To me, Half-Rats: A Fever Dream feels like it crawled out of the year 2000.
I mean that in a good way.
This mod feels like it came from a time when Half-Life's modding community was burgeoning, booming, and full of enthusiastic gamers willing to help with personal projects with a strong vision. And that's what Half-Rats is, which it makes no bones about. I mean, hey, the mod's title and the name of its protagonist is the creator's username.
At first I thought I might be put off by the lo-fi (but good quality otherwise) voice acting, however a large portion of the sounds in the game have been replaced, and across the board the sample quality has a 1990's-level fuzziness, so, in a weird way, it works out.
One thing that this mod did NOT try to do which too many HLSP mods from around 2000 tried to do was add a lot of new items and weapons. Instead, Half-Rats has a total of 5 items you can pick up (including 2 weapons), but they are consistent and do a lot to transport the player to the world of the author's devising. In all, I feel that the developer was very confident in the setting and atmosphere he wanted to create, which is honestly a pretty rare thing in singleplayer mods.
I rated the mod 9 instead of 10, however, for a few reasons (in order of significance):
1. I didn't really like the heavy use of the HL Assassin-based enemies in the first half.
In general, they're not that fun to play against, and the HL singleplayer campaign in addition to most SP mods don't pit you against them unless you have explosives or something else to even the odds. Playing Half-Rats on Hard meant that I was dying 10+ times to almost every Assassin that was in the game (because the scarcity of Meat Pie health pickups meant that I was usually left with <10 health, generally because of previous Assassin encounters). This meant I essentially had to get a headshot on an invisible enemy before they could shoot me. Because of this, the first half of the game was much, much more difficult for me compared to the second half, which is a bit odd.
2. Too many loading zones on ladders.
When the next map loads, I usually lose my grip on the ladder, making me fall back into the previous map. Annoying, but not that bad, especially since the maps load so fast.
3. Pacing issues because of dialogue.
I found the dialogue bits to cause too much of a pause in gameplay. I didn't mind it too much, but I think that they could get old in subsequent replays. I'm putting this on the bottom of the list mainly because I understand that it's an engine limitation (you can't very well have the NPCs carry on the conversation while moving and doing things or else they'll interrupt themselves)
My conclusion? I want more Half-Rats! Bravo!
Frustrating is the first word that comes to mind when I think of this mod. Awfully, awfully frustrating. Why in the world would I rate it a 10?
It's frustrating, you see, not because of bugs, not because of poor or confusing map design, it's frustrating in its genius, in its mind-bendingly intricate levels.
Very little feels unintentional in this mod, unlike an unfortunately high proportion of other mods. To the contrary, Hazardous Course 2 is a beautiful homage to Half Life, Black Mesa, and the GoldSrc engine, and everything seems to have been knowingly and meticulously placed.
The mod seems, in its entirety, a reference to all of the little moments of Half-Life where you see an inexplicably dangerous structure or feature of Black Mesa and wonder, "how the heck did OSHA let them get away with this?" In Hazardous Course 2, these moments are exaggerated to a ridiculous, gratuitous extreme.
I don't want to spoil too much because every little gag in this mod is golden, but one section had me busting up with laughter. Anyone who has played a lot of Half-Life singleplayer mods most likely starts groaning in pain upon recognizing an NPC escort section. Upon seeing the section I am thinking of, any such player is liable to fall silent before uttering a faint, hopeless "No..."
However, owing to the mod's great design and optimization, this escort section, along with almost every other part, LOOKS much more impossibly difficult than it actually is. This is the greatness of Hazardous Course 2.
Even though it looks janky as hell and uses a lot of falling-apart-at-the-seams HL2 beta maps, Mystery Combat Man 3 has a refreshing feel and atmosphere compared to other HL2SP mods, and in a similar (but less extensive) way to Koumei Satou's Mistake of Pythagoras, it does some really neat stuff with entity parent hierarchies to create new gameplay out of the familiar old set of HL2 enemies.
Huge swarms of enemies and blaring, distorted music, in combination with flashing lights and colors, work to instill chaos and panic in the player. You are forced at every moment to decide between protecting your squad (who can give health and ammo as well as additional firepower in a fight) or yourself, and it's frequently necessary to run around with an empty gun while praying none of the bullets whizzing all around you hit you as you look for dropped ammo among the mounds and mounds of dead friends and foes.
While some maps contain the aforementioned nerve-wracking, super intense fighting (Desolation and Capital City stand out the most in this respect), others were a slog for various reasons. Some, like Gambit and Perimeter Breach, simply ended up being too laggy to be very entertaining, while others, like Southern Bog, were just too hard too look at (in this case because of a heavy green fog over everything). Still, as with Mystery Combat Man 1, undesired chapters are easily skipped.
This mod has a lot going for it.
Firstly, even though it's in the HL2 setting, it's essentially a TC, mechanics-wise. The weapons and enemies all feel, sound, and act different. I was especially pleased to see the Combine apparently retreat when a lot of them started dying under heavy fire. The suddenness of the first fight seems to have ticked off a few people, but I thought it was a great idea; there's really not much need for a tutorial if you've already played HL2, save for the one mechanic that the player does get trained in at the beginning.
I would really like to see more mods with fights as intense as those to be seen in this mod. The last one I really remember was the first fight from Get a Life, and Triage manages to pull off awesome, tense combat throughout the whole mod. Part of what helped was that you never become much more powerful than your enemies and, hence, you and your allies are always close to death. Playing the mod, I felt like any schmoe citizen that might soak up a few bullets for Dr. Freeman before dying. And, just maybe, that's what the developers of this mod were going for.
Sometimes, a mod takes years to develop, and you can't really tell where all the time went.
It's evident in Cry of Fear that countless hours of planning, mapping, modeling, coding, photography, drawing, and sound design went into its creation. With most singleplayer games I've played, the level of detail is especially high in the beginning parts, and peters out quite markedly as the game goes on.
In contrast, CoF manages to reliably introduce the player to visually stunning scenes time after time.
Of course, this is a horror game, so it's not all about looking at pretty things and feeling good. Although jump scares are employed about as much as you'd expect, there are many other ways that Team Psykskallar ups the tension: excellent soundwork and a changing world make the environments feel alive and hostile, with background music by ruMpel and others which often makes you feel that if you stand still too long, the darkness itself might eat you. Together, these elements make for an experience that does not go soft on you, but is rarely frustrating, and is thoroughly satisfying from end to end.
Expected a playable mod. Didn't get one
First off, let me say that the visuals in this mod are very impressive.
Every corridor of the Titan is meticulously detailed and is able to avoid becoming an eyesore, despite being essentially monochrome red. Virtually every visual art asset is new or at least modified from its vanilla HL2 appearance.
On the negative side, I found the mod to have pacing issues. Too often, I had to wait 30ish seconds for a crewmember to convince me to go out of the next airlock or pick up an item that I'd already figured out I needed and was trying to pick up. For me, this damaged the sense of immersion; the player should be able to interrupt NPCs by doing whatever it is they're saying to do, prompting them to go onto the next dialogue.
Also, there are awkward pauses seemingly between every sentence. I don't know why this is, but many of the dialogues would have been of more reasonable length without them. Often I'd already starting walking away because I thought an NPC was done talking. These are usually minor things, but they're especially important in a first-person action type game, where freedom of movement and anticipation of action tend to leave the player with the attention span of a hyperactive goldfish.
Two more minor things. I was baffled as to why, in two parts of the mod which promised the ability for the player to do something exciting, the action happened in cutscenes. Namely, knocking the crazy guy over the head with the wrench while he was stunned, and shooting the panel at the end and then going down the elevator.
Finally, I thought that since there's essentially no combat in Part One, puzzle-type sections would have been nice. When the player isn't listening to NPC's, he's basically just blowing through corridors to find buttons to push. I'd think that having some puzzles would not only add to gameplay value, but be more efficient mapping-wise, as the player might take 5 minutes rather than 5 seconds to go through a section that probably took 5 hours to make.
Pretty fun, no major issues bug-wise that I encountered.
However, the mod is mostly hallways with just one sort of enemy running at you. Health is scarce and often you don't come across enough at a time to make up for even one hit by an enemy.
Further, one type of enemy damages you as soon as it's within line of sight of you, which, considering I often had little health, meant a lot of reloading the last save. Adding even the slightest bit of delay to its attack would have been great.
Enemies don't drop ammunition, however ammo is plentiful and each pickup adds to every weapon's ammo, which I think was a nice idea.
Having audio logs was nice, however it would worked much better with more coding work—for example having a mini-UI where you could listen to previously picked up audio logs, as they're quiet enough to be drowned out by any ambient noise. Being able to scamper off to a quiet closet to listen to them would have been better.
Another thing, though it may be minor, is that I think the flashlight shouldn't have been taken out. It wouldn't have harmed the story, and though most of the mod is bright, sometimes I just want to get a better look at something without having to crank up my gamma.
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