Impressions: Black Mesa (PC Mod)

If you’ve been following the Black Mesa PC mod development (a recreation of the original Half-Life using current Source Engine technology) then you might know that version 1.0 was finally released. It’s been a while since I’ve dug my toes into into HL1 but, refreshing my memories with this lets me take in the experience once again. Let me state that the mod isn’t done by any Valve staff but, by a long list of talented volunteers. So far I am having a great time with this and haven’t had any gripes.

Take a look at what the team has done with the upgrade …

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Before
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After

Gameplay wise, I can’t detect much of a change, it’s still Half-Life. The Source engine definitely has a lot to do with the changes so if you’ve played Half-Life 2 you’ll be able to tell it’s different. The graphics and sound are the biggest noticeable changes and one of the reasons I think the mod will attract fans and curious newcomers. The Black Mesa development team have taken their time to remake HL1 and things are very polished. The sound effects have been updated as well as a new soundtrack which can be downloaded for free as well here.

I don’t like to review games or products per se but, I will give my opinion on things once I think I have fully grasped the concept. I might post again giving my full impressions on the mod once I have completed it. In the mean time, I cannot give enough praise for this project being completed and I urge anybody with a capable PC to indulge in this as well as any other installments in the Half-Life franchise.

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Impressions: Jak and Daxter HD Collections (PS3)

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The collection contains the original three games and sadly does not have ports of the PSP games Jak and Daxter The Lost Frontier which continues the story after the third game nor the standalone Daxter which takes place just before the events of Jak II. In all the games you play as Jak and your partner Daxter, is the comic relief. Jak remains silent for the first game but become vocal later in the series. All three of the included adventures are well worth the time it takes to beat them.

While I haven’t yet jumped into the last piece of the trilogy, I can safely say that the first two games are ported gracefully with a few enhancements as well. I have played Jak and Daxter to completion several times, the other two only a couple times. That being said, I am more familiar with the first installment. Nothing seems to changed structural overall. The frame rate has been increased, the resolution is clearer and the animations are smoother. However, like everything from the previous generation, you can’t judge an aged product by today’s expectations, that would just be unfair. So we have to rewind a little bit … having played all of them on the original platform helps make decisions on how I feel about it now.

Jak and Daxter is a fun, whimsical platformer with bright colors, a basic story and characters, tight controls and very good production values. It’s a resilient game that any gamer can have fun with. It’s something we don’t see very often in this generation of gaming which I think is a shame. Naughty Dog really made a leap here from Crash Bandicoot and the effort is shown however, I always thought something on this scale was expected from them: a fully 3D adventure game as opposed to Crash which only allowed linear paths to the end of a level. Playing Jak for the first time in five or so years, it’s refreshing to get away from all the complications and mechanics that a lot of games bring to table. Most of all, Jak is fun and easy to pick up. While most of the game consists of collecting items to progress the story through each of its expansive worlds, it doesn’t hold back the fun factor. Although, I do remember the camera being less of pain and more versatile, playing it now made me wish I had more control over it. For a game made in the early 2000s, I am pleased with it but, the camera has a hard time getting around corners and sometimes won’t budge within closed and claustrophobic environments.

The following two sequels to the series are much different than the first but, similar to each other in nature. Both Jak II and Jak 3 keep the platforming elements of Jak and Daxter, adds a single “sandbox hub world” to the mix, provides vehicle travel and gives the protagonist the use guns which some might find objectionable given the quirky overtones the prequel had. If you play them all back to back, you can see the different direction Naughty Dog took with the series and any player will notice how different each of them play within the first five minutes. Both of them are much darker in story, character development in addition to the world. It’s a more mature game, if the ESRB rating didn’t give that away, than Jak’s transform move and attacks will. The story and plot elements really pick up in latter of the two games, the first game really seems weaker in the writing department the more you get into the series. Jak 3 is bigger than the second, adds onto the innovations and changes from it and I remember really liking it just as much as Jak II.

Personally, the first will always be my favorite. I’ve played the hell out of it and almost wish they would go back to it and do a spin off or something just to experience the Jak and Daxter world again. The $40 price tag is fair I suppose, although I would pay $60 for all of them. If you have a PS3 and haven’t taken the time to play through these excellent games of the past generation then you are really missing out.