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Yahtzee and Gordon walk into a bar...

Transcript Edit

Sorry to fumble open an old wound like a frustrated teenage cinemagoer on a fourth date, but what do we think actually happened to Half-Life 3? Was it just shunted down a priority list because Team Fortress 2 needed some more fucking hats? Or, knowing Valve, did they almost finish it two or three times, only to scrap the whole thing and start from scratch 'cos they weren't 100% satisfied with the color of the tomato sauce bottles in the 50's diner level? (That is to say, knowing Valve from back when they were game developers and didn't just spend all day sitting atop their dragon's hoard of plunder, gently rubbing their scaly bell-ends with an emery board.)

With the epic and scintillating story of Half-Life that we all spent fifteen years getting invested in now, it seems, resigned to end on an unresolved cliffhanger, fans of Half-Life may now turn to drastic means for the sake of some kind of closure: fan fiction, cosplay, allowing Valve to essentially monopolize digital distribution of PC games. Some of them might even do something as drastic and self-destructive as pay actual money for Hunt Down The Freeman! But please, if you're even considering it, remember that there is always help out there and, failing that, morphine tablets.

The staggering thing about Hunt Down The Freeman is not that it exists; if we had to stop the presses every time someone made a shitty fan game, the presses wouldn't be running long enough to print a fucking Bazooka Joe comic. The staggering thing is that this is a fan game embellishing Valve's story, using Valve's intellectual property, being sold for actual money on Valve's own distribution network, and therefore, carries an unspoken stamp of endorsement, despite being truly, madly, ovarian cyst-ingly bad on every imaginable level, in ways that only bad fan games can be: the unique juxtaposition of the professional art assets and mechanics of the original game, taken apart and reassembled in the clumsiest way possible, like an art gallery storage room after an earthquake.

It's also fairly obviously nicked a lot of its new content, weapons, and level architecture from asset stores and other mods as, again, some of it looked competently made, but has all been dropped into the game with the care and precision with which turds are placed at the bottom of a bungee cage, the kind of thing where you walk into an overlarge room and there's just twelve zombies arranged in a neat row because I guess the people in this room were doing the fucking hokey cokey when the aliens invaded.

Hunt Down The Freeman is also weirdly plot-heavy, interrupting its shitty levels regularly for elaborate Source Filmmaker cutscenes, starring multiple intense soldier dudes who all look like they were created at the Mass Effect character customization screen with about 90% of the options removed and sound like they had that usual mod problem where every character has different audio quality because the actors were recording with their personal headset mics they more commonly use to swear at twelve-year-olds in Counter-Strike. As for the actual story, you are a soldier bloke called Mitchell, who was one of the soldier blokes sent into Black Mesa in the original Half-Life to kill Gordon Freeman and all his scientist pals. But instead, Gordon Freeman kills all our pals and duffs us up with a crowbar, whereupon we swear revenge on his orange ass.

See, it's not just that the plot only makes sense if you know the plot of Half-Life and Half-Life 2; it's also that it only makes sense if you assume the main character also knows the plot of Half-Life and Half-Life 2. Why else would he solemnly swear epic revenge upon someone who, to him, should just be one random pimply scientist committing the sin of not wanting to be killed? In truth, Gordon Freeman is rather conspicuously absent from a game with his name and, indeed, lovely marketable face all over its Steam store page; there's an in-game screenshot on there showing his face that's a flat-out stinking lie. Mitchell gets embroiled in the Seven-Hour War against the Combine, bridging the plot of Half-Life 1 and 2, just in case it didn't sound unmitigatedly galling enough yet, and what follows is a showcase of some of the worst level design ever commercially sold. And at that, I include every shitty asset flip Steam game consisting of one flat square of grass texture with some trees dotted around it, because in this case, someone was actually trying.

Environments are smashed randomly together, so half the ways to go are empty dead ends and nothing indicates the actual way forward; I spent ten minutes in a bunker with some infinitely-respawning friendly NPCs fighting off waves of infinitely-respawning alien soldiers that all resemble a three-year-old's drawing of Mysterio from Spider-Man before I realized I was supposed to get bored, wander off behind enemy lines, and stumble into a nearby level transition. The enemy placement seems to be inspired by the placement of crumbs on my kitchen counter after I've made my special breaded chicken with little consideration for the size of the environment, so after a while, I just ran past everyone like I was having severe gastric problems at a wedding reception.

There are also hazards that can only be bypassed with abilities and items the game forgot to fucking tell you that you have; you only find out they added a "prone" ability - because what Half-Life really needs is to be more like a fucking Call of Duty game, he said with sarcasm leaking from the corners of his mouth like hastily-stolen cake - when you can't get past a hole too small to enter and look up a walkthrough. You also need to use a "mantling" ability that only bloody works if you've holstered your bloody guns; unfortunately, the game forgot to bind a key to "holster guns", and even after I bloody did, it didn't bloody work, so I had to bloody noclip through the problem. And once the precedent is set, it's very tempting to keep noclip-ing. "Hmm, I could spend twenty minutes searching for the way out of this pitch-black cave that I can't navigate because the game only gave me one flare and apparently I used it in the wrong place, or I could just open the console, Kitty Pryde my way out, and have enough time to go out and steal some more cake!"

Still, the plot chugs happily along through its multiple breaking bugs and design fuck-ups - Mitchell ends up joining forces with the Combine to take down Freeman, revenge for being self-defense bitch-slapped now taking precedence over revenge for, you know, enslaving the human race! - and the story eventually nonsenses its way to thrillingly and climactically ripping off a line from The Dark Knight Rises. Twice. But Hunt Down The Freeman is about what to expect from any game where half the developers are credited by their forum handles alone. The only reason I wanted to talk about it is 'cos of the depressing indictment of modern gaming it creates; not by itself, but by Valve's apparent indifference to this waterfall of piss trickling down either side of its legacy's nose.

Twenty years ago, Half-Life was a focal point in gaming's ongoing development as an artistic narrative medium; the next few years saw a slew of titles that combined AAA game design with genuine emotional story. But what happened between then and now?! Why are the games routinely rewarded with AAA status and income exclusively loot box-infested live service bullshit, games designed not to inspire or stimulate our emotions, but to numb them and hypnotize us into lab rats, mindlessly pawing the button that makes treats come out, while the games created with love and artistic integrity drown beneath waves of bottom-feeders like Hunt Down The Freeman, that tear chunks of rotten flesh from the corpses of Valve's children as Valve itself, once-habitual founders of new ages of narrative gaming, merely waves them on, barely glancing up from their tax paperwork?! What happened to you?! What happened to us?! To the people we were supposed to become?! ...I don't know, but it's probably safe to blame John Romero.

Addenda Edit

  • Free falling: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • I wouldn't think it'd be hard just to hire someone to play two minutes of every new Steam game and bin all the obvious garbage but what do I know
  • Still at least that's one fifth of this year's Bottom Five sorted

Extra: Differently Morphous Edit

My latest book, Differently Morphous, is out now on audible.com as an Audible Original, meaning audiobook first with print version further down the line, so get those ears unstuffed. It's a contemporary paranormal fantasy about the difficulties of adapting to modern life when you're a formless Lovecraftian horror from beyond the veil of time and space.

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2018
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle · Destiny 2 · Metroid: Samus Returns
Q4 Knack 2 and SteamWorld Dig 2 · Cuphead · Hob and A Hat in Time · Middle-earth: Shadow of War · The Evil Within 2 · Super Mario Odyssey · Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus · Assassin's Creed Origins · Sonic Forces · Star Wars Battlefront II · Hand of Fate 2 · South Park: The Fractured but Whole
2018
Q1 Top 5 of 2017 · Okami HD · PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds · Fortnite and Dusk · Doki Doki Literature Club! · The Inpatient and Doom VFR · Monster Hunter World · Subnautica · Kingdom Come: Deliverance · Metal Gear Survive · Hot Coffee · Hunt Down The Freeman · Ghost of a Tale
Q2 A Way Out · Far Cry 5 · Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom · Extinction and Attack on Titan 2 · God of War 4 · Yakuza 6: The Song of Life · Silent Hill 4: The Room · Conan Exiles · House Flipper and FAR: Lone Sails · Detroit Become Human · Agony · E3 2018 · Vampyr
Q3 Jurassic World Evolution · Resident Evil 4 · Totally Accurate Battlegrounds and Moonlighter · The Crew 2 · Octopath Traveler · Observer · Chasm and This Is the Police 2