PC Gamer

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.

PC Gamer

LMAOBOX is a program designed to allow players to cheat at Team Fortress 2, for instance by adding automatic aiming or removing weapon recoil. Somehow until now at least it's managed to pass under the radar of Valve's VAC (Valve Anti-Cheat) technology, but LMAOBOX has finally been detected, despite claims on the website that it was VAC-proof. And with the detection, comes a wave of VAC bans. It's not clear exactly how many people have been affected, but it includes nearly 170 professional players in the TF2 UGC league. Here's a full list of the competitive players affected, in a Google doc seemingly sent to the players themselves.

PCGamesN has a good write-up of proceedings, but a few more details have come to light since publication. While the developer of LMAOBOX apparently stated that they would now quit the project and make the source code public, a moderator of this Reddit thread reckons that post was made by someone else, and that the (fake) code provided was riddled with malware. Others have disputed claims that the bans are backdated to anyone who has used LMAOBOX in the previous two years, suggesting it has only hit players who have used it in the last two weeks instead.

Either way, this is surely good news for anyone who plays TF2 in the traditional, non-cheaty manner. (Ta, mxdwm.com)

PC Gamer

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.

The Stanley Parable

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.

Download: ModDB, Steam.

Minerva: Metastasis

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.

Download: Steam.

Mission Improbable sends you on a mission to repair a Resistance radio tower.

The Citizen

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.

Download: ModDB.

Get a Life

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.

Download: ModDB.

Mission Improbable

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.

Download: ModDB.

Looking for a good laser puzzle? Try Research and Development.

Research and Development

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.

Download: ModDB.

Nightmare House 2

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.

Download: ModDB.

Silent Hill: Alchemilla

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.

Water

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.

Download: ModDB.

Black Mesa

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.

PC Gamer

When IGN pressed for a status update on the rumoured Half-Life and Portal movies, JJ Abrams responded, "Not yet, but they're in development, and we've got writers, and we're working on both those stories. But nothing that would be an exciting update." Au contraire, Mr Abrams; confirmation of their existence is more exciting than you think.

If the concept of a Half-Life or Portal movie is all news to you, I'm not surprised—there was a brief flurry of activity on the subject in 2013, when Abrams and Gaben got together at the DICE summit to talk about cross-platform storytelling. Newell suggested that "either a Portal movie or a Half-Life movie" could work, while Abrams said he'd like to make a game with Valve.

Even further back, in 2010 Newell lamented the quality of pitches he'd received from a litany of Hollywood production companies for a movie based on the Half-Life franchise.

"Their stories were just so bad. I mean, brutally, the worst. Not understanding what made the game a good game, or what made the property an interesting thing for people to be a fan of."

Evidently he found common ground with Abrams, because it seems the collaboration has the green light.

PC Gamer

The Valve News Network—obviously, not a Valve-run news network, but rather a thorough YouTube channel dedicated to all things Valve—has released a new video, about Portal. The Unseen History of Portal delves deep into the making of the classic puzzler, presenting a bunch of unseen footage and little-known info in the process.

SEE Portal's origins as student project Narbacular Drop, WITNESS its evolution into a Valve property and into the Source engine, and BEHOLD what came after, i.e. cake. PC Gamer even gets a (very) brief mention—did our site really used to look like that?

PC Gamer

There was much excitement at the confirmation that the long-rumoured competitive mode for Team Fortress 2 was in production and would be entering beta Soon. Valve didn't give away much beyond asking anyone who'd like to take part to join a competitive TF2 Steam group. But now, well, the devs still aren't giving us anything so concrete as a date, but there are some new details as to how all this will play out.

"Our plan is to start small and increase participation as we go," the announcement reads. "For this initial phase of testing—which will begin in the next week or so—we'll be gradually granting random members from this group an in-game item called a Competitive Matchmaking Beta Pass. Once you've been granted a pass you will have ongoing access to the beta."

'Ongoing' is pleasing to hear, although 'random' will excite people less, but such is the nature of beta testing the primary purpose of which isn't marketing. To bring the haves and have-nots a little closer together, the beta period will be interspersed will stress tests, in which large numbers of people will be invited to participate for a limited time.

If you want to further your chances of being selected, Valve would like you to help out its ongoing crackdown on account fraud, namely by:

  • Having purchased a copy of Team Fortress 2 prior to June 23, 2011, or having made a purchase from the Mann Co. Store. (okay, this one is more about swearing fealty)
  • Enabling Steam Guard Mobile Authenticator
  • Associating a phone number with your Steam account

Good luck!

PC Gamer
PC Gamer

The longevity of Team Fortress 2 continues to astound me. It became free in 2011, but still Valve is grinding out updates (494 patches as of May 2015), reaping the benefits of the virtual hat trade. The coming months will be huge for Team Fortress: the long-rumoured competitive matchmaking has been confirmed, and a Steam group has been set up to coordinate beta invites.

Matchmaking was brought up in a visit to Valve HQ by the community at teamfortress.tv in April last year. To their surprise, Valve was right onboard with the idea, but this is the first official confirmation of impending change.

As to the group, Valve says it'll "be using this group to send out announcements related to the competitive beta as well as seed beta invites for the expansion of the closed beta". Get on in there.

PC Gamer

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.

PC Gamer

We enjoyed a musical interlude last week in the form of an 80-person chorus singing the Skyrim song Dragonborn, despite the fact that it was a couple of years old, for two reasons. One, it was still really cool, and two, the track will appear on The Greatest Video Game Music III - Choral Edition, a new album—do the young people still call them albums?—that's coming out on January 29. Today we have another track to share with you, and even though there's no video this time around, I think you might like it.

Covering Still Alive is a tough nut to crack under the best of circumstances, because the original was essentially perfect. Even so, I like this version. It doesn't really kick into gear until around the halfway point, when the chorus gets involved, and even then it's not as boomingly powerful as Dragonborn—although that's not really a surprise, is it? But there's something almost playful about it, and despite the obvious Serious Business of 80 elite Swedish voices united in harmony, the choral take on it somehow comes off as lighter and more irreverent than GLaDOS' own rendition.

The Greatest Videogame Music III Choral Edition is a collaboration between the Swedish choir Orphei Drangar and singer Myrra Malmberg, who has appeared in numerous stage productions as well as Swedish versions of animated films including Aladdin, Happy Feet, and Toy Story 3. It will feature 13 tracks in total:

  • 1 Final Fantasy X—Hymn of the Fayth
  • 2 World of Warcraft—Invincible
  • 3 Skyrim—Age of Oppression
  • 4 Final Fantasy X—Hymn of the Fayth (Remix 1)
  • 5 Dragon Age Inquisition—Main Theme
  • 6 God of War 3—Anthem of the Dead
  • 7 The Last of Us—The Choice
  • 8 Skyrim—Dragonborn
  • 9 Final Fantasy X—Hymn of the Faith (Remix 2)
  • 10 Portal—Still Alive
  • 11 Portal 2—Cara Mia Addio
  • 12 Assassin's Creed IV—The Parting Glass
  • 13 Minecraft Volume Alpha—Sweden

The Greatest Videogame Music III Choral Edition is available for preorder on iTunes.

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