PC Gamer

Transmissions: Element 120 is a "short single-player" Half-life 2 mod that equips players with a new kind of gravity gun that enables them to leap over buildings and fall from great distances without suffering damage. Taking place after the events of Half-Life 2: Episode 2, it challenges players to figure out where they are and why they've been sent there. On the technical side, it boasts custom levels, code, models, sounds, and a number of upgrades to the Source Engine, including enhanced dynamic lighting, improved support for complex structures, and better AI. And it was all created by one guy.

"Hello, I've been working on this half-life 2 mod for 2 years, Transmissions: Element 120. It was a lot of hard work, coding, mapping, designing, modeling on nights and weekends but I'm finally done and its now available for free," the creator, who goes by the name of Shokunin000, announced on Reddit. "I hope you all like it, I put a lot of myself into this so be nice and enjoy. :) and of course valve deserves a ton of credit for letting me use their content to begin with."

I haven't played it yet, so I can't say if it's any good, but somebody at Gearbox certainly thinks so, because shortly after Shokunin000 posted his message, he was offered a job interview. "Hey, do you want a job in the industry? I work at Gearbox Software, we are currently looking for talent," a Redditor by the name of Jesterhole wrote in reply to the announcement. "This is 10x times better than most submissions I've seen. Great work. You should apply. I'd be excited to interview you. Good luck!"

In response, Shokunin000 described Gearbox as a "great company" but said he needed to discuss the offer with his family before he committed to it. We'll let you know which way he decides to go when we find out—in the meantime, why not give the mod a try? Download it free from transmission-element120.com, and if you dig it, throw it some love on Steam Greenlight.

PC Gamer

I've been banging the Half-Life modding drum pretty hard the last couple weeks, but hey, there's been a lot of good stuff lately! For example, Transmissions. It's a Half-Life 2 mod that gives you a new custom adventure along with a new toy: a version of the gravity gun that lets you fire concussive orbs and perform a rocket jump.

The mod begins with the assumption that By Now You Know What You're Doing. Get ready from the start to solve a few environmental puzzles by moving crates around to act as steps, bust padlocks off doors, provide power to generators using ridiculously oversized plugs, carry objects in your invisible hands to act as shields against bullets, and so forth. It's also not going to hold your hand in terms of difficulty: you'll be faced with zombies and Combine turrets from the outset, and you won't have the standard gravity gun to help you cope.

Blast the ground and anything nearby goes flying. Or rolling.

Before long, however, you'll stumble into an abandoned secret lab where a prototype weapon has been developed, the Zero Point Energy Projector. It looks like a gravity gun, but you can't pick up things with it. Instead, you can fire a concussive orb that can be used to kill enemies, blast physical objects, and shatter obstructions. You can also fire it at the ground while jumping, which launches you into the air. While falling, you can also use it to cushion your landing.

Orb-jumping to a rooftop can help you avoid nasty visitors.

The ZPEP doesn't need ammo, but it is tied to your auxiliary power, like your flashlight, so it does need time to recharge after about a dozen or so blasts. And, it's fun. The rocket jump is mainly used for reaching high spots on the maps, but the concussive orb is great for blasting zombies and soldiers, and for sending physical objects scattering before you.

It's something to keep in mind while you play: is there anything I can blast while I'm in a fight? For example, that cargo container dangling from a magnet? The one that strider is currently advancing under? Hey, maybe that will do something helpful.

Get squashed, Strider.

The mod is short, but very challenging, and there are several arena-type maps featuring swarms of enemies, so be prepared for some scrambling. You do have access to some of HL2's other weapons, like the SMG, shotgun, and rocket launcher, but it's way more fun to simply try to Zero Point the crap out of everyone.

You can visit the Transmissions website right here, which has download links and instructions.

PC Gamer

A while back, I took a look at some Half-Life 2 improvement mods, and ultimately determined that the best way to play Valve's 2004 masterpiece was, well, without any mods whatsoever.

At the time, one of the mods I tried to look at for the piece was called Half-Life 2 Update, created by modder Filip Victor. It had been in the works for a while, but the move to SteamPipe broke it, and there had been little news about it since. Well, it's finally arrived as a free download on Steam.

The Update mod promises a host of visual upgrades to HL2, including detailed shadows, better interior lighting, environmental fog, particle effects, better water reflections, and more world detail. It also fixes bugs and improves scripted sequences and the collision system. The ultimate goal was to improve the look of the game without making any drastic changes along the lines of the FakeFactory's Cinematic Mod.

I downloaded it and gave it a try. It's all a bit subtle—it's not at all like playing a brand new game or anything like that—but definitely noticeable. The game does look better, and crisper. There's more detail, the shadows are definitely nicer, the water looks great, and it brings Half-Life 2 closer to the visual improvements we saw in Episodes 1 and 2.

 It's not something you'll call people excitedly into the room to see, but that was never really the point, and there's only so much you can do with a decade-old game unless you want to completely overhaul it from top to bottom. I'd say, if you've been looking for an excuse to play Half-Life 2 again... well, first, who needs an excuse? It's still fun. Except for the Hoppers. The Hoppers are dumb. 

Also, who wants to tiptoe over the sandy beaches again, really? And Ravenholm has kind of lost it's scariness by now. And the boss fight at the end, where the boss is basically a box you have to knock the sides off... eh, skip that bit.

But otherwise, it's a fine reason to play your favorite parts of the game again.

While Filip Victor is the developer of Update, he wasn't alone in his work. He had help from the Half-Life community, who helped him compile lists of bugs and issues. The mod also includes community commentary: select it from the main menu and you'll find nodes scattered throughout the game allowing you to listen to the musings of several YouTubers and Ross Scott, creator of the video series Freeman's Mind.

You can view a PDF of the changes and the ideas behind the mod right here. And, here's a nice comparison video that probably does a much better job of showing off the changes than my screenshots do.

Or, just download it from Steam and the next time you get a hankering for some Half-Life 2, try the Update version.

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

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
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.

PC Gamer

November 16th, 2004 was a red letter day on both sides of the screen. The original Half-Life had redefined the FPS as an immersive experience instead of merely a series of missions, and no-one expected its follow-up to do anything less. Few were disappointed. In City 17, Valve created one of the most coherent and ambitious worlds ever seen in gaming—and if it looks a little primitive now, it s because so many since have followed in its footsteps. BioShock Infinite s opening for instance works almost entirely to Half-Life 2 s now dog-eared playbook, offering greater fidelity and a more exciting city, but recognizably the same style.

What Half-Life 2 really brought to the industry wasn t new ideas… though it absolutely had them… but demonstration after demonstration of how things both could and should be. Alyx Vance for instance was an effective sidekick and a fun character, but it was her ability to make a connection with the player through things like eye contact that elevated her above her others—something shared by fellow Source engine game Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines, especially with characters like Jeanette and your pet ghoul Heather. She could shoot a worried look. She could smile, and have the smile go further than her lips. She could go directly from being your wing-woman to interacting with the world, from having conversations to fixing something, all as smoothly as Half-Life managed to never break perspective as you went from random lab geek to savior of two different worlds. She d even climb and vault over things instead of simply walking around the old fashioned way, easier as that would have been to script.

That sense of flow is what really defined Half-Life 2—sequences bleeding into one another to create the feel of an unbroken journey (give or take a loading screen). It was a game of smooth traversal around the maps, of combat bleeding into story, and each major section, most famously zombified Ravenholm, casually experimenting with the formula. Every cool bit offered something new and most left us wanting more, even if the radical shifts did take away much of the original Half-Life s thematic consistency. Every not-so-cool bit, like the dull start of Sandtraps (a vehicle section that paled in comparison to what Valve was able to pull off by Episode 2) was short enough not to be that big a deal, and something else was always on its way. While admittedly the story sequences are interminable by modern standards, the action was all about peaks and troughs that allowed both intensity and time to savor the craft.

On top of that came the details; a hundred things designed to be absorbed rather than directly noticed. The soundscape for instance, with the Combine announcements using medical terminology to describe uprising—Gordon Freeman as a staph infection —or the Combine s logo—an outreached claw almost, but not quite, absorbing a small world. It s a subtle detail, but one of many told through level design rather than audio logs or cutscenes. Others include visiting rusted playgrounds of a world without children, and seeing the empty seas that have left ships high and dry—the terraforming inflicted on the natural world mirroring the shift from old and human to new and alien that you see throughout City 17.

One of the most subtle, though much borrowed since, is the way that Valve tends to show new mechanics off three times—first with no pressure, then some pressure, and then for real to be sure the player has grasped and understood it, before it becomes an assumed skill. The gravity gun for instance. First you just move a solid box into position to meet Alyx. Then her robot Dog throws other boxes at you for you to catch. Then, it s zombie fighting time.

Speaking of fighting zombies, we can t overlook the physics engine—used in Ravenholm to let you hurl sawblades. Half-Life 2 was one of the first FPS games to go big on physics, for two basic uses. The first was, honestly, showing off. They were a novelty then, which came through in a lot of puzzles like pushing barrels under a platform to be able to cross it. Looking back, they re a little eye-rolling. At the time though, they were pretty cool. It s no secret that Half-Life 2 was at least in part a demo of Source, with these bits standing out even at the time as largely the equivalent of early 3D card lens flare effects. Cool, but gimmicky. When it showed them off, or put us in a vehicle, it was at least partly saying Look what we can do!

The big benefit though was creating a world that felt right, in stark contrast to the largely static worlds of the previous generation; of games like Return To Castle Wolfenstein and Medal of Honor. Again, yes, it s a bit showy to have a guard at the start insist you pick up and throw a cup into a trash can just to shout PHYSICS! What mattered though was that from there you both feel the benefit of them in every interaction with the world, big and small, and immediately start bemoaning their absence in any game that doesn t have them. The rolling and floating of flaming barrels in water. Debris flying off as it felt like it should.

It all added, in much the same way that the original Half-Life s responsive skeletal animation system instantly made conventional frame-based animations intolerably stiff. When Valve called its behind-the-scenes book Raising The Bar, it wasn t kidding. Half-Life 2 was an amazing game, but its crucial, lasting influence was less about the new things it did (as important as they ve been) as showing how the familiar deserved to be done.

Unforeseen consequences

Which of course brings us to its shining achievement—Steam. To sum up Steam s unpopularity in 2004 would leave no words left to describe ebola, lawyers, or Piers Morgan. And not without cause. It was buggy, it was ugly, there was no missing that Valve was outright forcing it down our throats out of nowhere, and the much crappier bandwidth of the day made being told to download games of this size almost offensive in its arrogance. It would be a long, long time before Steam even got close to the service that at least most of us know and love today, instead of its name just getting tacked onto the words ing pile of shit.

But. With Half-Life 2, Valve had a game that managed to get the necessary traction to create the service we know today, and while nobody would claim it s perfect, nothing else has done so much to legitimize and make digital distribution work. Much as it took Apple to break the music industry s obsession with DRM on MP3 files, it took Steam to show the whole industry that the game had changed. The idea that you d be able to redownload your games in perpetuity for instance was heresy to companies that at best wanted that to be another service. Being able to download them onto any machine instead of them being locked to a single PC, or maybe three, or five? That just wasn t done. Valve was the first major company to build a digital download service that people actually wanted to use, that made the experience of buying games online better. Without Half-Life 2 though, who would have used it? Without that audience, who would ever have agreed to let a competitor sell their games? Half-Life 2 didn t just give the FPS a shot in the arm, it changed the entire industry.

It wasn t a perfect game. It was far more a series of cool things than Half-Life s journey, it was heartbreaking to be taken out of City 17 almost immediately in favor of being consigned to the countryside, the story was primitive and a few of the set-pieces dragged on far too long. It held up pretty well for years, but looking back, yes, it s now a bit long in the tooth. Few games though have had a more lasting impact in so many ways, or can be deservedly held up as both paragon and pioneer. Fewer still have done it so well, they re still being copied a decade later.

Now then, Valve, about that Half-Life 3…

...

Search news
Archive
2015
Apr   Mar   Feb   Jan  
Archives By Year
2015   2014   2013   2012   2011  
2010   2009   2008   2007   2006  
2005   2004   2003   2002