Get creative with the riot of fun that is the Source engine.
PC Release: October 24, 2012
By Ian Coppock
A gajillion apologies for the lateness of this review. We had a good streak going for a while; how long’s it been, six weeks or so since my last late review? Too bad that it had to be broken; now I have to reset the giant “DAYS WITHOUT A LATE REVIEW” meter I keep above my bed at all times. Nuts. But, I have returned, and tonight, I feel like building a giant tower of Gordon Freemans and blowing it all to hell with explosive barrels, reveling in the glory that is ragdoll physics.
Fitting, then, that we’re reviewing a creativity toy.
Garry’s Mod was first released in 2004 by ambitious modder Garry Newman, who wanted to open the inner workings of Valve’s games to everyone. The mod was built with a tweaked version of the Source engine, Valve’s world-building software, and allows players to make maps using props and assets from such games as Half-Life 2, Team Fortress 2, and Left 4 Dead.
Anyone even remotely familiar with these games should be salivating right about now. Anyone who isn’t has some homework to do. Stat. Pronto. Tonight.
Right off the bat, I was disappointed to see that I could only pick from two maps: a generic open field and an enclosed city park. I picked the latter. When playing games like this, you have to give yourself some kind of project so as not to get lost in the game’s openness, so I decided to build the world as I thought Isaac Kleiner, the absent-minded genius from Half-Life 2, would see it.
Because Kleiner is more likely to poke and prod something dangerous than run away from it, I built him an apartment with heating coils for sofas and specimen tanks for bathtubs, because Kleiner don’t give a shit. In Garry’s Mod, players can select props and objects from several expansive menus and plop them right into the map. Half-Life 2‘s gravity gun returns in the form of a physics cannon, which you can use to plonk down items with impressive precision. You can then freeze them in place so they won’t get knocked over by a carelessly launched bomb.
The mod encompasses far more than simple object manipulation. A second item, the tool gun, lets you make the objects come alive. You can cobble objects together into awesome contraptions like that cabinet airplane, and use this function to create working buttons.
I decided to build a catapult for Kleiner so that he could launch into space and be reunited with his beloved pet headcrab, which functioned perfectly thanks to the magic of physics.
Garry’s Mod is a lot of fun, but for reasons totally unrelated to Minecraft. I’ve heard it said that the two games are very similar, and I suppose that’s true in the free-roam, open-world, build-stuff sense, but in that sense only. Garry’s Mod has no manual construction mode and lets you select an unlimited number of props, and while it’s fun to build worlds with this stuff, there’s just no challenge to it. You can put in the work, but it’s nowhere near as gratifying as slaving to build a house in Minecraft. The hours spent gathering materials and putting together a home are not present in Garry’s Mod, and yes, I’m tacitly admitting that suffering builds character.
In addition, Garry’s Mod‘s menus and functions are not friendly to the unsuspecting gamer. The displays are labyrinthine, and you can only save your map using frickin’ console commands. The game basically throws you into the map and says “have fun” like an alcoholic parent dumping you off at your scary aunt’s house. Garry’s Mod isn’t scary, but there isn’t much in the way of telling you how to save, how to switch between characters, even how to use the tool guns. Everything and their mother is organized into categories that seem completely random. This game badly needs a tutorial; most of what I told you earlier on in this review I learned from an online FAQ.
I was happy enough blowing up piles of bodies and building a giant beer stein out of helicopters and baling twine, but a few people have carried their ambitions for Garry’s Mod quite a bit further. In addition to being a creativity toy, the game serves as a hub for several multiplayer mods created by loving fans.
I decided to give a few of these a try.
The first multiplayer game I tried was Prop Hunt, in which one person assumes the appearance of a prop, like a chair, and the other players have to guess which prop is you. You can hide anywhere on the map, but if the hunters see you move, you’re dead.
Of course, they could just shoot you and watch blood come out, because in no way is a bleeding chair out of the ordinary. The hunters lose life every time they shoot, leaving them with a limited number of guesses before expiration. Outlast their shooting sprees, and you’ll win.
The second game I tried was the comically named Trouble in Terrorist Town. All players are grouped into one team, but a select few among them are traitors, who can kill you without warning.
It’s basically the multiplayer version of And Then There Were None; your digital Judas can stealth kill teammates, but if they don’t slip away in time, cover can get blown. Innocent players can conduct forensics on their teammates’ bodies and disable traps laid by sneaky traitors.
The problem with these games is that, ironically, there is no tutorial. You’re just dropped into the game and expected to survive immediately. It wasn’t long before teenage assholes hurtled NOOOOOOB my way. These games are probably a lot more fun with friends, lest you get lost in the jungle of horror that is random multiplayer. Consult an FAQ, grab some beers, and give Prop Hunt a spin, at least.
I also decided to download a few mods from the Steam workshop; there are over 200,000 additional props, mods and add-ons for Garry’s Mod, expanding the level of creativity past Valve’s own assets. I found props ranging in randomness from Star Wars to The Legend of Zelda. The game has a very dedicating modding community and new stuff comes out most every day.
As with my review of Minecraft, this edition of Art as Games seeks to elicit artistic value not from Garry’s Mod‘s storytelling, but from its open-ended creativity. The game is a great platform for spinning your own tale; send the G-Man careening into a lake, give the big guy from Team Fortress 2 some balloons. Build a statue of yourself out of tin cans and Combine soldiers, I don’t frickin’ care!
Just buy this and go wild, in the maps or online with friends. Garry’s Mod is nothing like Minecraft, but it’s a living, breathing celebration of the art Valve has brought to gamedom. Perhaps more importantly, the mod gives you a chance to contribute to that art. Garry’s Mod is only $10 on Steam, though you do have to own a Valve game, such as Half-Life 2, in order for it to function.
You can buy Garry’s Mod here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.