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Slums 2

Mod review

I played the original Half-Life 2 mod, Slums, before playing this. I hadn't realized that like Nightmare House 2, the first chapter of this mod is actually a remastered version of the original mod. I didn't mind though; it was really interesting to see how much the original mod, which was already successful in its own right, could be improved. While Slums looked very similar to the visual style of Half-Life 2 in the apartments section, Slums 2 has its own unique visual style that really sells the mod. Enemy placement and the pacing of encounters is much improved from Slums.

Slums 2 has a surreal, dreamlike quality to it, in part because of its strange short intro sequence in which you awaken from a nightmare in an apartment in City 17. The level design often seems impractical, as if it was designed specifically for the player to traverse through. In the specific case of this mod that isn't necessarily a bad thing; the game doesn't restrict itself to realism and the fact that the locations in the mod are under the control of the Combine gives some legitimacy to any unusual architectural choices.

The level design is very linear, with a few nonlinear loops that provide much appreciated relief from endless corridor crawling. Just like with the design choices, though linearity might be a bad thing in some games, here it's balanced out by the fun shooting mechanics and AI, just like in Half-Life 2.

The best aspect of Slums 2 is its visual design. The mod makes excellent use of lighting, particle effects, and color correction to maximize the grungy, desperate atmosphere of City 17. While the City might be familiar, the use of color and lighting in the mod make it feel new again, and this mod doesn't look much like most Half-Life 2 mods. The submachine gun and shotgun have been given newer, rustier textures to match the aesthetic of the mod, and it just works great.

Slums 2 has its own soundtrack, and while it's seldom used, it worked really well with the mod while reminding me of the Half-Life 2 soundtrack.

There are a few problems with the mod. Enemies never seem to drop ammo, which makes ammo extremely scarce. That made the mod a lot more challenging and really made me think about how to conserve my ammo, but it was also very frustrating. If I'm fighting soldiers with pulse rifles, why can't I use my pulse rifle? It really put the player at an unfair disadvantage. Thankfully, many enemies will drop health packs instead.

Another problem is that while the mod does an excellent job of switching between gunfights with Combine and survival-horror sections with zombies, there aren't a lot of encounters that mix up the enemy types besides those two groups. Almost every fight either has Combine soldiers and civil protection officers or zombine and headcrab zombies, with the possible addition of fast zombies or poison zombies. Occasional use of antlions or barnacles or even larger Combine enemies would have improved the diversity of combat encounters and prevented things from becoming predictable. There's one encounter that stands out as being one of a kind in the mod, but it could have used a lot more like it.

It was interesting to see Combine and Civil Protection working together. I don't recall if that ever happened in Half-Life 2, but I do know it's something I don't see a lot. Even though the AI is very different between those two enemy types, they were tied together really nicely in the mod and fighting squads of two or so CP officers with pistols, a soldier with an SMG, and a squad leader with a shotgun were a lot of fun.

The mod doesn't offer much closure. Since the first Slums mod ended abruptly, I thought that the Slums 2 would have some kind of resolution. Instead, it cut off abruptly after a section set in a metro tunnel. There wasn't any sort of final confrontation or resolution to the dream at the beginning of the mod.

Overall, the mod lacked a story. Any sort of clues about who the player was or where he was trying t


Mesa - Fallback

Mod review

The Good: This mod is clearly somebody's first try. While it may be rough around the edges, the inspiration from Opposing Force really shines through. Combat against Half Life 2 styled headcrabs, antlions, Black Mesa personnel, and Black Ops soldiers is a lot of fun. The maps were styled after actual locations in Black Mesa, giving the mod a sense of consistency that it lacks in other areas.

The Bad: The level design is full of a lot of fun throwbacks to the original Half Life and its expansions, but it also has some major problems. Maps are too open with many dead ends and empty rooms. It's very easy to get confused as to where the player is supposed to go next. Onscreen text prompts help, but don't give enough information. For example, when I was asked to "find a radio", I found a radio identical to the one I was supposed to use, but in the wrong location. Backtracking is frequent and doesn't feel natural.

The Ugly: Most of the map textures and models are pulled from the original Half Life, giving the mod a mismatched feel. The beautiful weapons and crisp NPC models clash horribly with blocky props and grainy environment textures. There are a few new NPCs, by the excitement of discovering them is sullied by their ugly models. Lighting and props in general feel very amateur. Proper lighting could have helped with the direction of the maps. Sounds are also somewhat buggy, with replaced NPCs occasionally falling back to their original Rebel or Combine voiceovers. There were also missing textures that pulled me out of the experience.

Overall, I feel like the mod could be turned into something great with a ton of revision. If the sounds are fixed and old models and textures are updated, it would look a lot better. In it's current form, it's not really worth the time.

However, as an aspiring modder myself, I can't help but like this mod despite all of its shortcomings. I get the sense that the people who made this mod enjoyed doing so, and that's what's important


Point of View

Mod review - 4 agree

I was very impressed by Point of View. The mod really captures the same premise of the Half Life expansions, playing from the perspective of another character, and takes it much further. It lets you play as an entirely different race, giving a completely new point of view on the story.

I really enjoyed Point of View's story. Instead of relying on visuals and dialogue, it reveals exposition in the form of a journal recording the Vortigaunt Xonxt's thoughts. While some might find the entries too long and bad for the game's pacing, I loved the insight into the writer's view of Half Life's aliens. It contradicts Half Life 2's lore a little, having been written before HL2, but that didn't prevent it from changing the way I looked at the Xen creatures.

The gameplay of Point of View feels unique among Half Life mods. The player is given alien weapons exclusively, including a few new grenade types that are more or less variations on the Snark. The Vortigaunt's main attack regenerates the player's health. The result was that battles felt almost backwards compared with other Half Life gameplay; I started with very low health and ended with high health. It changes up the game a lot. The downside is that there aren't very many weapons to uncover. I found myself only really using the main attack and occasionally the duel hive hand.

I liked the way Point of View uses retail Half Life models alongside Half Life HD models and even cut content to give more variety. A lot of the cut Half Life beta characters and creatures make appearances. I was confused by the change of appearance in the Black Ops Soldiers, however. They look very similar to the HECU and are given pulse rifles instead of silenced MP5s. Yes, pulse rifles. From the movie Aliens. It even has the correct sound effects.

Overall, Point of View was a fun Half Life mod that shed some light on Xen, the Nihilanth, and the G-Man. There were a few difficult or frustrating sequences, but not enough to make me put it down


Portal: Unity

Mod review - 1 agree - 1 disagree

Portal Unity had a lot of potential and a very unique style, but the ending felt unfinished and left me wishing the mod would have been in development longer.

The graphics were fine for the most part. All of the Aperture Science equipment that was red was changed to blue. The walls were given a skin that reminded me of the 'finished' test chambers in Portal 2, with shiny white and jet black panels. The mod felt visually unique among all of the other Portal mods. Sadly, the finale did not share the same quality as the test chambers. The lighting seemed very off, and the walls were blocky. During the final battle, there was no visual or auditory confirmation that I was doing the right thing, which made it very hard to judge what to do. Since hitting the glass had no visual effect, it was hard to tell that I was actually doing damage.

Soft piano and 'smooth jazz' accentuated the pristine look of the shiny panels in early test chambers. The amateur voice acting was controversial. Personally I didn't mind at all. Popular mod Prelude used text to speech programs, partially due to a language barrier, but I still think any acting is better than none at all. This mod team had the guts to record their own voiceovers, and I respect that, though it was often hard to understand what characters were saying.

The puzzles borrowed a lot of elements from Portal 2, but that's not a bad thing. Unity often took those mechanics in completely different directions. The intro was a little patronizing, but it's an important part of any Portal story. Special 'cake' was hidden in hard to spot alcoves in most of the large test chambers. I don't usually replay mods, so it was more of a frustration than anything for me. I just wish more replay value had been given to Portal 2. As I already said, the finale was a great idea but frustrating. I was stopped by a horrible bug in the ending, so make sure to download the patch. Overall it was a good mod, but it desperately needs more updates.


Gamma Energy

Mod review

While it isn't perfect, Gamma Energy lived up to the standards set by other Portal mods and definitely adds a new line of thinking into the already crowded number of Portal puzzles.

The story of Gamma Energy explores 'Aperture Science East', a separate branch of the Enrichment Center. For most of the mod it felt like a retelling of the original Portal, but I'm not sure that's such a bad thing when I often wish I could experience Portal's story for the first time over again. There are thirty test chambers, so it's already longer than the original.

GLaDOS' lines are reused, but again, that's not so bad because she's STILL hilarious and it's certainly much better than having new lines with terrible actors. Sadly, there is not much new music and the Portal soundtrack is used sparingly, but the memorable parts of Portal's soundtrack do pop up when anything dramatic happens.

The east wing does look a lot different from the Enrichment Center. Often the observation windows are placed level with the testing area, allowing players to look inside of them. Lots of props are used in the observation areas, and I even noticed a 9mm from Half Life 2 sitting on a table.

The puzzles are by far what makes Gamma Energy worthwhile while there are so many other Portal mods out there. Gamma Energy doesn't add too many new mechanics, but those it does are very unique and fun to execute. It doesn't use too many cheap 'flinging' tests that bring down some other mods. Although I did tire of the 'break the glass' puzzles a little near the end, they were a lot of fun for the most part. The finale fell flat when compared to the original, but it was made up for by a great ending cutscene.

This mod does have some problems. I ran into quite a few bugs where energy ball launchers would not fire or I'd be stuck in a wall. Sometimes all physics objects would noclip and fall through the ground. Despite these shortcomings, Gamma Energy was another great addition to Portal and worth a download.


Portal: Prelude

Mod review

Nightmare House 2

Mod review
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