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With another E3 come and gone and nary an official word from Valve about another Half-Life game, it's probably time to get some new content the old-fashioned way: with mods. Enter Hopelessness: The Afterlife, which gives Half-Life-hungry gamers about forty minutes of new-yet-retro action split between careful puzzle-solving and frenetic gunplay. Grab your crowbar: we're going back to Black Mesa.
So, yeah, another year, another E3, and another big "no comment" on Half-Life 3 from Valve. Frankly, I think it would be cool if, after all this time, they just announced Half-Life 2: Episode 3. That's right, after six longs years of waiting, here's two more hours of gameplay in the same engine, with the same assets. Kill a couple hundred more antlions, knock down a strider, and drive that damn car around while stopping every thirty seconds to look for a weapons cache. Oh, and there's a seesaw puzzle! You like those, right?
Can you imagine? We'd be both grateful and enraged at the same time.
For a scientist, Freeman did a lot of smashing. Here, we'll do a bit more fiddling.
Anyway. In the sequel to the original Hopelessness mod from 2013 (also worth your time), you are once again an unnamed scientist struggling to find your way out of the Black Mesa complex after the poop hits the paddles. Before you are darkened corridors, dead labcoats and barneys, and a bunch of locked doors. The first half of the mod will leave you wandering, weaponless, listening to the facility go to hell (or hell come to the facility, I suppose) while you navigate your way through the blood-splattered halls.
Back in the day when men were men and keys were absolutely enormous.
This isn't just a collection of new environmental puzzles built out of the same old parts, either. The first clue that you've got a bit more agency than Gordon Freeman, who basically just smashed his way through the joint like a rhinoceros, is upon spying a key through a grate. Can't smash the grate you've got no crowbar or weapons of any kind at that point but you could hook the key if you had something hook-like. Like a hook! Other puzzles involve fixing broken mechanisms with spare wiring and pliers, and finding keys to open doors instead of just smashing windows like a looter. Even opening vents requires something more subtle than a crowbar: a screwdriver. And how do you use a retinal scanner if your eyes don't have the proper clearance? Use someone else's, maybe?
Something tells me this is gonna get grisly.
Of course, this is still Half-Life, so not every puzzle is something new. I hope you remember how to crouch-jump. I hope you like awkwardly pushing/dragging those crates around and watching them slide forty feet past where you're trying to place them. I hope you like trying to climb ladders er, wait, ladder-climbing has basically never advanced beyond 1998, has it? It's still awkward as hell in every game. We should probably stop putting ladders in games altogether. How often, in real life, do you find yourself climbing a ladder, anyway? Never? For me, it's never.
When you find this guy before you find a gun? Time to run for it.
There are some nice additions to the atmosphere, too. Sounds, like distant screams, not-nearly-distant-enough screams, and at one point, someone sobbing softly behind a closed door made the Black Mesa complex spookier than its felt in years. Add in some well-timed lighting cues and it's genuinely pretty distressing to be trapped in there again. Half-Life has become so familiar over the years, it's nice to see a mod making it feel truly menacing and creepy again, especially when so much time is spent walking around with nothing to defend yourself.
Please wipe your feet. You've got scientist all over them.
Don't worry, it's not all creeping around, pushing crates, and unlocking doors. After a half-hour of holding nothing more dangerous than a pair of pliers, you'll suddenly be picking up guns left and right and finding the opportunity to empty them into aliens and soldiers alike. They're pretty much all here: headcrabs, zombies, bullsquids, and vortigaunts, not to mention the army that was sent to kill you and the army that was sent in to kill the army that was sent to kill you.
Remember these spec-ops jerks? They're back.
The end is, well, rather abrupt, as if the modder reached the end of the last map and said "Welp, I'm done," but then again, we're Half-Life fans. We're used playing to the end, wondering what's next, and not getting a satisfying answer. Right?
Installation: It's as easy as smashing a crate with a crowbar. Download the mod file, and extract it to your Half-Life directory. Then double-click the hopelessness2.bat file, and voila.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - firstname.lastname@example.org (Graham Smith)
Total Converts is a new weekly column about mods, maps, models, and anything player-created which you can use to amend or append your games.>
Modding used to suck.
Back in 1999, I became hooked on Half-Life. Hooked in the way only 14-year-olds can, with a pure, uncritical love. The problem I had – familiar to many today – was that Half-Life was finite and I had no idea if more would ever be made.
So in between rounds of laggy, 56k deathmatch with a friend, I turned to mods, custom maps, and anything else I could find which would allow me to wring more from my investment in Black Mesa. I hung out in IRC rooms, read map review sites and slowly downloaded files from Fileplanet. It felt like I was crawling through obscure corners of the internet, at a time when the internet seemed to inhabit a strange corner of the real world.
Imagine my surprise when I walked into a gift ship while on holiday in an English seaside town and found the CD pictured above. A collection of Half-Life add-ons for sale in the most ordinary place.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - email@example.com (Graham Smith)
Like any form of competition, speedrunning generates arguments over authenticity. Does a speedrun count if it relies on a bunny-hopping mod, in-game glitches and different runners tackling different parts of the game in short segments? I’m not sure I care either way. No matter the methods, Half-Life 1 being completed in 20 minutes and 41 seconds is an accomplishment of endurance, skill and effort. More importantly it’s a beautifully entertaining video, full of ingenuity and grace and physical comedy. The new record time is embedded below. You must watch it.
Apr 14, 2014
You know that first level of Mirror's Edge? I'm quite good at that. Pretty quick. Adequate. Such limited achievement at being fast in games is a small comfort when faced with this: a new world-record segmented speedrun of Half-Life. The speedrunning team of quadrazid, CRASH FORT, coolkid, pineapple, YaLTeR, Spider-Waffle and FELip have completely demolished Valve's 1998 FPS, beating the previous record by nine minutes. If you've got a spare 20 minutes (and 41 seconds), it's well worth a watch. Gordon's balletic flight through the halls of Black Mesa is almost mesmerising in its fluidity.
According to the team, the run took "almost four years of painstaking planning, theorycrafting and execution". It's a segmented run, which means the game's been divided into repeatable (and perfectible) chunks. In fact, the video's description reveals that over 317 segments were used, over 200 of which were under five seconds in length.
Additionally, the run makes heavy use of custom scripts. As the runner explain, "the most widely used scripts are jump spam, duck spam, 180 turn for gauss boost and precise use-key actions."
For comparison, the best single-segment run is 36:58, by Max 'coolkid' Lundberg, who was also part of the segmented team. You can see that slightly less acrobatic achievement over at Speed Demos Archive.
Jan 24, 2014
Shacknews - Steve Watts
The source code for the popular Half-Life mod Natural Selection has been released for public use. Unknown Worlds' Hugh Jeremy says this will let fans and coders make their own variations, patch any remaining problems, or just dive into the code to learn a new trick or two.
Dec 13, 2013
It's taken me a while to realise this, but the Half-Life games must be set in a fictional universe where everyone's a complete badass. I'd always thought Gordon Freeman was the exception, but now I'm not so sure. What about Barney? A security guard for scientists. Not a lot of action in that job, but he still made it through the Blue Shift expansion and then later infiltrated an alien police force. Now look at the protagonist of Half-Life mod The Core. A mild-mannered engineer? Nope. As you can see from this new trailer, he's jumping between crates and gunning down aliens with the best of them.
Despite having been in production since 2008, there's still no release date for this return to Black Mesa. In the trailer reveal post, the mod's creators talk about their desire to match the anticipation that's built up in the community over the years. "As the mod has grown in popularity," they write, "so too has the realisation that this mod has to be the best we can possibly make it. Expectations are running high and we are trying our absolute hardest to create the gameplay experience you folks deserve for supporting us."
For more on The Core, keep an eye on the ModDB page, or the official site.
Dec 12, 2013
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - firstname.lastname@example.org (Cara Ellison)
Readers. I crawled to the end. You warned me. After part one of the diary, you really did warn me.
At the beginning, I thought Half-Life was the best game I’d ever played. There were so many finely crafted moments; so many things I learned. I avoided reading the slightest thing on it. I wanted it unsullied. As time went on in Half-Life, I gradually realised that each level is a discrete little chocolate box of incidents, scripted events, little puzzles and touches. There is so much attention to detail in the way that everything is centred on the player’s experience, how to psyche you out, how to spook you, how to mess with you. And then, as each new level drags on, you begin to wonder what it is you’re aiming for. By the time you reach Xen, you’re done. By the time you get to gonad beast, you’re completely, oh so really, done. But wasn’t it something? But wasn’t it really something>? (more…)
Nov 20, 2013
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - email@example.com (Nathan Grayson)
Halfy birthday, Hap-Life! Well, I guess it’s technically the day after your birthday now, but an upgraded version of Source-powered Half-Life tribute Black Mesa still counts as a gift, I think. You might remember that the free labor of time, love, and more time was greenlit a while back, but now it’s finally taking the Lab Facility Train Ride of Ultimate Auspiciousness over to Steam. Better still, Gabe and the knights of the Valve table have given it their blessing, allowing the Black Mesa team to earn some especially pretty pennies for their hard work. The Steam version will include new features too, but not Xen. That’s apparently still “a ways off,” sadly.
Black Mesa: Source, the free high-def remake of Valve's first-person shooter classic Half-Life, is a clear example of how awesome the PC gaming/modding community is. For no reason other than they wanted to, the team behind Black Mesa painstakingly rebuilt Half-Life inside the Source engine, prettied up all the art, and released the result for free. On Tuesday - Half-Life’s fifteenth birthday - Black Mesa received permission from Valve to be sold on Steam.
“Last year, Black Mesa was one of the first Steam games to be Greenlit by you, our amazing fans,” project lead Carlos Montero wrote in a post on the community forums. “We've had quite a year since then, with a lot happening internally that we haven't been able to talk about... until now. Black Mesa has been given the opportunity to be sold as a retail product on Steam!"
The big surprise is Valve allowing Black Mesa to profit from what is, basically, a work of fan tribute. Although a groundswell of popular support put Black Mesa on the Steam store, there was never an expectation that the game would ever be anything other than free-to-play. "The use of Valve's for monetary gain was not predicated by our being greenlit," Montero tells PC Gamer. "This was really the only thing we thought to be possible at the time." It says a lot about the quality of Black Mesa that Valve is allowing them to profit from the Half-Life universe.
"This is an incredible honor—one we never expected—but also one we found hard to accept," Montero continued in his forum post. "We never developed Black Mesa with money in mind. Our team is made up of average, hardworking people, and no one joined the team to make money. For us, Black Mesa is purely a labor of love.”
While no price has been set, you'll soon be able to support the Black Mesa team for a “relatively low” price. The free version will still be available, however, and the team continues to plan frequent updates. High on that list is the release of Xen, the much-anticipated final chapter of the Half-Life remake, but unfortunately that update is "still a ways off."
Nov 19, 2013
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - firstname.lastname@example.org (RPS)
Half-Life celebrates its 15th birthday today. Valve’s genre-exploding, literal game-changer first appeared on the 19th November 1998, taking the well-loved first-person shooter and crafting something extraordinary. It was considered a turning point. A new bar for games to beat. And one that was safely broken by, er, Half-Life 2 six years later. Below are some of RPS’s favourite memories of the old, old game.>