devices stolen by hostile factions.

Personal Opinion

I typically play FPS to shoot awesome guns, and as a result, I do not regard the campaign of Battlefield 3 with the same outlooks as most players would. In fact, the presence of awesome guns, paired with a game that pushed the limits of graphics processing when it was first released, makes Battlefield 3 worthwhile. Similar to Bad Company 2, Battlefield 3 has a superlative multiplayer that is set on large maps accommodating up to 64 players and an oft-forgotten campaign. Immersive and engaging, the multiplayer engages players, allowing competing against others on large, open maps, where small arms and aircraft are both fair game. The campaign is decidedly the weakest element in the game in terms of story, being set up as a traditional "the bad guys have our nukes and we must recover them" type story. Thus, most players would buy Battlefield 3 for the multiplayer alone and pass on the campaign, although I contend that the campaign itself is a more relaxed alternative to the rush of multiplayer and thus, is suited for evenings where one would rather casually play through a familiar story rather than engage in a more exciting battle against other people. Featuring highly detailed sequences and visuals that look spectacular on a big screen, such as the HALO jump in the mission "Kaffrov", Battlefield 3 is at heart a shooter featuring awesome graphics and of course, cool guns.


  • Multiplayer is too harrowing a time to get screenshots, so campaign ones will have to do. While some have noted that the use of antitank munitions on a single sniper is a waste of explosives, this is in fact, how concealed snipers are engaged. The campaign feels very linear, with players being asked to do very specific things before the level moves onwards, offering something a little more relaxed for those who desire a break from the high-paced, exciting world of Battlefield 3 multiplayer.

  • The locations in the game are remarkably detailed: graphics are the single strongest element in Battlefield 3, featuring an HDR environment with a vividness that makes it more colourful than real life As such, the UI has to have its contrast boosted to be visible, accounting for the cool blue-white design that makes it highly visible that accentuates the next-generation feel of the game.

  • The F/A-18 mission showcases some of the advances in graphical technology best, whether it is the water on the deck of the aircraft carrier or the scratches on the fighter's canopy and feels like a real F/A-18 launch sequence. Unfortunately, players are the gunner, rather than the pilot here, precluding the possibility of flying a plane in the campaign.

  • The missions undertaken by the GRU are presented in reverse chronological order, but are more fun than Black and company's missions. Rather than the Middle East, Dima and company's missions are set in Paris and a coastal villa.

  • Mission 11, Kaffrov, is my personal favourite in the game. Opening with a spectacular HALO Jump by evening near the Caspian Sea, Dima and company must fight there way to Kaffrov's Villa and prevent him from escaping. The villa itself is opulent, featuring modern architectural elements, although the presence of numerous cardboard boxes suggests that Kaffrov was preparing to vacate it. Whether it be the kitchen or sitting rooms, the design of the villa may compel the odd player to wish that there was no firefight such that they may have gone exploring.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is a 2007 first-person shooter video game, developed by Infinity Ward and published by Activision. The story takes place in the year 2011, where a radical leader has executed the president of an unnamed country in the Middle East, and an "Ultranationalist" movement starts a civil war in Russia. The conflicts are seen from the perspectives of a U.S. Force Reconnaissance Marine and a British SAS commando, and are set in multiple locations, including the UK, the Middle East, Azerbaijan, Russia, and Ukraine.

Personal Opinion

Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare delivers exactly what its name suggests: the campaign is set in the modern era, contrasting the World War II settings of its predecessors. Similar to Battlefield Bad Company 2, Modern Warfare is a squad-based shooter, relying on squadmates to assist the player with objectives, whether they be providing covering fire or breaching doorways. As far as storyline goes, the plot is a classical plot about radicals in control of stolen nuclear weapons. Thus, it's the heroes' job to stop them before they succeed in whatever plans they have. While it's not particularly innovative, it does form a good motivation for the events that occur in-game and permits for one additional bonus: squad interactions give the game a new layer of immersiveness, giving the feel of a sense of unity found between members of their squads, whether it be Soap and the SAS or the American SEAL teams. This element sharply contrasts other shooters; by giving useful squad members, players feel like they are genuinely part of a team instead of being a cool, but ultimately isolated, one-man army.

  • The M4A1 Carbine SOPMOD is one of the most common of the starting weapons, alongside the .45 USP and the M21 sniper rifle. One of the more curious but enjoyable elements to Modern Warfare is the fact that bullets can penetrate soft cover like wood and drywall, allowing enemies behind cover to be neutralised if one knows where to look. 

 

  • Stealth elements are found in some missions, where it becomes prudent to avoid superior enemy numbers or firepower. Typically, it's much easier to avoid confrontation with enemy air or armour:  carelessly alerting the enemy will result in a one-sided firefight that results in death. In other shooters, it's possible to achieve victory by force of arms alone, but in Modern Warfare, this does not hold true. The only time it is permissible to engage enemy armour and air is with dedicated weapons, and even then, it takes a steady aim to neutralise them.

 

  • A great deal of equipment is given to the player, alongside additional flash-bang and fragmentation grenades. All of the equipment has different uses, and generally proves to be a useful addition to helping progress through a mission. For instance, one can call in helicopter gunship strikes to soften up enemy positions, reducing the amount of ammunition one spends, or else use the M203 grenade launcher to engage groups of enemies and light vehicles. Flash bang grenades prove most useful for stunning crowds of enemies, giving a small window in which to neutralise them. As for sniper rifles, when zoomed in with the scope, one can hold down the shift key to steady their aim for a short period of time.

 

  • Light machine guns, such as the M249 SAW, provide a great deal of firepower at medium ranges and allow for numerous targets to be engaged. While offering high rates of fire and good stopping power, they have long reload times and become difficult to aim if fired continuously. Another aspect that makes Modern Warfare enjoyable is the diversity and detail in the settings:fighting one's way through the Russian countryside to complete objectives is particularly enjoyable.

 

  • In 2007, Modern Warfare was praised as a highly realistic first person shooter and inspired numerous successors. GamePro cited that "the intense single-player campaign offers up an action packed experience that features a tremendously compelling narrative; there are moments in the game that will send chills down your spine", while IGN noted that the game was very linear, especially with respect to the fact that many events were scripted to be event-triggered. That said, the linear element contributes to the game's quality, resulting in "a much richer, more focused experience" with "beautifully scripted set pieces". Despite what detractors say, Modern Warfare is an incredible and immersive experience, arising from attention to detail with respect to both the setting and the gameplay.

Half Life 2: Lost Coast

Introduction 

Half-Life 2: Lost Coast is a small additional level for the 2004 first-person shooter video game Half-Life 2. Lost Coast serves as a technology demonstration, specifically showcasing the high dynamic range rendering implemented in the Source engine. The level was designed with a variety of appropriate environments to emphasize these effects. In addition, Lost Coast was the first video game developed by Valve to allow developers to explain various elements of design by following Half-Life protagonist Gordon Freeman as he travels up a coastal cliff to destroy a Combine artillery launcher in a monastery, which is firing on a nearby town.

Personal Opinion

Lost Coast is essentially a short level that occurs concurrently with the events of Half Life 2. As a free download to anyone with an ATI or NVIDIA video card, I suggest pairing this with Team Fortress 2 as the stepping stones into the Steam community. The gameplay itself is identical to that of Half Life 2; you are equipped with several memorable weapons from Half Life 2, and pick up the rest of them later from the combine. The mission is short but entertaining; the vertical environments meant that I was forced to look for Combine units both above and below me while trying to stay on the narrow cliff ledge, contrasting previous games where I could simply run past groups of enemies. All of the weapons in Half Life 2 (minus the bug bait) make an appearance, so if you feel up for the challenge, try completing the level with different weapon choices. The main feature of Lost Coast lies in the graphics, which are rendered with HDR to boost the sense of realism in the environment. In particular, the water and the sun's interaction with water reflections look beautiful. Light also diffuses differently through the glass windows of the monastery. These extra effects make the game highly satisfying to play, and I would like to emphasize again that it is free to anyone with an ATI or NVIDIA video card.

 

  • Bodies of water look absolutely beautiful: with HDR lighting, the diffusion and reflection of light in both the sky and water take on a photorealistic feel. Lighting is the highlight of this short demo, so after clearing out a region of Combine soldiers, do take the time to look around and admire how nice everything looks. With respect to your starting load-out, you have a crowbar, the gravity gun, pistol, magnum and crossbow. The magnum will be quite useful during the ascension on the cliff; as it has good stopping power and a high range, it can be used as a sniper. Use your suit's zoom to take aim, and then fire.

  

  • The fisherman drops a spear when he unlocks the gate for you. You can conserve a small amount of ammo by picking up the spear and then firing it at the first group of Combine you see. You will have to be precise, but if the spear connects, it's basically a one hit kill.

 

  • St. Olga is the town in the distance, complete with a small port. I was highly impressed with how everything looks: in a brief calm before the combat, I used the crossbow to look more closely at the town. In actual combat, the crossbow is a sniping weapon, but because the bolt takes a moment to reach its target (thus making it a challenge to lead your shots), it is more useful for single, stationary opponents.

 

  • When you arrive at the top, the monastery not unlike the architecture found in Seize greets you. The decision to go with an Eastern Orthodox style was a result of such environments allowing the developers to showcase more of their HDR, as these locales have more colour and lighting contrasts. The place is deserted when you arrive, but it is not too challenging to imagine Kanata stumbling across the Festival of Water.

 

  • The interior of the monastery was designed based on a Byzantine church, and as such, is very colourfully designed. The lighting effects give the sense that it is very dusty inside, bearing testament to both how powerful light is as a tool for invoking an environment's atmosphere and the contrast between human and Combine designs. Once you stop the artillery piece, Combine soldiers will flood the place. The shotgun proves to be effective here, although as Combine soldiers are all that you face, the secondary fire (while amusing) won't be required.

Portal

Portal is a first-person puzzle-platform video game developed by Valve Corporation. The game primarily comprises a series of puzzles that must be solved by teleporting the player's character and simple objects using "the handheld portal device", a device that can create inter-spatial portals between two flat planes. The player-character, Chell, is challenged by an artificial intelligence named GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System) to complete each puzzle in the Aperture Science Enrichment Center using the portal gun with the promise of receiving cake when all the puzzles are completed.

Personal Opinion

I picked up Portal as a part of a free promotional offer that was made in October 2011 during the Thanksgiving Long Weekend, and beat about half the game before I had turned my attention back to my coursework. I subsequently beat the rest of the game during my winter break. Portal was released back in 2007 and represented a revolutionary first-person puzzle game powered by the legendary Source engine. As such, Portal behaved very much like Half Life 2 in terms of UI. However, this is where the differences end: as a puzzle game, Portal encourages creative thinking to complete a course, requiring players place portals in the correct spots to reach certain locations and retrieve items to activate gates and switches, allowing them to access the next level. The early test chambers start out trivially easy, but eventually reach a point where neural power is required to solve them. Throughout the game, recurring elements of physics, such as terminal velocity and momentum, come greatly into play. A player can reach distant locations by using acceleration due to gravity to reach a higher speed and then create a portal along the horizontal to use this speed to pass over a pit. As the player progresses through the various puzzles, it becomes apparent that there is really no cake, and that GLaDOS is intent on killing Chell. The story elements give Portal an added element of depth, and combined with the refreshing take on first-person games, Portal is definitely worth checking out. There are no excuses, especially not in this age, when even introductory machines made for basic web browsing and word processing can run Portal.

  • Portals can be placed virtually anywhere where the walls are coated in a special material making them conductive to portals. Initially, the test chambers are entirely constructed of these special walls, but as the game advances, fewer surfaces are available for portals, requiring players make creative use of physics to overcome certain challenges. All of the test chambers early on are gate-activated: once a weighted cube is placed on a switch, access to the next level is granted.

  • The Weighted Companion Cube is identical to the regular Weighted Storage Cube, except that it has a heart where the Aperture Science logo would be.  Both are used for solving cube-and-button based puzzles in the various Test Chambers found throughout the Enrichment Centre, where they are to be placed on a Super Button to allow Test Subjects to advance. Narrative provided by GLaDOS and Doug Rattmann suggests that the Companion Cube is designed to test emotional stress by having subjects develop affection for it before being forced to destroy it. While it's hard to actually develop an emotional attachment to a virtual inanimate object, the cube is incredibly useful; some test chambers become unsolvable if a player discards it early on.

  • The energy cores found bouncing around in some areas are...that's right, the very same energy cores found in Half-Life 2. They must be redirected into special ports to activate certain elements in a test chamber. As they are derived from the energy cores in Half-Life 2, they have virtually the same function and will kill a player instantly. Those red lasers are range-finding beams from automated sentry guns, which will automatically track and target Chell. Chell can take a few bursts without any lasting damage, but sustained fire will end Chell's career. Their fire can be stopped slightly by the ever-so-useful weighted storage cubes.

  • After GLaDOS tries to send Chell down an incinerator, the second half of the campaign is to make one's way to GLaDOS' core. The clean interior of Aperture Sciences is broken up with the more unkempt, utilitarian passageways and mechanical systems lining the facility's interior. Drawings on the wall indicate that a previous test subject once walked the same path and realised the truth: that the cake was a lie.

  • The sky bridge to GLaDOS' core suggests that Aperture Science is located in a massive underground facility. The fight with GLaDOS is a fairly straightforward one: her taunts will provide all the instructions a player will need to defeat her.

Portal 2

Portal 2 primarily comprises a series of puzzles that must be solved by teleporting the player's character and simple objects using the "portal gun", a device that can create inter-spatial portals between two flat planes. The game's modified physics engine allows momentum to be retained through these portals, which must be used creatively to maneuver through the game's challenges. In addition to retaining most of the original Portal's gameplay elements, the sequel added new features, including tractor beams, laser redirection, bridges made of light, and paint-like gels that give surfaces special properties (e.g. accelerating the player's speed, allowing them to jump higher). Within the single-player campaign, the player returns as the human Chell, having awakened from stasis after many years. Chell must navigate the now-dilapidated Aperture Science Enrichment Center with the portal gun while the facility is rebuilt by the reactivated GLaDOS, an artificially-intelligent computer that appeared in Portal as its main antagonist. The storyline is longer than that of Portal's, and introduced new characters, including: Wheatley, a personality core voiced by Stephen Merchant; and recordings of Cave Johnson, the deceased CEO of Aperture Science voiced by J. K. Simmons.

Personal Opinion

Portal 2 is a worthy successor of Portal in every respect; it retains the puzzle-solving aspect while implementing new challenges for the player and delving into the history behind Aperture Sciences. I recall that things were far simpler in the first game, making it easier to run through the game and solve the puzzles, whereas in Portal 2, some puzzles (especially the ones later in the game) are nowhere near as straightforward as before and require a bit of creativity to solve. New implements in the game add an additional edge to gameplay, making for some truly innovative, fun solutions to some of the areas and give the game a sense of completeness that was absent from the original Portal, which comparatively feels like a lesser mod of Half Life 2. The refreshed storyline is astoundingly detailed, showing a hitherto unexplored side to the entire history behind Aperture Science and its ventures in the 1950s, including the gels and their experimentations with early test subjects. With excellent voice acting and careful pacing of plot progression, one feels immersed in this world as things go back and fourth between Wheatly and GLaDOS. The added recordings of Cave Johnson give a sense of nostalgia for the ancient experiments that were once carried out at the facility. Coupled with the refreshed graphics and new mechanisms, Portal 2 is a superb game and carries the title of 2011 Ultimate Game of the Year well.

  • The first thing a player will notice about Portal 2 are the superior graphics to its predecessor. The game is powered by an upgraded Source Engine, giving the game a superior level of physics immersion. The graphics engine makes it possible to render vegetation overgrowth, clutter from scattered, common, everyday objects and make items like water and glass more realistic.

  • Thermal discouragement beams, more simply known as "death lasers" replace the energy cores from the previous Portal. They can be redirected by pivot cubes, special weighted cubes with reflective surfaces in their interior, allowing the direction of a beam to be precisely aimed at special receptors. They also serve a more amusing purpose and may be used to annihilate the sentry guns. Unlike the energy cores, they're not immediately lethal, although they will kill Chell if she is in contact with a beam for a prolonged period.

  • Being set in an unspecified era following the events of Portal, the Enrichment Centre falls into a state of disrepair, with decay of the structures overtaking the test chambers. Despite this, it seems that several new implements have made their way into the facilities. These are the new lifts that take the player between stages. This area has been refreshed and shows off various schematics for Aperture Science technology; the cross-section of a sentry is displayed here.

  • The other new aspect to Portal 2 are the mobility gels, special gels that come in three types: the Repulsion Gel, allowing the Test Subject to jump great heights while jumping on it; the Propulsion Gel, allowing the Test Subject to attain great speed; and the Conversion Gel, on which the Test Subject can create portals after coating a surface on which it was previously impossible to create a portal. They were inspired by the paint featured in Tag: The Power of Paint; in-universe, they were as far back as 1953 by Aperture Science, the gels were the company's first attempt at a dietetic pudding substitute, being a sweeter, slightly less non-toxic form of fiberglass insulation.

  • There are honestly so much more of the old Aperture Science facility I could show off. This part of the game was desolate, lonely and nostalgic, similar to the emotions evoked when I set foot somewhere I have not been for a very long time. It's been several hundred years since Cave Johnson and his original experiments promising 60 dollars to all participants; while he and Caroline have been gone, the place nonetheless feels like a research facility dating back to the Cold-War era.
  • The sheer scale and quantity of stuff found in Aperture Science reveal that the entire complex is at least four kilometres deep, with the oldest faculties found near the very bottom. These open levels are characteristic of Wheatly's test chambers, which are decidedly more challenging than GLaDOS' chambers. Extreme caution must be taken to ensure that one does not fall to their deaths. The final confrontation between Chell (with GLaDOS as an ally this time) and Wheatly is spectacular, so I'll let readers find out for themselves as to what happens.

Street Fighter IV

Street Fighter IV is a 2008 fighting game produced by Capcom. Featuring models and backgrounds rendered in 3D, the gameplay remains on a traditional 2D plane, with the camera having freedom to move in 3D at certain times during fights, for dramatic effect. A new system called Focus Attacks has been introduced, as well as Ultra Moves. The traditional six-button control scheme returns, with new features and Special Moves integrated into the input system, mixing classic gameplay with additional innovations. The game has a similar feel to Super Street Fighter II Turbo, but also has a few features from Street Fighter III 3rd Strike. All the characters and environments in Street Fighter IV are rendered as 3D models with polygons, although non-photorealistic rendering was used to give characters a hand-drawn look, with visual effects accented in calligraphic strokes, ink smudges and ink sprays during the fights.

Personal Opinion

Street Fighter IV is a welcome addition; highly amusing to play and possessing colourful visuals, it brings back everything about the Street Fighter II series and, together with the updated graphics, takes the series into the modern era. The enjoyment found in Street Fighter IV is a result of how flexible the game is: new players will feel right at home and can simply dive into the fight without worrying about the controls, while there are new mechanics that veterans will need to learn and re-master, if they want to truly understand the gameplay. Of course, the arcade mode and versus mode makes a return, adding more details to the story of the Street Fighter Universe (which is presented in the form of anime cutscenes). Several characters will initially be locked; beating the game while satisfying certain conditions will unlock them. Those who have completed the game, and unlocked everything, may wish to try their hand at the new online battles, which pairs one with another player. My thoughts ultimately return to what I've initially stated: Street Fighter IV is simply a highly flexible game, which gives it a tremendous degree of replay value. Newcomers will marval at the fighting system (after a small learning curve, one should have no trouble executing most of the moves) and graphics, while veterans will see an old classic revised for a new era.

 

  • If you're feeling out of place with the controls on a keyboard, you can either practise in training mode until you can get all the moves you'd like, or go and buy an (expensive!) arcade control stick or XBox 360 Controller to play. Training mode allows a new player all the flexibility and time they need to practise moves: some players prefer using specials, while others mix specials with combination attacks to great effect. Here, I cancel an EX-hadoken into a shinku-hadoken. At closer ranges, it is possible to cancel a shoryuken into a shinku hadoken, a highly effective technique for finishing weakened opponents.

 

  • I absolutely love how energy is depicted in Street Fighter IV. For those new to the story, M. Bison is a crime lord who organised the Street Fighter Tournaments to find a suitable warrior in his conquest for the world.

 

  • Several old locations make a return alongside newer ones. Zangief is incredibly tough to use because his special moves require a full circle, something that is highly difficult to perform with a keyboard's arrow keys. In the old days, players with projectiles (such as Sagat and Ryu) could simply spam them to wipe Zangief out, although in this incarnation, Zangief possesses the Banishing flat, which allows him to knock projectiles out of the air. That doesn't stop me from winning: Sagat is one of the most powerful characters in Street Fighter IV for experienced players, with his long reach and damaging move-set.

 

  • Metsu...HADOKEN! The Ultra combos are considered to be the most stylised "finishing moves". A player can only execute them if their revenge meter has filled (accomplished by taking and blocking hits). After executing a specific button sequence, a short cinematic plays, revealing the terror on your opponent's face, and the attack is unleashed, oftentimes packing enough damage to finish your opponent.

 

  • Akuma makes a return as a playable character. Dealing out massive damage and having the lowest health and stun threshold of all the characters, he is unlocked by beating the game using a character you've already beaten the game with (after unlocking everyone besides Gouken and Seth), achieving at least one match of all perfects. The Wrath of the Raging Demon is my favourite ultra in the game: it is relatively easy to execute and will demolish any opponent with less than a two-fifths of their health left.

Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress 2 is a free-to-play team-based first-person shooter based solely around multiplayer  and was developed by Valve. There is no campaign, with the focus being around two opposing teams competing for a principal objective, such as capture the flag, king of the hill and territories. Players can choose to play as one of nine classes in these teams, each with his own unique strengths and weaknesses. Team Fortress 2 also features numerous "achievements" for carrying out certain tasks, such as scoring a certain number of kills or completing a round within a certain time.

Personal Opinion

Even before it was free, Team Fortress 2 demonstrates just how entertaining a purely online, multiplayer shooter can be. There isn't much of a story to TF2, except that two corporations, Red and Blu, have some sort of rivalry with each other, and slug it out in various online matches. For me, I admit that the main appeal about TF2 is how it is suitable for any gamer: a casual player will be able to walk into a server and blow things up for ten minutes, while more serious players will play to unlock achievements, weapons and hats. The class system is another one of TF2's notable points: each class (scout, pyro, soldier, demoman, heavy, engineer, sniper, medic and spy) has a unique set of strengths and weaknesses. Since no class is absolutely superior to another, a good team must consist of several classes. The graphics of TF2 also stand out; unlike most modern shooters, emphasis is placed on light-hearted entertainment rather than realism, making the overarching plot feel like a spy movie from the 60s with cartoon-like designs and inspirations. When all has been said and done, TF2 ends up being a game with no detractors: it is a free shooter that is suitable for most everyone, whether they have 10 minutes or 100 minutes.

 

  • Soldiers are the most balanced of all the classes, having a respectable amount of health and firepower, but lacking in speed. Soldiers will typically be armed with a rocket launcher, shotgun and shovel. I have the Direct Hit equipped here: this weapon is obtained after unlocking 11 achievements for the soldier and has increased firepower, but decreased splash damage. The entire weapons system in TF2 is incredibly balanced: new weapons with a particular positive attribute may be lacking in another area. As such, one unlocks weapons to suit their play style, and indeed, it is perfectly fine to bring stock weapons into battle against people with more illustrious loadouts. 

  • The Scout is the fastest class in the game and has some of the highest damage ratings of all the classes, but is woefully low on health. As a scout, your objective will be rushing objectives while your team-mates provide covering fire. The red sentry gun you see here was created by an engineer, a class which specialises in creating dedicated structures to support a team. Sentry guns are insanely useful; a fully upgraded version will deal out more damage while being resistant to enemy fire, making them perfect for defending tough position or locations of strategic value.

 

  • While they do not have much offensive power, medics are crucial. They are best supporting heavies and soldiers, but are sitting ducks for snipers and spies. Depending on the team configuration, choose a player and stick to him. Here, I wield UberCharge, a power that grants a player and the medic healing him eight seconds of invincibility (from the Medigun) or maximum probability of scoring a critical hit (kritzkreig), a period a player may use to decisively secure an objective or provide covering fire. Players in UberCharge glow the colour of their respective teams, although spies can steal UberCharge and use it to their advantage.

 

  • Snipers fulfil the role of ling range engagement and are ideal for wiping out heavies and medics. To balance things out, they are also equipped with SMGs. Unlike other FPSes, the sniper can be charged, meaning that well-placed charged body shots are just as effective as headshots. In games where the objectives are fixed locations, such as control points or King of the Hill, snipers are most useful when it comes to picking off enemies from a distance, and here, I am equipped with a Machina, a powerful new sniper rifle which can only be fired using the scope.

 

  • I'm the strongest as a heavy: to date, I've wiped several teams and changed the tide of entire battles while playing as one. While heavies are slow, they pack an insane amount of firepower and can take just as much punishment. Paired with a medic, heavies sweep through the battlefield and mow through all opposition until they run out of health or ammo. I find that the Heavy (while the slowest of all the classes) actually has an okay speed; having come from Halo, I'm used to a relatively slow character. For those challenging a Heavy, a spy or sniper has the best chance of eliminating one.
  • The Liberty Launcher was the first weapon I found through the drop system. This particular game of KOTH on Harvest was one of the most memorable for me: I hardly ever play as the soldier, but on this occasion, I had an incredible time blowing things up. Harvest is a simple Halloween-themed map, and I look forward to Halloween this year, as it will be the first time I participate in an event. 
 
  • A friend was kind enough to give me the Widowmaker. It is a futuristic shotgun that uses metal for ammo, and returns metal when shots connect (at the cost of 60 metal/shot). Its performance is identical to that of the shotgun, although I have personally found it to be really effective for engineers who can accurately place shots and not waste ammo.
 
  • The spy is most useful for taking out single, high value targets that affect the performance of your entire team. I only switch to the spy if I find that I (or my teammates) are continuously being decimated by a single sniper or sentry. I myself hardly ever find the need to play a spy, as my team typically has at least one, although after finding a Diamondback in a drop, I've been inclined to play. The Diamondback is a promotional weapon which grants a spy a critical shot per building sapped.

  • The Machina is my second favourite sniper in my arsenal, after my strange sniper rifle. A friend traded me a Strange Sniper Rifle, Vintage Huntsman and a L'etranger on a fairly crowded server. He told me to use these weapons well, and at the time of writing, is on its way to becoming a Sufficiently Lethal rifle. I feel that I'm sufficiently skilled as a sniper, having lined up several dominations and many, many kills with the Strange Rifle and Machina.

  • The drop system is a curious one: I remember wanting a Tomislav and then acquiring one through the drop system. In terms of loadout, the stock weapons are more than sufficient to get the job done, although different weapons serve different roles. For instance, I typically equip my heavy with the Tomislav if I'm defending and the regular minigun if attacking. If there's a medic on my team, I'll take the Family Business, and otherwise, the Sandvich (the latter has saved my life several times, allowing me to buy enough time for my team to win).

Infinite Zenith