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I can't remember how long it took me to finish Half-Life 2. It's been a while, after all. But I can say, with absolute confidence, that it was a lot longer than the breathtaking 40:49 it took the SourceRuns Team to do it.
As is usual with speedruns, this is not a typical playthrough of Half-Life 2. It's done using a 2006 build of the game that used the original engine, which has significant movement differences, as well as a long list tricks and glitches that have since been patched out. It's also segmented, which basically means that it's a group effort: Different players hammer through different bits of the game, and the best of them are stitched together into what you see in the video.
The net result is fast, furious, and funky, as the runners clip through walls, fly over levels, and blow past the talkie bits. It doesn't look like much fun in the conventional videogame sense, but it's a hell of a sightseeing tour, and a remarkable accomplishment, coming in at just one-third of the world-record mark the SourceRuns team set in 2013.
A spreadsheet that breaks down just about every element of the run you can imagine is up on Google Docs, and the SourceRunners have also posted a separate video explaining how clipping works on YouTube.
Half-Life 2 turns 12 this year, and thanks to its powerful, if a bit creaky Source engine it remains as popular with the modding community as ever. Over the years we've seen all manner of excellent mods emerge, adding co-op or competitive multiplayer, shiny graphical updates, new story content, and even full conversions that bear little or no resemblance to the original game.
It's the latter two we're going to focus on today, as we round up the best single-player Half-Life 2 mods. We've chosen mods that stand up as separate adventures, sometimes set in worlds far removed from Combine Earth.
This is the story of a man named Stanley. Or rather, it's the story of the story: a deviously clever, reactive adventure that second-guesses your every move. As Stanley or, perhaps more accurately, as the player controlling Stanley you're free to follow or ignore the various instructions the wonderful narrator bellows over you, resulting in a tangled, branching story that rewards your curiosity, imagination, and defiance. The original Source mod was later expanded into a full game, one our Phil thought extremely highly of in our review.
Adam Foster's Minerva comes close to the quality of Valve's own Half-Life 2 Episodes in fact, Valve was so impressed Foster joined the company. It's a sizeable story, about the length of an official chapter, with considered level design and a high level of polish. You begin the game strapped to the underside of a helicopter, before being dropped on a mysterious island with a sinister secret.
Gordon Freeman ends the Half-Life series as a crowbar-wielding superhero, a figure of legend in the Half-Life universe. Two-part mod The Citizen provides a new angle on the world, casting you as an ordinary oppressed citizen of City 17. Obviously, said ordinary man soon acquires a gun and starts killing people, but you might snap too if you called that dystopia home.
This lengthy, ambitious mod swings from horror to all-out action. Occasional cutscenes tell the story of a subway technician suffering from leukaemia, but Get a Life's unlucky hero Alex also has to contend with the mod's new limb damage system, which causes effects like dizziness and limping, depending on where he's hit by enemies.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to step into the sneakers of Gordon Freeman and set off to repair a Resistance listening post. This impressive Episode Two mod begins with Gordon rowing to a distant coastline: a coastline that reminds you just how pretty the venerable Source engine can look in the right hands. The right hands in this instance are a couple of established game devs, and their experience shines through pretty much every crevice of this slick, well-paced adventure.
Thanks to its then-revolutionary ragdoll physics, a lot of time in Half-Life 2 was spent throwing chairs at NPCs, or flinging teacups with the gravity gun. In that spirit, Research and Development does away with offensive weapons altogether, leaving just a couple of secondary tools to let you manipulate gravity or order Antlions about. Puzzles are the order of the day here, and it's surprising just how easily Half-Life 2's toolset translates to this new focus.
Where there are modding tools, horror mods are sure to follow. You don't need to have played the original in fact, it's included as a prologue, giving you the chance to explore both a haunted house and a spooky hospital. The horror on offer here is mainly of the jump scare variety, so if you were hoping for the psychological horror of Silent Hill, move on to the next item in the list. Nightmare House 2 is basically FEAR it even features its own creepy ghost girl but more FEAR is hardly a bad thing.
The impressive Alchemilla drops you in the world of Silent Hill, endless fog, Dark World and all. Not only have the developers nailed the grimy aesthetic of Team Silent's classic series, they've matched its colour palette, borrowed its sound effects, and recreated its lonely atmosphere. It's such an uncanny representation that it may take you a while to notice there are no enemies traipsing around, but then those games were hardly known for their satisfying combat.
Download: Alchemilla mod.
Until now everything we've featured has been strictly first-person, but Water bucks that trend. In fact, it bucks a lot of trends, given that it's a third-person puzzley adventure starring a mermaid. Yes, a mermaid. While you're (initially at least) limited to a fantasy city's waterways, this smart mod soon finds ways to get you exploring land too, using a number of innovative systems. The developers of Water went on to make From Earth, another, similarly inventive Source mod.
Well, we couldn't ignore Black Mesa, could we? For the unaware, this recreates the original Half-Life in its sequel's shinier engine, and it's been in development since dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Much more than a simple port, Black Mesa updates Valve's game with fancier assets, new voice acting, a reworked campaign and more. The team have also excised Half-Life's much-maligned Xen section, albeit only temporarily until it's been remade to be, somehow, good. While the older mod is free, you'll find the newer version on Early Access, accompanied by a price tag.
Download: Official site.
A fan-made, semi-official follow-up to Opposing Force, the Half-Life expansion Gearbox made, is now out. Prospekt [official site] continues telling Half-Life-y events from the perspective of marine Adrian Shephard, who’s still chasing after Gordon Freeman. This time he’s helping Gordo, though, causing trouble out of sight for the Combine during HL2’s Nova Prospekt section and onwards. It’s the work of fan Richard Seabrook, and Valve have given him the all-clear to sell it. This can only be good news for my dream of Valve endorsing my career as a writer of erotic Dog/turret fanfic.
We live in complex times. When I was a youngster, it was perfectly reasonable to buy a game simply because it had more monsters than the other games. Playing through shooters, RPGs and platformers alike, I’d be tempted to give up when I reached the point where no new enemy types were appearing. The very idea of a game with only one type of enemy, no matter how intelligent and believable, was poison. Give me all of your mutants, demons and aliens>, I cried, give them to me now>.
Here are a few of my favourites, ranging from the first-person shooters of my teenage years to the surreal horrors of my childhood.
Push Half-Life 3 to the back of your mind, where it surely spends most of its time these days. How about some new Half-Life 2? Indie dev Richard Seabrook has spent the past two years working on a continuation of Gearbox's Half-Life 1: Opposing Force story, and the result, Prospekt, is said to match Half-Life 2: Episode One in length. February 11 is the big day.
At one point in Prospekt's development, Seabrook loaded it onto memory sticks, packed them in a briefcase adorned with the lambda logo and dispatched it to Gaben. He did not hear back. After passing through Greenlight, however, Prospekt gained Valve's nod of approval for the licence and assets.
As Gordon Freeman is cornered in Nova Prospekt, the Vortigaunts teleport US Marine Adrian Shepherd into the fray to give him a fighting chance. That's you. In total, Prospekt has 13 levels (including a return to Half-Life 1's Xen, which the long-running Black Mesa project is still working on) and upgrades the visuals of the original setting.
Prospekt will cost 7.50/$10. You don't need to own Half-Life 2 to play, but I'm saying that you should own Half-Life 2, you strange maverick.
Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.>
Okay, now we’re nearly 300 deep into these recommendations we’re clearly getting a little obscure, a little desperate, but it’s still possible that a few people will have played this oddity. Half-Life 2 came out in 2004, but as there’s been no Half-Life 3 in the eleven years since one can only assume it didn’t sell well.
Pining for Half-Life 2: Episode 3 is so passe. I'm more interested in Episode 4, which was being developed by Arkane until it was killed for being too good for this world. Or, for sensible reasons as revealed by Valve's Marc Laidlaw three years ago. It was to return players to Ravenholm, hence the name 'Return to Ravenholm', and some legit-looking screenshots seemed to bear that out.
I'm not just bringing this up to open old wounds—some new screenshots have been unearthed courtesy of those scamps at ValveTime. There are 11 of the beggars, purportedly taken from the portfolio of one Robert Wilinski, a Senior Environment Artist who was at Arkane between 2007 and 2008. You've already seen one above, but here are a few extra of the more interesting ones. (Having said that, they're all a bit boring—damned sewer levels.) Click this link, or watch the following video, for the others.
There are also a couple of images reportedly of Arkane's similarly cancelled The Crossing. It wasn't Half-Life related, but at least it wasn't set in a bloody sewer.