PC Gamer

False alarm! Everybody continue about your normal business. This is not some official Half-Life 2 update; this is Half-Life 2: Update. The mod is a community-made attempt to give Half-Life 2 a graphical rub-down—enhancing its ageing visuals with some fancy technical trickery.

A comparison video gives you a look at what's been changed. Er, hopefully your eyesight is better than mine:

What, specifically, does the mod do? Here's the feature list:

  • Complete lighting overhaul including enhanced lighting, more detailed world shadows, and full High Dynamic Range Lighting (HDR).
  • New particle effects and improved fog.
  • Countless bug fixes, correcting both visual and game-based issues.
  • An extensive Community Commentary Mode featuring the voices of well-known Youtubers, including Caddicarus, Brutalmoose, Ricepirate, Balrog the Master, ProJared, and Ross Scott from Freeman's Mind .
  • Retains the iconic Half-Life 2 visual style and gameplay.

Half-Life 2: Update is due out tomorrow. It's free, but downloaders will obviously need to own a copy of Half-Life 2.

PC Gamer

Thanks to a new user-made TF2 taunt, you can play as a saxophonic Sniper.

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What, you don't think that's enough for a news story? Fine, as part of that—maybe even because they saw an epic sax Sniper—Valve has opened up the Steam Workshop to accept TF2 taunts.

You can use the Source Filmmaker to create one, and submit it for community approval in the usual way. As always for curation-based Workshop items, Steam users will vote for their favourites and the best have a chance of being added into the game and sold for actual money.

Three user-made taunts have been added, and you can see them all in the below video.

You can get more details at the TF2 blog, and see this technical FAQ for help making your own taunts.

PC Gamer

Reddit has dug up some brief footage of the Portal environment Valve used to demo the Vive headset to GDC attendees recently. It's taken from a talk by Valve's Alex Vlachos on advanced VR techniques, which he used to boast about the fidelity the development team were able to achieve using high-poly models in a small environment.

The demo has you repairing Atlas, one of the co-stars of Portal 2's co-op mode. He explodes into his component parts and you have to fix him using the Vive's motion-tracked controllers. Maximum PC caught some of Vlachos' commentary during the footage.

"Because you're in this tracked space with this guy and you can walk up and he has all these moving parts. The moving parts alone are like 600,000 triangles or more. I forget the exact number, but there's a lot of triangles there which means you can get incredibly close to this guy and all these parts and see the shape and the details."

Valve programmer later Tweeted confirmation that the demo was built in the Source 2 engine. Valve also announced that Source 2 will be free, but users will have to sell their game through Steam (though are free to sell the game in additional ways if they wish).

We've tried the VR demo. Here's what it's like to play.

PC Gamer

This, via Kotaku, is a good video.

It's by Nathan Hibberd and it's thirty entertaining seconds long. Maybe watch it?

PC Gamer

While it's not a remake of Silent Hill, the Alchemilla mod drags tons of the game's atmosphere, dread, and overall creepiness into Half-Life 2. There's an abandoned hospital full of locked doors, darkened hallways, foreboding sounds, and hellish imagery to explore, if you've got the nerve.

I can guess which one I need to open... but that doesn't make me want to.

This mod is an adventure game: there's no guns, melee combat, or monsters to fight. Explore, glean information from notes and messages, find missing keys and tools, and solve puzzles as you make your way through a multilevel hospital that becomes progressively more creepy and disturbing as you go.

The mod looks great: yet another fine use of the Source Engine that makes you forget you're using the Source Engine. The environments are wonderfully detailed, spooky, and dripping with dread (and sometimes blood). Occasionally a bit of Half-Life 2 shows up, but for the most part it's an complete transformation.

Ohhhh kayyyyy I don't think I need to know what that is.

The puzzles are of the sort we're familiar with. A flooded basement needs draining before the power can be turned on, but there's a valve missing. There's a keypad on a door: scour the building for a code written in a note, or solve a number puzzle to learn the answer. Locked doors are common and keys can be gathered by careful searching or solving more puzzles. Despite their familiarity, the puzzles are still mostly fun and challenging, and they all involve creeping through the rooms and corridors looking for clues and bracing yourself for scares.

I love games where you can see yourself in the mirror. Except when I'm not expecting it.

There's plenty of tension and dread. Some of it is subtle: a sound from behind a door or around a corner, a spooky operating room, the creak of a restroom stall door as you open it. Sometimes the horror is a bit more obvious, in the form of corpses or gore splattered on the walls. Knowing there's no monsters to fight seems like it should defuse some of the spookiness, but it really doesn't. I spent most of my time convinced there'd be something horrible waiting for me behind the next door. There are a couple instances where you can die, so make sure to save your game every now and then.

Public restrooms, am I right?

This mod is obviously aimed at Silent Hill fans, but I never played much Silent Hill and I still enjoyed it. I think if you're a fan of horror in general there's plenty to enjoy in the few hours it takes to play.

You can download Alchemilla at moddb.com. It comes with it's own installer, and after restarting Steam you'll see it in your game library.

PC Gamer

If you're reading PC Gamer, there's a good chance you're at least acquainted with Half-Life 2. For many, it's the unforgettable tale of that bit with the helicopter, or that bit with the zombies, or even that bit where that damn NPC wouldn't get out of your way.

Once, though, that story was very different. Okay, well slightly different. Different enough to feel weird and alien to our Half-Life 2 knowing future selves. Valve News Network combed through 2003's leaked Half-Life 2 beta in search of clues as to what might have been—pairing it up with information from Valve's own Raising The Bar.

It's not new info—people have been digging through the leak for some time. But as a Half-Life 2 fan, it's nonetheless a fascinating round-up of what could have been. It's not a huge difference, and in many cases the changes seem born out of certain levels being cut. Still, it's weird to peer into the alternate universe where Eli isn't Alyx's dad.

Much of the leaked content can now be used inside of Garry's Mod. Here's the Steam Workshop link, should you want to do that.

Thanks, Kotaku.

PC Gamer

The Steam Workshop is a giant thing, containing over 24,000 Skyrim mods, over 413,000 Portal 2 levels and, for some reason, over 100 Goat Simulator characters and mutators. It's also a profitable thing. Team Fortress 2, Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive all have curated Workshops—letting players pick the community-made items that will go on sale in the game.

Valve has now announced that, since the launch of the Workshop in 2011, the total payments to individuals for the creation of in-game items has surpassed $57 million.

Previously, only Valve games had curated item Workshops—something Valve attributes to the "sheer number of challenges required in order to scale to a global audience of creators and players". Seemingly, these hurdles have been overcome, as the Workshop is now hosting curated item Workshops for Chivalry: Medieval Warfare and Dungeon Defenders: Eternity.

"Purchases of this great new content directly enables those community members to continue practicing their craft and making more awesome content," writes Valve, before going on to say that they expect more curated Workshops in "the coming weeks and months".

PC Gamer
PC Gamer

Valve is pretty much an unknowable obelisk: giant, powerful and unfeelingly silent. Due to this absence of communication, the few voices that do emerge from the studio are amplified ten-fold. Hence why you may recognise the name Yanis Varoufakis. During his time as Valve's economist-in-residence, he ran a blog dedicated to analysing and explaining the studio's virtual economies.

Now, Varoufakis has a new job. He's today been named Greece's finance minister.

Varoufakis was at Valve from 2012-2013. Despite not playing games, he said in his introductory post that he was fascinated by the virtual economy Valve had built—specifically that it was an economy with hard data for every transaction. "Think of it: An economy where every action leaves a digital trail, every transaction is recorded;" he wrote at the time. "Indeed, an economy where we do not need statistics since we have all the data!"

Through Varoufakis's analysing, we learned how gifting played a part in TF2's economy, how a sophisticated bartering and arbitration formed around trades, and how Valve doesn't even fire people like a normal company.

Varoufakis's role as finance minister is quite a departure from the academic study of non-existent headwear. Greece was hard-hit by the economic crisis, leading to a debt crisis that has resulted in high unemployment and bankruptcy. Varoufakis himself is seen as a radical—one who has referred to austerity measures as "fiscal waterboarding".

That, though, is the purview of serious political reporters. As a videogame reporter, I feel it's my responsibility to do something dumb. Here, then, is a series of suggestions Varoufakis could take from his days at Valve that would instantly, definitely, fix Greece's economy.

  • Randomly give a fish on a stick to citizens as they go about their day. Also, sometimes a trilby.
  • If you set a hat on fire it is worth more money. Because reasons.
  • All trade will now be based on the conversion rate: Two Refined = Stout Shako.
  • The most valuable thing you can own is now a decapitated rabbit's head.
  • Abolish physical crop exports. Switch to digital :weed: exports. They're worth more.
  • The Trojan Horse, but with Crates.
  • Make Half-Life 3
PC Gamer

Aperture Science isn't the only one with a secret underground base. Deep in the Antarctic lies a hidden subterranean facility, filled with puzzles, lined with traps, and shrouded in mystery. Why is it there? What is its purpose?  Below the Ice, a mod for Half-Life 2, invites you to find out. Just watch your step.

Looks simple, but this place is not your friend.

The mod begins with you arriving in the Antarctic, where you quickly stumble upon the entrance to a facility buried in a glacier. There's a sign warning against trespassers, which feels a bit pointless. You've either traveled all the way to the north south pole and aren't going to turn around and go home because of a sign, or you're a polar bear penguin and you can't read anyway.

Entering this facility requires passing a bit of an intelligence test in a number of grid-like puzzle chambers. Many involve the simple pushing of buttons, though figuring out how to reach those buttons, and what those buttons actually do, can take a while. The chambers aren't particularly forgiving if you make a mistake, either. Prepare to be crushed, fried, or fall to your death if you slip up.

This is how I solve puzzles. With a crowbar.

Once you've convinced the puzzle chambers you've got a brain in your head, you're granted access to the rest of the facility, which appears to have been abandoned. While exploring, you'll discover living quarters, science labs, and a series of offices. There, you'll begin to piece together the story behind the facility, which ties in to both the fiction of Half-Life 2 and Portal. It's not just a matter of walking around and reading notes: even though you've escaped the test chambers, there are still plenty of puzzles to solve to gain access to the facility's control rooms, observation chambers, and science labs.

I suspect they're not planning you give you a haircut.

The more you progress, the more the facility begins to reveal its secrets, and its true size. While you're navigating the place, unlocking doors, turning on lights, locating missing pieces of technology, dabbling in teleportation, and piecing together its history, also keep an eye out for a series of memory sticks. Find enough of them hidden throughout the mod and it will give you an alternate ending.

Companion cubes aren't quite as heartwarming here.

There's probably a few hours of play here, depending on your smarts. Some of the puzzles aren't particularly sophisticated: to progress, it's generally more important to carefully examine your surroundings for clues than to be some sort of 10th Level Puzzle Wizard. There's some decent music throughout, and while the map's set dressing is a bit plain, and a few custom textures are a little underwhelming, it's a nice mod if you're in the mood for some gently-paced puzzle solving.

Dude, I can't solve this with you watching me.

You can grab the mod here and untangle the mystery for yourself. To install, extract the folder into your sourcemods directory (\Steam\steamapps\sourcemods), and restart Steam. Below the Ice will appear in your library. You'll also require Half-Life 2 and Source SDK Base 2013 single-player. You can find the latter by viewing your Games Library in your Steam client, selecting "Tools," and double-clicking it from the list.

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