Take a glimpse into the creativity of Valve, and what’s been done with their classic shooters.
PC Release: Various
By Ian Coppock
Valve Corporation. The name evokes a feeling of pride from most PC gamers. The studio that created the groundbreaking video game Half-Life, and whose subsequent products are seen not just as games, but as game-changers. Though Valve has spent most of its history developing and publishing video games, it seems to be abandoning this focus in favor of new gaming technology, like the HTC Vibe virtual headset. Before Valve jets off into this new frontier, it’s worth taking some time examining some of the games the studio put out. Some were great, some were okay, all contained some element of novelty that make them worthy of preservation. Some of these games are available individually or bundled together. All are part of the Valve Complete Pack.
Counter-Strike is the quintessential team-based shooter. Released in 2000, the game is a mod for Half-Life that became a Valve property when its creators were hired and its IP purchased. Counter-Strike sets up a team of terrorists and counter-terrorists, respectively, who combat each other across the globe in various objectives. Most matches involve either gunning everyone down or rescuing hostages. In all of them, players only have one life per round, making the game much more tense and reliant on strategy than other shooters.
Despite its advanced age, Counter-Strike still has a very active community, with players in conventional matches and on a variety of mods. A few months ago, a cadre of Mexican players were attempting to jump through a Sonic the Hedgehog-style ring. Another time, there was a match that incorporated Left 4 Dead into Counter-Strike gameplay. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is by far the best team-based shooter out there, but this game is a great way to see how all of that started. Be warned, though; the people who are still playing this game have been playing it for ages and are a force to be reckoned with.
Counter-Strike: Condition Zero
Counter-Strike: Condition Zero is a bit of a black mark on Valve’s otherwise sterling record. Despite being the sequel to Counter-Strike, Condition Zero is basically the same game as the original. The biggest differences are that players can compete against computer-controlled enemies, and compete in single-player missions with randomized objectives.
Condition Zero was released in 2004, and was taken to task by critics because it has literally the exact same visuals as the original Counter-Strike, and has few marked improvements over the original. The game had a troubled development, being passed around by several studios and started from scratch more than once. Condition Zero‘s community is also not as active as that of the original game, but it’s a good way to practice against bots if you want to get into Counter-Strike. Both games are bundled together along with some deleted levels from pre-release versions of the game.
Counter-Strike: Source was one of the first Source engine remakes of classic Valve shooters. It was released in 2004 to great fanfare, as gamers who’d spent half a decade patrolling corridors in the GoldSrc engine were allowed to putz around in a new graphical update.
The trouble is, getting prettied up is about all Counter-Strike: Source achieved for its series. It introduced no new concepts or mechanics to the Counter-Strike series, and was little more than a copy/paste job onto a new engine. Purists defend this game to the death because it preserved the original Counter-Strike maps for a contemporary audience, but Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is where the series truly innovates. As such, unless you’re a longtime fan of the series, just skip over to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
Day of Defeat
Day of Defeat is a class-based shooter set during World War II. Players can sign on with Axis or Allies teams and pick from different types of trooper. Players can go with the conventional bolt rifle infantryman for a classic feel, or the best of the best, the sniper, in levels with little cover and long battlefields. Day of Defeat was released in 2003, and, like Counter-Strike, was originally a mod that Valve purchased and re-issued commercially.
Day of Defeat requires some teamwork to get by, especially since it’s class-based, and its community is still active even 13 years after release. It’s a great little game, but has since been passed up by Day of Defeat: Source, a remake of the game made on Valve’s more powerful Source engine. Just skip ahead to the smoother, prettier game, which I will devote a full review to at… some point. Additionally, World War II buffs seeking a more realistic experience, like Red Orchestra, might want to look elsewhere.
Deathmatch Classic is a 2001 multiplayer shooter that Valve released as an ode to Quake, the classic horror shooter from id Software. The game incorporates the same weapons and playstyle as Quake, as players face off against each other in big, multilevel maps. Players can jet up to a new floor on a little anti-gravity geyser, and upgrade their arsenals by finding bigger, better weapons that some careless soul left lying around.
Unfortunately, Deathmatch Classic‘s community is dead as a doornail. There have been no other human beings on this game for the seven years or so it’s been owned. It’s a bit creepy to wander around abandoned multiplayer levels, but that’s hardly a compelling reason to get it. Give it a miss. It’s a neat little piece of gaming history but it’s no longer thriving.
Half-Life Deathmatch: Source
Imagine everything that’s remarkable about Half-Life, from its labyrinthine environments to its satisfying gunplay, and put all of that into a multiplayer setting. That’s basically what Half-Life Deathmatch: Source accomplishes. The catch is that the game is not a true Source engine remake, but rather the original GoldSrc game prettied up with better lighting and water. Be aware that Half-Life: Source, a version of Half-Life with similarly underwhelming tweaks, is floating around out there on Steam. Just get the Black Mesa mod instead.
Because it’s still in the GoldSrc engine, the game’s title of Half-Life Deathmatch: Source to be a bit of a misnomer. The community is still active despite the game having been released over a decade ago. Half-Life is a great game, but this multiplayer game incorporates everything that’s great and mediocre about the original title, including its clunky controls. The game is still a great way to reminisce with my friends about Valve’s first golden age, and you could do a lot worse if you’re of a similar mindset. It’s also a sterling tribute to the glory of the GoldSrc engine, which was used to make a ton of games in the late 90s and early 2000s, like James Bond 007: Nightfire.
Half-Life 2: Deathmatch
Just as Half-Life Deathmatch: Source dumps the core game’s content into a multiplayer setting, so too does Half-Life 2: Deathmatch adapt Half-Life 2‘s gameplay into that format. With all the weapons and tools from Half-Life 2, players can take the fight to other players gussied up as the bright-eyed Lambda Resistance or the insidious Combine.
Half-Life 2: Deathmatch still has a lively community, and players can expect to find a select group of active people on every match. If Half-Life‘s gunplay was fun, longtime fans know that Half-Life 2‘s is even better. There’s nothing more satisfying than that game’s magnum pistol, and to employ that against enemy players never gets old.
Half-Life 2: Lost Coast
Lost Coast is a free demo included with Half-Life 2, comprising a bonus level of Half-Life 2 and some developer commentary. It’s not a multiplayer game like these other titles, but it sheds insight on how Half-Life 2 was developed and what makes the guys and gals at Valve tick.
The level’s objective is to destroy a Combine cannon that’s been built into an old church, and players can bet that there are plenty of enemy troops and monsters on the climb up. As you go, commentary bubbles that activate upon being run through will play in the background. Members of the Half-Life 2 development team will comment on the situations players face, and the design principles behind every scrap of path and every enemy ambush. It’s fascinating to listen to, and the level can be beaten in about 20 minutes. Players who are purchasing Half-Life 2 will get this for free, and should add it to their libraries. Lost Coast contains no great narrative, but its information on game development is interesting.
A truly innovative multiplayer brawler, Richochet was spawned from some combination of Frisbee golf and Tron. Basically, a group of players suit up in high-tech gear, and bounce around a big, bottomless arena throwing laser-discs at each other. Players have to bounce between a few floating platforms, all while taking care not to get hit and, of course, not to fall into the abyss below. Ricochet is by no means a complicated multiplayer game, and it obviously draws from platformers in its design.
Ricochet was all the rage when it released in 2000, but sixteen years later, its community barely rattles with even a whisper of life. Players no longer inhabit these brightly colored arenas, save the occasional maniac who’s gotten so inexplicably good at the game that it’s little worth fighting. Of course, one player is also a far cry from a full match. Ricochet is the most novel game in this list, but its lack of human activity is disappointing. Don’t bother.
Team Fortress Classic
The original Team Fortress is a far cry from the goofy, cartoonish Team Fortress 2. Originally conceived as a Quake mod in 1996, Team Fortress was bought out by Valve and re-released in 1999. Unlike its successor, Team Fortress has a bleak visual design and its characters have a very sci-fi vibe, as opposed to the more comical personas of Team Fortress 2 characters.
Team Fortress Classic‘s community is sporadically active. Players can pick from one of several classes (sniper:all day:every day) and compete against enemy teams to capture flags or kill opponents. Private servers feature a variety of mods, like medics that have chainguns. The penultimate Team Fortress Classic experience was battling aliens in a 1930’s Italian village, all while Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees was playing in the background. It was all quite jarring, but so much fun, and the people. If any combination of random themes and gameplay with team-based matches sounds fun, risk Team Fortress Classic. Its activity alternates between totally dead and as alive as ever.
You can buy the Valve Complete Pack here.
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