Mission Improbable is an episodic single-player mod series for Half-Life 2: Episode Two, designed by Magnar “Insta” Jenssen, a professional game developer, who’s also the creator of two splendid custom-made multiplayer levels, which were actually introduced as official maps, into the Valve games in question: DOD_Palermo for Day of Defeat: Source, and Arena_Offblast for Team Fortress 2.
Shortly after releasing Part 2 of MI back in mid-2010, Magnar took an extended hiatus from working on Part 3, and released the incredible Whoopservatory, also for HL2: EP2, in mid-2011. But now, he is back, he is rested, and with the help of Rick Underhill, he has brought us the full Mission Improbable mod release, featuring all-new redesigned levels for all of Parts 1 and 2, as well as the long-awaited Part 3!
It’s been a long journey to finish this project. With the first map being made and released back in 2009 and the second map being released in 2010, it has taken another 2 years for the project to be completely wrapped up. Initially I intended to just create the final map and do some script and minor graphical upgrades to the previous levels, but while having a beer with Rick one day he suggested that he could help me out with some art to make the levels even more awesome.
“It’ll only take like 2 months” he said “we’ll make some new rocks and stuff, it’ll be easy!“ That was back in December. From then until now we’ve done almost complete rebuilds of the old levels, replaced almost all Half-Life 2 content with original art, and created 2 new levels as well! We have around 300 new textures being used in the mod, along with 300 new models. It’s a great feeling to finally be able to release Mission Improbable. It has been a lot of late nights and long hours to get it done, and we sincerely hope you’ll enjoy playing it. In case your download hasn’t finished quite yet, then you can take a look at the launch trailer below.
You can download the mod from a variety of places: PlanetPhillip; Desura; the official MI site; and ModDB. If it’s an .exe, then just let the installer run its course. But if it’s a compression archive, then just run standard operating procedure: extract the mod folder to the Sourcemods folder inside your Steam’s account name directory, then simply restart Steam, and look for “Mission Improbable” in your Steam library.
But I suppose you’d also like to hear what I think of Mission Improbable. Well then, here I go!
First off, Parts 1 and 2 remain just as solid, intense, ingenious and original as they have always been. The action is great, the setpieces are among the most memorable in modding history, the level design is excellent – frankly, not much has changed on that front, so I won’t waste time there.
That said, the overhauled graphics look absolutely gorgeous, and the new art assets complement and fit in with the original HL2 art direction really, really well. While it may seem different on the surface, it still totally retains the distinctive Half-Life graphical tone and style. And in certain areas, Rick and Magnar have added onto the Half-Life fiction with very interesting artistic decisions – like adding overgrown flora, and generally, making the environments look more like they’ve been through nearly two decades of desolation and sporadic guerrila warfare. This is an area where I think Rick and Magnar have done a better job than Valve themselves – kudos!
However, the new post-processing seems a bit heavy-handed – and as of writing, I’ve seen similar widespread complaints throughout the community. It makes the mod look a little too drab and a little too dry, and while fundamentally, it does complement the Half-Life fiction, it just made everything seem like my video drivers were broken. Thankfully, one can always disable it from the Advanced Video Options menu (it’s under “Color Correction”), and doing so really does make the mod look a lot better.
In addition, there are a variety of visual oddities, glitches, and issues. Perhaps it’s just MI pushing the EP2 engine to its limits, but I firmly believe that time heals all wounds, and that goes double for games development. You’ll notice a few of them on your first runthrough, while others will require multiple playthroughs until you’ll spot them.
And there’s also a bunch of miscellaneous, rather negative alterations, which you’ll only notice by also playing the previous version of MI – some changes are great, others are bad. Still, no point in dwelling on the past – and as long as it doesn’t harm the mod in any meaningful way (which it doesn’t), then it’s all good, I suppose.
There’s also a whole bunch of great easter eggs in there, and Magnar even added some collectibles, in the form of 3 secret flowers. Some of the newer, more significant stuff is in Part 3, but there’s still some hilarious stuff in Parts 1 and 2 as well.
But before I get to Part 3, I’d like to explicitly point out a couple new additions to MI’s story and gameplay, introduced in the remastered versions of Parts 1 and 2, which I personally, am on the fence about, to say the least.
Right at the end of Part 1, Magnar has added a whole new map taking place inside the deserted road tunnels. In this new sequence, you have to pass through the old maintenance areas in order to open a Combine gate stopping you from going forward. In the process, you get a hold of the gravity gun.
The problem with this entirely new level is that… it isn’t really needed. All we get out of it is a very brief encounter with Antlions, and they never appear again; and the aforementioned grav gun, which, similarly, isn’t really used again. These two gameplay elements are not worth enough to warrant such an artificial introduction of an, again, largely superfluous 5-7 minute segment, in the Mission Improbable progression. This new map wasn’t in the original mod releases either.
I must confess that, generally, I’m not a fan of mods that have us obtain the gravity gun for no apparent reason. The core of the Half-Life gameplay experience is, indisputably, the gunplay. And as much as we all enjoy it, the gravity gun combat is nothing more than an add-on element. Therefore, the gravity gun is not, in any way, a mandatory game mechanic. Especially when there isn’t much puzzle-solving, or much creative use of physics gameplay.
In conclusion, modders should only add the gravity gun if they plan on doing something with it – especially if the way they plan on adding it poses a significant risk to the mod’s pacing and progression, as is the case here. In addition, let’s not forget that there is only one gravity gun in existence – it’s all fair and good to take certain liberties with HL2′s storyline, but it’s really not as if gravity guns are mass-produced.
It’s a shame the gravity gun isn’t used that well anyway, because most of Mission Improbable’s combat can get a tad generic, almost mundane at times. To make things worse, it can get excessively difficult due to a lack of health and ammo supplies. Thankfully, the combat improves once you hit Part 3… which I will get to in a jiffy.
The last big thing in Parts 1 and 2 I wanted to bring up is the new rebel leader, who represents one of the final release’s most important new additions. In fact, he’s arguably a whole new character, replacing the previous rebel leader: a refugee Male_06 (same model and skin as HL2′s Winston), voiced by Phillip Marlowe of PlanetPhillip. His aforementioned replacement is a reskinned, aged and crippled Male_08… in a wheelchair. Yes, text-to-speech voice, and all.
And while the new guy makes for some absolutely hilarious scenes (his dialogue is just great), he’s just a bit too silly and a bit too… illogically bizarre. I could tell you exactly what’s wrong with him, his writing and the scenes he appears in, but then I’d be spoiling the mod for you. I can’t help but look back at the previous rebel leader, and see a more interesting, down-to-earth kind of character, which fit right in with the Half-Life 2 fiction – and MI does take place in the Half-Life 2 fiction to begin with. I understand that Mission Improbable has never been a mod that takes itself very seriously, but surely a compromise could have been made, and a middle ground between these two extremes could have been reached.
However, once Parts 1 and 2 are out of the way, it’s down to Part 3 – entirely new game material, and a lot of it at that. It all takes place inside a massive Combine depot, much like the one at Nova Prospekt. That time in HL2, we didn’t pass through the Depot, but instead we passed around it. Mission Improbable instead shows us the Depot as we’ve never seen it before, with some of the greatest Combine architecture I have ever seen. Not only that, but it also sounds great, thanks to some clever use of ambient soundscapes which most people might not notice (they’re actually taken from the Citadel).
Gameplay in the Depot gets a bit more varied, and interestingly, the combat is kept to a bare minimum. There’s some interesting puzzles and platforming sections. Unfortunately, one puzzle was so opaque and so indecipherable, that I think I was stuck at it for a good 10 minutes, before I figured it out: all I had to do… was push two buttons, and nothing more. Not cool.
We then discover that the Depot has dug and extended itself underground, and as we descend into its underbelly at the heart of the island, Magnar doesn’t miss the opportunity to provide us with some of the most beautiful environments and vistas that I have ever seen. It’s absolutely incredible, but again, I don’t want to spoil any of it for you, particularly since Magnar builds up to it, and reveals it slowly, as the player descends further down into the Depot. At some points the environments seemed almost distinctly alien, which I thought was very interesting.
Once you’re at the bottom, you run into yet another memorable setpiece (let me just say this: Magnar, you are a genius), after which the shit really starts to hit the fan, as you scramble to escape the Depot with your faculties intact. You jump right off the side of it, and after a brief confrontation with a Hunter-Chopper (a very smart and original scene which takes a few tricks out of Hitchcock’s book, although there are a few gameplay issues relating to how the Hunter-Chopper acts when fighting a submerged player), and another hilarious scene with the rebel leader, the mod concludes.
The ending is very open-ended, and leaves the door unlocked for Magnar, to produce future entries in the Mission Improbable series. And I would certainly love to see that happen!
Overall, Mission Improbable now stands as one of the greatest Half-Life mods of all time. An amazingly creative, clever, action-packed, and diverse mod, of the same caliber as Adam Foster’s MINERVA. It’s a must-play for any serious Half-Life fan. It may have a couple of problems here and there, some bigger, some smaller; but that doesn’t stop it from becoming the quintessential Half-Life modding experience.
Of course, much like how Adam getting hired meant MINERVA died off; Magnar and Rick getting hired would likely mean no Mission Improbable 2. But hey, as long as we’d get a Half-Life 3 like none other, it’s all for the greater good.
Thanks to William of Podcast 17 for helping out with the feature image.