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!
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.
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