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Paranormal Christmas: A Review of Video Game Gift Ideas

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Paranormal Christmas: A Review of Video Game Gift Ideas

By Andre' Hagestedt

Enemy Territory Quake Wars

(Portland, Oregon) - It's not everyday we review video games. In fact, we've never done it. It's certainly not part of our normal coverage of travel and paranormal. But since we're a tourism media outlet and video games have a definite paranormal slant, well, a review for those thinking about the seasonal gifting thing isn’t too out of line.

In fact, it’s universal enough it fits all our audience demographic.

A bit of info upfront: all of these video games are rated Mature, as they feature plenty of violence and such, so they won’t be suitable for your little ones. However, there are some in here that will be appropriate for teens. My own personal preference is for the FPS category, although there are some exceptions.

For the grown up little kid in your life who loves tons of action and some intriguing brain challenges, here are some real monsters of the PC (and other format) game world. All these are still on the shelf, mostly released in the last year.

You’ll need to know, however, my own personal take on these is that “Painkiller” and “Enemy Territory: Quake Wars” are hands down the coolest games ever made – for their extremely innovative approaches, never-ending delights and mind-bending scenarios.

I can’t recommend them highly enough: so I begin with them.

“Painkiller: Triple Dose.” Three video games in one, you know you can’t go wrong. The original was released in 2004 or so, and is still the best of the three. The package includes the extension “Battle Out of Hell” and the darkly humored “Overdose.”

You are stuck between Hell and Heaven and must fight a bizarre, nearly endless horde of demons who represent evil from a variety of places and time periods. One minute you’re in a Turkish palace, the next in a creepy castle, a medieval town full of jittery zombies, a 1960’s-era airbase, a cold, totalitarian city or a sinister Soviet lab from the Cold War, among numerous other nightmare scenarios.

Excellent graphics and unbelievably intriguing designs of the surroundings are just some of the highlights and make for a lot of the mesmerizing qualities here, but it’s the wildly innovative nightmare realms that reel you in as much as anything.

The other aspect that’s fun here is that it’s pure horror genre: not that goofy mix of supernatural with sci-fi elements that’s gotten kind of old. Also, the main character isn’t an army dude: he’s a regular Joe (who for some reason knows his way around battle tactics, but whatever.) It also keeps your interest by not being completely the same each session, like “Doom” or even “Quake 4.” Yes there’s predictability, but it’s still amazingly difficult to completely master. It never leaves you wanting.

“Enemy Territory.” The ultimate game gem of the Quake saga of games is the latest, and definitely the best of all of them. “Enemy Territory” never plays completely the same way each time. It’s actually geared towards team online playing – which I admittedly haven’t done. But even playing “against the computer” creates a new experience each and every time, with all sorts of interesting ways to change the game around, according to your choosing.

You get to be either the evil invading force of aliens called the Strogg, with their superior, futuristic technology, or the humans fighting them. That choice alone offers a wide variety of different experiences. Then you can choose the different battlefields: including a desert canyon, a bucolic countryside or the outskirts of some town in New Jersey, among numerous others. You can set up the fight the same way and it won’t happen the same way twice – ever. This makes the learning curve pretty hard at first: I hated it initially. But I’m not the gaming veteran many are, so die-hard FPS folk will likely catch on faster than I did.

The details of the buildings and surroundings are spectacular, and the weird machines of the alien forces you can ride around in are thoroughly addicting. This is one magnificent thrill ride of a game.

Portal. This is the one non-violent game in this review, and I can’t speak highly enough of this one, either. It’s a long, futuristic puzzle that’s sleek, delightfully cerebral and awe inspiring. Plus there’s a whole lot of surreal sci-fi elements and Orwellian humor.

Essentially, you have a device that punches holes in space, creating holes in walls, floors or ceilings where you can wander in and out of, bypassing various structures in your way. But they set up a series of bizarre schemes and barriers, and then ways to get around them that involve manipulating the operation of this device. It forces you to think about physics in a very different manner.

All the while along your journey through this strange, futuristic complex, an electronic voice guides you with a hilarious double-speak and thinly veiled dark sentiment that would’ve been at home in a comical version of “1984.”

It’s a non-stop kick and a lovely brainteaser that’s perfect for teens and older, with some minor blood – especially for those you’d want to foster an interest in science. Frankly, I found the totalitarian feel of the thing way more disturbing than the brief bits of blood, which is really only hinted at.

The big drawback: you pretty much have to download the whole thing from Steam, which produces some of the coolest games ever – but that dynamic is a pain.

“Crysis Warhead.” This one’s a big best seller right now and justifiably so. It blends battle action with that genre of sci fi set in the near future, where you’re some crusty British soldier wearing a high tech suit that allows you to do incredible things. This too is quite varied in its play. Although the “missions” run more or less the same each time, the actions you take create very different situations for you to do deal with. It’s quite sophisticated and quite a joyride.

You start in Asia, battling local forces, and move on to other exotic locales that eventually involve aliens. Truly awesome.

It keeps your interest while kind of teasing your brain a bit, but mastering the vehicles is exhausting and frustrating.

“Half-Life 2.” Another gem from Steam, you’re again in some freaky totalitarian world that is partially occupied by creepy aliens, but this time you have to navigate between them and enforcement squads that fill you with Iron Curtain dread. Bright, even cheery graphics are smooth as silk and extremely realistic. The brainiac element is high at times, forcing you to think yourself out of one puzzle or another.

I liked it so much I didn’t want it to end, so I stopped playing it and bought the first “Half-Life,” which is primitive by the current standards, but still a lot of cerebral fun. The second one expands on that greatly and has a few episode packs that will be interesting to get to as well.

“FEAR Platinum Collection.” It’s a collection of the three militaristic/paranormal games from TimeGate and Sierra that seem to have made quite a name, though I’m not thoroughly engaged. It seems many tried to duplicate the feel, the fright and approach of “Doom 3” but never completely achieved that same standard. Still, it’s spooky and tense as you wander all sorts of rooms and pick off enemy humans and monsters – or try not to get picked off yourself. Plenty of creepies jump out at you and up your blood pressure. It’s nice to have all three, in any case.

Quake 4 and Doom 3. Sure Id Software is in many ways the reigning king of scare software in the gaming world, having produced these two monster franchises.

Doom 3 is on the shelves these days, and it’s the hallmark of the scare-your-pants-off genre, with things jumping out at you at almost any turn you don’t expect. But that whole regimented mission aesthetic has become all too common these days, and that aspect of D3 gets old quickly. Still, it’s hard to get more scare for your buck as this spine-chilling beast sells for about $20. Nobody, not even Painkiller, makes you jump in your seat this much – at least the first time through.

Quake 4 was – until “Enemy Territory” – the most intense of the Quake games, and by far the most interesting in terms of that sinister universe. It runs on the same regimented mission style as “Doom” and numerous other imitators, and thus looses a little spark. But the heebie-jeebies still arrive in droves with those adrenaline-boosting aliens, and parts of it are really hard to get through, making for weeks of scary sci-fi fun.

“Battlestar Galctica.” OK, I’m fully willing to admit this one wound up not very popular with the gaming public in general, and seemed to quickly find itself in the bargain bins. But I love this game for a lot of reasons – and almost none of it has to do with being a BG fan myself. Sure, that was the original attraction, but it turned to be much more.

BG has been described as “nothing more than a dogfight,” and that’s essentially true. But it allows you endless hours of shooting at either humans or cylons in little warships of varying types, and no skirmish is the same. There’s a whole section of the game where you engage in regimented battles taken from the series - which is cool for cylon-stalkers – but the free-for-all is weeks or months of fun. Trust me, I was addicted for months.

“Penumbra: Black Plague.” Dive into the seriously eerie paranormal with this mind-numbingly frightening constant test of the mind. You're the hapless man in search of his irresponsibly monster-hunting relative who must try and follow his baleful footsteps to rescue him, through some sort of ultra-creepy place full of insanely freaky beings and an impressive litany of intellectual challenges. All around you are deviously dark surroundings and an atmosphere of sheer dread, ever present in the colors, the details of walls and textures that ooze evil. It gets ever more disturbing as you go, and it’s not for the dimwitted.

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