PC Gamer

Speedruns are artistry. Not only do they demonstrate complete mastery over a game, but they also poke away at the edges of what a game intends you to do. Watching a perfect speedrun is similar, I imagine, to watching good gymnastics, but they're more than just skill-based. They're borne of a curiosity about the edges of games: the things we're not meant to see and the things we aren't supposed to do.

There's a whole science behind speedruns. Players spend weeks and sometimes years chiselling a perfect path through a game. They exploit minor traversal bugs to gain speed, they tap away at the outer limits of a game world in search of hidden routes, and then they move to execute all these tricks in one graceful swoop. There's a strong collaborative spirit among speedrun communities, because in the end, it's all about what's possible, not who wins.

There are lots of different speedruns, and the rules vary depending on the type of speedrun a player hopes to achieve. Most of the runs I've featured below are Any% runs, which simply require the player to complete the game under any difficulty setting as quickly as possible. These contrast with 100% runs, which as the name suggests requires full completion of the game (any secret worlds or any optional collectibles, for example). 

What follows aren't "the best speedruns of all time" but instead a selection of especially impressive runs. I've tried to collect those most suited to spectating, so there are a lot of shooters and platformers. Meanwhile, I've generally avoided speedruns too heavily reliant on glitches that bypass huge sections of a game (like this Pillars of Eternity run, for example). I'm not arguing these aren't legitimate: just that they're not as fun to watch.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Bethesda made a big deal of Skyrim's 100 hour potential back in 2011, but I'm sure they're not surprised that speedrunner gr3yscale has beaten the game in less than 40 minutes. After all, Skyrim QA guy Sam Bernstein managed to complete the whole game, glitch and cheat free, in two hours and 16 minutes. If you know what you're doing, the biggest games can be reduced to a series of carefully timed leaps.

Gr3yscale's world record time of 39:24 uses a number of built-in exploits, but arguably more interesting than the run itself is this accompanying tutorial video on how he achieved it. The lengthy video is a step-by-step instructional, detailing everything from the graphics settings you should use (as low as possible) through to how to steal the Blank Lexicon from Septimus Signus in less than five seconds. If you've got any interest in the painstaking process of routefinding for a speedrun, it's a must watch.

Dark Souls

For the best example of speedrunner Kahmul78 s thoroughness, look no further than the 1:56 mark below. The way he switches his inventory load out in the middle of a plunge attack demonstrates that every second is precious for an adept speedrunner. He won t need those newly equipped arrows for a while, but when you re looking to shave off precious seconds in a notoriously difficult game, you don t waste time.

After clearing the tutorial area, Kahmul78 takes a very unconventional route through Lordran. Using the Skeleton Key starting item he passes through New Londo Ruins and Valley of the Drakes into Darkroot Basin, then onto Undead Parish. This not only skips the second boss encounter, but it also means facing off against the first mandatory boss battle by the eight minute mark. 

For the average first time player it s likely to take up to five hours to make that much progress (or about ten, if you re like me). The fact that this whole run wraps up in under 48 minutes naturally  attracted a lot of attention when it was first posted. There are quicker Dark Souls speedruns out there which exploit a major glitch, but this is the real deal.

Dishonored

With so many tools at his disposal it's little wonder that Corvo Attano can get the job done quickly. He's not really meant to do it this quickly though, with speedrunner TheWalrusMovement completing the stealth adventure in 34:35. Attano's Blink ability a lightning quick dash mainly used for covert operations is utilised a lot in this run, to the extent that it's difficult to keep track of TheWalrusMovement's routing. 

Nonetheless, Dishonored is a surprisingly enjoyable game to spectate, and TheWalrusMovement is forthcoming with his secrets. This world record run can probably be improved the runner's commentary points out a couple of areas of improvement but this is the best out there in the meantime.

Doom 2

Picture this: you ve just returned from Hell only to find that Earth is in worse shape. You were really looking forward to having a beer though, so you want to save the world as quickly as possible. But how quickly is as quickly as possible? How s 23 minutes and three seconds sound? Not bad at all! Start pouring.

The work of speedrunner Zero-Master, this Ultra-Violent mode playthrough managed to topple a record set in 2010 by Looper. That s a long time in speedrun years and it only managed to come out on top by 22 seconds. A backseat speedrunner will no doubt see areas of improvement in the below video, which Zero-Master concedes to in his YouTube description, but for the time being this is the quickest run there is.

While Doom 2 is probably the most popular speedrunning instalment in the series, it s worth checking out speedruns of the two Final Doom WAD packs too. These outings upped the difficulty dramatically, and if you want to see a run with a few clever rocket jumps, look no further.

Duke Nukem 3D

Duke 3D s Build engine is home to a lot of glitches very handy to speedrunners. As Duke speedrunner LLCoolDave explains in this video, a major one is crouchjumping . If you crouch while freefalling and then hit the jump key before touching the ground, Duke can clip through certain walls and structures. The engine in Duke 3D is less than stable, allowing for switches to be triggered from unintended vantage points and whole regions of levels to be skipped.

As in most glitchy speedruns, triggering the engine s limitations at just the right moment is an impressive skill in itself. Speedrunner Mr_Wiggelz manages to complete the game in 9:19 below, though it s worth noting that only the first three episodes of the Duke Nukem 3D Megaton Edition feature (the fourth episode didn t appear in the original game).

Mr_Wiggelz admits that he messed up a couple of times during this run, so it probably won t be long before we see it bettered.

Click here to watch on Twitch

Fallout 3

Some genres, especially platformers and shooters, are particularly suited to the speedrun. Others, like the open world RPG, definitely are not. That doesn t stop people from trying to beat the likes of Pillars of Eternity, Skyrim and Fallout 3 in the time it takes to prepare an English breakfast, but there s inevitably glitches involved. Games like these are designed to eat up your time and life.

Rydou s 18:53 speedrun of Fallout 3 (that s 18 minutes, not hours) utilises a few glitches, but no cheats or third-party programs. As he explains on his YouTube page, this run makes liberal use of a quicksave bug. Basically, if you rapidly quicksave and then quickload you ll briefly have the ability to clip through walls. In this way, the player-character goes from birth to saving Washington in less than 20 minutes.

After a bit of publicity off the back of this speedrun, Rydou moved to emphasise the difference between cheating and exploiting glitches. For those who wonder about the legitimacy of the run, using and exploiting glitches have always been a part of the speedrun community. This is a way to push the game even further, and [is] not considered cheating.

Half-Life 2

An hour and 32 minutes might not sound impressive for a Half-Life 2 speedrun: the game's an all time classic and ten years old to boot. You can blame the game's regular unskippable dialogue sequences for that record, but hey, at least it gives record holder Gocn k some time to take a break. He needs it.

There are some interesting strategies in this video. GocAk makes liberal use of two traversal glitches common in Valve's Source Engine, namely Accelerated Back Hopping and Accelerated Side Hopping. For a stunning example of the former skip to the 29 minute mark, where a sequence of careful jumps actually propels the player into the air. 

Sourceruns.org has a more detailed description: "When you exceed the game's speed limit, the game tries to slow you down whenever you jump, back to the desired speed. By default the game thinks that you're moving forwards, so when you exceed the speed limit, it'll accelerate you backwards. If you are facing backwards, this will only increase your speed. So, the faster you're going - the more you will get accelerated."

Hotline Miami

No big tricks or glitches here, just an exceptionally talented player. Speedrunner Dingodrole completes Hotline Miami in 20 minutes and seven seconds, but his ultimate goal is to get below the 20 minute mark. If you watch the whole run you'll notice there's very little room for improvement, and Dingodrole seems to have the routing down pat. He's been steadily chipping away at the time for a while now, so it's probably inevitable that this will be beaten some day.

I Wanna Be The Guy

It pays to know a game intimately before embarking on a speedrun, but that rule has a different meaning when it comes to I Wanna Be The Guy. A parodic love letter to 8-bit platformers, I Wanna Be The Guy subverts every reliable trope in the platformer rule book. Shiny red apples aren t collectibles: they ll kill you. Don t worry about reaching those spikes: they ll come to you. Nothing is predictable, and everything is learnt from the experience of dying. You can t learn this game, you have to memorise it.

So it s always fun to monitor the speedrunning community s progress with I Wanna Be The Guy (as well as its many follow-ups). You need a great memory and superhuman dexterity to complete the game once, let alone in 28 minutes and 40 seconds without glitches, as Tesivonius has done.

Click here to watch on Twitch

Portal

A few caveats: this is a segmented Portal speedrun, which means the game wasn't completed from beginning to end in a single playthrough. Instead, the best level times were stitched together for the final video. Additionally, there were four different speedrunners involved: Nick "Z1mb0bw4y" Roth, Josh "Inexistence" Peaker, Nick "Gocnak" Kerns, and Sebastian "Xebaz" Dressler. Some would argue a segmented speedrun is illegitimate, but wherever you stand on that matter, it's still interesting to see what's possible.

This run uses neither cheats or hacks, but it does exploit a number of glitches. "This run first started after the discovery of a new glitch, which snowballed into a whirlwind of discoveries of new tricks, skips, and glitches," the team writes. As you'll see below, the glitches make for a disorientating watch, but its fascinating nonetheless.

Quake

The Quake speedrun scene used to be massive, boasting its own highly organised community in the form of Quake Done Quick. The below video sees all four episodes of the game completed in 11 minutes and 29 seconds (on Nightmare difficulty!) and demonstrates world class bunny hopping and rocket jumping skills. The occasional glitch is implemented and whole chunks of certain maps are skipped with the help of rocket jumps, but no cheats were used.

Spelunky

Twitch streamer Bananasaurus Rex is, or was, the world authority on Spelunky. It was he who figured out how to kill the game s invincible ghost. It was he who achieved a solo Eggplant run (this involves carrying an Eggplant to the end of the game, obviously). It was he who collected $3.1 million worth of gold in a single playthrough. Arguably the highest bar he set was the legendary 5:02 Hell speedrun. Simply reaching Hell is difficult enough on its own, but completing the whole game using this route is punishment. Doing it in five minutes is God tier.

Unfortunately for Bananasaurus Rex, someone managed to beat his Hell run, and not by a measly couple of seconds. Youtuber Latedog beat secret boss Yama in 4:36, creating a new record which let s face it will probably only be beaten by accident. Like Bananasaurus Rex he utilises the warp device, which is somewhat reliant on luck but pretty much crucial if you want to shear minutes off a playthrough.

Super Meat Boy

When humankind is wiped off the face of the earth by some malevolent alien society, the planet s new inhabitants will learn a couple of things as they sift through the rubble. First, we really liked bottled water. Secondly, Coca-Cola was an especially totalitarian leader. Thirdly, we were really bloody good at Super Meat Boy.

Speedrunner Vorpal has been chipping away at the world record for a while, but this is the best he/she has managed so far: the base game completed in 17 minutes and 54 seconds. That stat doesn t include the dark levels or any of the retro themed ones, but anyone who has spent half-an-hour with Team Meat s punishing platformer will peek through fingers as Vorpal passes the final boss run by the skin of his teeth.

VVVVV

Speedruns can be beautiful. Twitch streamer sheilalpoint completes VVVVV in 12:12 in the below video, and watching it (with the sound down) can be like watching a weird 1970s art film about a little man s efforts to euthanise himself in outer space.

The beauty of this run is that there aren t really any major tricks, just a thorough knowledge of the game s layout. Sheilalpoint pulls some interesting maneuvers with the game s checkpoints particularly in one sequence where hitting them as they collide with spikes actually increases the momentum of the player character but otherwise, this is plain old fashioned mastery.

For more awesome speedruns, speedrun.com and speeddemosarchive.com are invaluable resources. Think we've missed something important? Leave it in the comment section below.

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.

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