Half-Life 1 | Download at PlanetPhillip
Let’s face it, Headcrabs are the best thing about Half-Life – and games in general for that matter. Level designer Unq seems to agree; his previous mod, the community favourite Radix, featured one as the primary antagonist. But this time he has gone a step further, cutting the crap to bring us one beautiful level of pure “head-humper” joy.
Your goal is simple: collect five Lambda tokens whilst dodging a veritable armada of Headcrabs. Don’t expect to go in guns blazing though, even the lowly crowbar is particularly difficult to find. You will have to use all your acrobatic abilities to dodge death, and finding the rarely-seen Long Jump Module will increase your chances of survival. Somehow this map manages to walk the fine line between enjoyment and causing extreme, keyboard-smashing rage.
The core mechanic of finding “nuclei” as Unq calls them will form part of a much larger forthcoming mod, SCRAM. The aim of this project is to make Half-Life 1 more challenging, whilst simultaneously adding new rewards and secrets through the new mechanic. If you consider yourself an expert player (unlike me) you can read more in this preview post at PlanetPhillip.
Below the Ice
Half-Life 2 | Download at ModDB
Whilst Below the Ice Beta is a mod for Episode Two, it draws most clear inspiration from the Portal series. With a backstory based on both Half-Life 2 and Aperture Science, there is even a focus on the test-chamber format (which has perhaps been overused by puzzle mods). The mod is entirely non-violent, so these puzzles, and exploration, are the core here. Unfortunately the entire experience has something of a split personality to it. The aforementioned test chambers look nice and are distinct enough from the Portal variety, with challenges based on a mix of platforming, logic and even maths. The other side to the mod is in segments involving exploration of the “secret Antarctic base” (sounds legit) that the player is investigating. These environments have a tendency to look very blocky and basic, and the gameplay here tends to frustrate. The mapper seems to be aware of these limitations though, and keeps the emphasis on interesting puzzles as much as possible.
Woven throughout this is an inventive (if implausible) story connecting the Combine, Cave Johnson and a whole new faction which makes up in some ways for the other problems the mod has. The mod is also missing an ending which the author “The Evina” claims will be added final version, which will “probably be much better”. For now, Below the Ice is a flawed but enjoyable half-hour experience.
Portal 2 | Download on Steam Workshop
My most recent dive into the murky depths of the Steam Workshop has revealed some new singleplayer tests for Portal 2. This time is Spacebase Alpha, which as its name suggests makes good use of the moon assets included in the game. Whilst not the first to do this, creator KLJF22 (catchy name!) has made it a core part of the puzzles by setting them in an environment with variable gravity. This makes for three chambers of inventive puzzles with a good difficulty curve, impressive for a single map.
Spacebase will only take you 10-15 minutes to complete, but it’s a great way to get your fix of Portal with a new twist on the norm.
Half-Life 1 | Download at ModDB
Last but not least comes Hopelessness by Dreamer_E. He says that we shouldn’t expect something big, this being his first mod, but in fact what we get is an inventive and polished return to good ole’ Black Mesa.
Arriving some time after the Resonance Cascade, as “just another scientist” you will travel through research labs and industrial areas trying to make your escape. Setting Hopelessness apart from similar mods is that the environments have been designed in such a way that they feel less linear and more interwoven and realistic. 1998’s original assets used to their fullest to detail the environments, and a few scripted sequences create original combat scenarios with the well-worn Half-Life monsters. One small issue is that a couple of the puzzles are poorly executed; one number keypad is so hard to use that you would think the player is trying to type wearing boxing gloves. This mapper would also appear to have an unhealthy interest in teleporting Alien Grunts into tight spaces, which is perhaps not a recipe for fun.
Of course there have been hundreds of mods set in this environment, so don’t expect amazing originality. Hopelessness doesn’t quite achieve the level of quality of some recent examples, but if you’re looking for another trip back to where it all began you can’t go far wrong spending an hour with this mod.
That about brings us to the end of this instalment of “Under the Radar“. If you’ve discovered a new map or mod that you think deserves more attention, let us know in the comments or by contacting [email protected], and we’ll see you next time!