Category Archives: Features

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10 Years Later: Half-Life 2

This is the 30th, and final, part of a month-long look at the games of 2004. To see the other parts, click here.

At no point was Half-Life 2 just a game.

Following the cliffhanger ending of the legendary Half-Life, the idea of its sequel was a pipe dream. One that’s grandeur and impossibility seemed to grow with each year, as the hype train rolled along with a fury never before seen by the industry.

At the time of its release, Half-Life 2 stopped the world (not to mention, the still young Steam service). November 16, 2004 was a day that seemed surreal to many. The sight of Half-Life 2 on your computer was a real “pinch-me” moment. Even before you booted it up, that sensation it provided damn near justified the 6 year long wait.

After its release? Well, we’re living in that world now. One where Half-Life 2 has achieved god-like status, and the mere idea of a follow-up has become a cultural phenomenon on-par with any actual release in the series so far.

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10 Years Later – Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door

This is part 29 of a month-long look at the games of 2004. To see the other parts, click here.

To me, there’s a strong difference between “loved,” and “beloved.”

Beloved is a word that implies more of a deep, unquestionable fondness for something. Even when you love something, you can readily admit to its faults. When something is beloved, though, it’s reached this point where your affection for it is well-beyond reason, yet at the same time, seems to be a perfectly logical emotion, based on the thing itself.

A big part of the reason that Nintendo has one of the more…shall we say ‘enthusiastic’ fanbases out there, is that they tend to deal heavily in the production of games aimed at achieving the beloved status. That’s certainly the case with Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door.

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10 Years Later – Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War

This is part 28 of a month-long look at the games of 2004. To see the other parts, click here.

In 2004, I can safely say I knew nothing about the Warhammer 40k universe, aside from the fact that it existed. This may not sound like a big deal, but among my friends, it was a mortal sin.

From what I was able to gleam of that whole universe, it seemed interesting enough. The trouble was that every time someone would try to fill me in on the particulars regarding it, they would launch into this half-hour diatribe that you tend to encounter when you mix super-fandom and a fictional universe with years and years of history to cover.

The result of these sit-down conversations was the distinct feeling that I was on the brink of something fairly intriguing, but could never really get the proper introduction required to really bridge the gap, and get me to the land of fandom properly.

But then came a real-time-strategy game set within the Warhammer universe called Dawn of War. With it arrived an introduction trailer of particular merit. This one, in fact:

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10 Years Later – Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

This is part 27 of a month-long look at the games of 2004. To see the other parts, click here.

The argument of which Grand Theft Auto game is the best, is one that I’m constantly thrilled to find myself engaged in, simply because there is a strong argument to be made that any of them deserve the title.

Maybe you prefer the overhead, arcade style simplicity of the original installments. Perhaps the revolutionary third title holds an inescapable nostalgic appeal for you. If Vice City‘s 80′s throwback era charmed the pants off of you, who could blame you? Then again, GTA: IV‘s dark tones or GTA: V‘s air tight mechanics and technical majesty, may just be your cup of tea.

There’s a case to be made for any in the GTA series to be the greatest, as each possess their own unique quality which separates them from the pack, and ultimately boils that discussion down to the tried and true qualifier of personal preference.

Now, that being said, if you ever try to argue with me that there is any GTA game bigger than San Andreas, then prepare for a verbal thrashing my good fellow.

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10 Years Later: The Sims 2

This is part 26 of a month-long look at the games of 2004. To see the other parts, click here.

You know, I really wish this was a retrospective on The Sims rather than The Sims 2.

Why? Because I’m feeling lazy today and, if you’re feeling lazy yet are slightly obligated to continue a retrospective column, there are few games easier to dwell on than the original Sims.

It’s a treasure trove of easy nostalgia and mind-blowing figures. Not only do many gamers have fond memories of the title, but as it was quite a few people’s first taste of emergent gameplay (i.e. Make your own fun gameplay in a world without many borders), those same memories have that unique quality of being both personal to each user, and culturally shared by everyone else who experienced The Sims.

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10 Years Later – The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap/Four Swords Adventures

This is part 25 of a month-long look at the games of 2004. To see the other parts, click here.

As a general rule, any year you get a Zelda game is a pretty damn good year.

Why? Well, unlike say, oh I don’t know…Star Wars, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Alien, Austin Powers, Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Matrix, Pirates of the Caribbean, Spider-Man, Transformers, Silent Hill, Madden, Bomberman, Resident Evil, Sonic and quite a few other franchises from the various corners of the entertainment world, Nintendo is careful to make each entrant into the Zelda series not only worthwhile and true to form, but usually a reasonable contender for the best of its kind yet.

And during 2004, we were gifted with not one, but two brand spanking new Legend of Zelda games to drool over.

Well…sort of.

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10 Years Later: Unreal Tournament 2004

This is part 24 of a month-long look at the games of 2004. To see the other parts, click here.

In 1787, the governing bodies of the emerging United States reached an agreement regarding the proportionate power each state would have in the new democracy. It might not sound like much, but the agreement they reached was so integral to forming the new government to come, that it is now known as “The Great Compromise.”

Pretty impressive title when you think about it. I mean, considering that life is often a series of compromises, for one compromise above them all to be considered the great one, is certainly something.

But if you ask me, that label is just hyperbole. In my mind, the true greatest compromise didn’t happen in 1787 America, but actually occurred in the video game industry during the year 2004.

You may know this compromise as Unreal Tournament 2004.

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10 Years Later – Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

This is part 23 of a month-long look at the games of 2004. To see the other parts, click here.

At the age of 13, I experienced the first major heartbreak of my life. You may know it as Metal Gear Solid 2.

Though it may have featured some truly incredible graphics, and much improved gameplay, there came a point where I realized that MGS 2 was not going to fulfill the expectations the stellar Metal Gear Solid had imparted in me. It’s hard to say the exact moment this realization occurred, but somewhere between the infamous “Raiden-twist,” and any of the 40 minute cutscene made up of absolute gibberish, I lost hope.

It was a tough moment, but I learned to get over it. I came to accept the original Metal Gear Solid as a one-off passionate infatuation, moved on to the Splinter Cell series and eventually learned to forget about the franchise all-together.

That may sound deflating, but actually it was perfect. In fact, having to suffer through Metal Gear Solid 2 became immediately justified the moment I realized that it put me in just the right mindset to be blown away by Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.

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10 Years Later – Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines

This is part 22 of a month-long look at the games of 2004. To see the other parts, click here.

There’s no trickier act in all of gaming than aging gracefully. While it’s easy to admire some older titles for their contributions to the medium, or remember the good experiences you had when the game was first released, time tends to be cruel to even the best games. This is too be expected since games are pieces of technology, and technology is always growing and changing, but the effect can be jarring.

As a general rule, if a game is going to age well, it had better be technically solid, and simply enjoyable. This is why games like Super Mario Bros., Tetris and Pac-Man tend to withstand the test of time. They provide an instantly enjoyable pleasure, and excel in fundamental attributes still considered vital to quality game making today.

But in all honesty, there is no formula for long lasting greatness. Indeed, sometimes the most unlikely of games can emerge at a later date in a much finer condition than could have been anticipated.

Which brings us to the interesting case of Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines.

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10 Years Later: City of Heroes

This is part 21 of a month-long look at the games of 2004. To see the other parts, click here.

Everybody cries out for a hero from time to time. There comes these points in life where you just want someone who is otherworldly strong, unbelievably quick and impossibly just, to swoop in and just make it all better.

Gamers too often cry out for a hero, but of a different kind. In an industry often beset by complacency, the hero they ask for is any that can rescue them from the same old, same old. One that can provide an experience that’s decidedly different, and make them forget about their troubles, if only for a while.

Unfortunately, these cries rarely get answered as heroes rarely exist in that mystical form we want them to. It gets to a point where you gradually learn to just forget about them.

But then, just when all hope was lost, something amazing happened.

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