There are hundreds of Half-Life mods floating around, so I played a few of them.
By Ian Coppock
Remember earlier this very evening when I discussed some mods for Amnesia: The Dark Descent? Desura, the game client hosting these mods, has a massive mod section devoted to Half-Life, one of the greatest games ever made. Even today, this exceptional shooter is a legend among its peers, and new mods are constantly being made for it. I’ve played a lot of Half-Life mods over the years and have compiled some of them for your consideration.
-Other World- is an abstract puzzler that bears many visual and level design similarities to my favorite puzzle game, Antichamber. It was for these reasons that I decided to download it and give it a go.
The goal of -Other World- is to navigate a series of floating blocks and touch the key block at the end of the level. This mod has a lot of bold color going into it, but is essentially story-less and lacks any ambient sounds. Even if both of these issues were rectified, the mod requires players to type in console commands in order to reach the next level. I found that I was able to type in these commands without having to beat the level, and advance to the next area. Sometimes the mod would crash when I put in a code, whether or not I actually completed the level.
So yeah, -Other World- has some decent color and level design, but its instability makes it a must-avoid on this list.
Affliction is a 20 minute-long map set during the Black Mesa Incident of Half-Life fame. Your character wakes up at the top of a body pile and sets off to kick some ass. The mod is little more than an assortment of rooms with enemies in them, followed by a big tank battle at the end.
Pretty fun stuff, but the mod is so safe and uniform that it has a hard time standing out from its more adventurous peers. On top of that, you don’t seem to actually be afflicted by anything, despite the name of the mod. Affliction is a good little map, and not one iota more than that.
Afraid of Monsters
Afraid of Monsters is the second-most famous Half-Life horror mod (we’ll get to the most famous in a second). Players are cast as a drug addict named David, whose world gets turned upside down when he takes a bunch of hallucinatory pills. It’s up to you to navigate a pitch-dark urban environment where twitchy monsters and blood-covered psychopaths lurk around every corner.
Though Afraid of Monsters made me jump a few times, it has some undeniably cheap design elements. The same jump scares are used over and over, and resources are very, very scarce, meaning that you’ll end up spending hours quickly killing a monster, quick-saving, and then retracing your steps if the next battle takes away too much health. Easy mode on this game is normal mode on other games.
Afraid of Monsters also ruins its own plot twist at the very start of the game. David receives these pills from an anonymous company, and, because he apparently has nothing better to do, begins taking them regularly. He laments that the pills cause wild hallucinations, meaning that the monsters you think you’re butchering are actually innocent people. A shocking and depressing plot twist on its own, but the modders behind this game didn’t give their audience much credit, name-dropping the twist at every. Freaking. Opportunity. Overall, despite some good level design, this mod isn’t all that great. A director’s cut remake of the mod released a few years later proved little better.
Yup. This is a thing. And yup, I totally played it.
Big Lolly is a platformer in which you’re some kind of candy-warrior-thing. You can beat evil gingerbread men to death with your lollipop (if you know what I mean) or shoot them with a banana gun (also if you know what I mean).
Big Lolly features visuals that don’t appear in Half-Life; ain’t no giant candy canes in the research labs. Unfortunately, the mod is only about ten minutes long and spans two easy levels. You kill like three evil cookies and you’re done. This mod is better enjoyed as a curio, preferably while shitface drunk and in the company of similarly sozzled friends.
I don’t even know where to begin with Crack-Life. It’s the entire game of Half-Life dressed up in the most cringeworthy humor you’ve ever seen. From guns that scream racial slurs to the sound of Gerard Butler yelling “SPARTA!” every time you open a door, this mod is an audio-visual assault upon your senses. The story of the original game has been twisted into a race to stop an army of homosexual time-traveling Nazis from taking over the world. As you can see in the title screen, the character models have been similarly souped up to rain ridiculousness upon your frontal lobe.
Crack-Life is a mod that defies classification. Everything about it has been tweaked for absolute absurdity. Did I mention that your health and ammo is listed in wingdings? Or that “Anal Fisting” is your first usable weapon?
Much like Big Lolly, Crack-Life is a peerless oddity best enjoyed with strong drink. I won’t deny that it had me laughing pretty hard, whenever I wasn’t busy weeping for the people who have managed to soldier through the whole thing. Your brain will only be able to take so much.
Cry of Fear
Oh man… everyone and their dog told me I needed to play this mod after it came out. Unlike most of the mods on this list, Cry of Fear is a total conversion mod, using no assets from Half-Life. It’s also the spiritual sequel to Afraid of Monsters and the aforementioned scariest Half-Life mod on the market.
Cry of Fear follows a Swedish teenager named Simon, who gets hit by a car and wakes up in a Silent Hill-like facsimile of Stockholm. The game is a lonely slog through a cold winter night, as you battle some admittedly scary-looking mutants.
Unfortunately, that’s about all there is to it. Cry of Fear isn’t a horror game so much as a tired march through hordes of enemies. Combat is so clunky that you’re as likely to stab yourself as an enemy. Resources are also far too low. As with Afraid of Monsters, you’ll spend most of your time micromanaging each encounter with an enemy in order to survive, which is not at all tedious, right?
Cry of Fear does have some heart, touching upon themes of depression and loneliness, but everything this game does right is too obscured by waves of enemies and repetitive level design. I got about 75% of the way through the mod before abandoning it due to boredom. I likely won’t return to it, but you can download Cry of Fear if you really want to. Word to the wise, though: I play a lot of horror games and I wouldn’t call this a good horror game. It’s just too tedious and the modders corrected none of the mistakes they made with Afraid of Monsters.
Edge of Darkness
Edge of Darkness is a short mod that re-imagines Gordon Freeman as a secret agent instead of a scientist. In a plot that IN NO WAY was inspired by James Bond films, Gordon must take a lift car up to a secluded mountain fortress, stop the evil organization conducting experiments there, and escape in a massive explosion that would make Michael Bay cry.
Edge of Darkness is about two hours long, and features custom objects and environments to reinforce its spy movie feel. The modders took Half-Life‘s spoken dialogue and cleverly rearranged it to make it sound like an action movie script. The level design is tight and interesting; you’ll find yourself shooting your gun as much as leaping between roof tops and swimming in shark tanks. To top it all off, there’s an epic boss battle against a custom-designed alien creature. Edge of Darkness is a fun game with professional design value. Definitely pick this one up from Desura.
Half-Life: Zombie Edition
Half-Life: Zombie Edition is my favorite Half-Life mod. You get to play as a headcrab, one of the pudgy little bastards well-known for their insidious head-latching. The mod allows you to crawl through vents, jump through the air, and of course, take control of unfortunate human hosts. Once you’ve latched onto a human, you can evolve into one of several kinds of zombie, complete with RPG-esque perk trees.
Half-Life: Zombie Edition is maddeningly fun. There’s a primal thrill that comes with turning a host into your own killing machine, and slaughtering the human denizens of Black Mesa one by one. Though some of its puzzles are too obscure, and the mod far too short at about three hours, it’s an outstanding little game. If you play nothing else on this list, play Half-Life: Zombie Edition. The headcrabs compel you!
Radix is inspired by classic sci-fi shooters, and unashamedly so. Borrowing a bit of Doom and a spritz of Halo: Combat Evolved, Radix is an hour-long firefight through the hallways of a research spaceship. Though the level design and combat are top-notch, the mod inhabits an awkward dichotomy when we introduce the forced comedy of a sentient headcrab, who has masterminded the shipboard disaster.
You’ll battle a mix of alien and human foes as you make your way through the ship, which boasts some impressive visual design and uses custom objects to round out its atmosphere. Just don’t expect anything super-amazing; this mod is a step above Affliction in terms of originality but not in terms of fun.
Our tenth and final mod of the evening is a short shooter-thriller set in an underwater base. Player character Alex Freeman, purported nephew of Gordon Freeman, leads a team of spec ops soldiers into a submerged laboratory, where alien experiments are being performed. Smart Decoy is the same short linear shootfest we’ve already seen tonight, gussied up with some custom assets and a bit of water.
I’ve played worse mods, but don’t go in expecting this story to make any sense. You end up fighting the soldiers you traveled down here with for no apparent reason, and that’s for starters. It’s unclear whose side you’re on as you progress through the level, and Alex’s surname appears to be nothing more than an isolated name drop for fans of the base game. Smart Decoy has some clever dialogue manipulation and its levels are expansive, but I wouldn’t call the mod a true standout like Zombie Edition or Edge of Darkness. Play both of those and then this one if you’ve caught the mod itch bad.
Thank you all for indulging me on this two-part journey into the world of mods. You can download all of these Half-Life mods right here. Just start up a Desura account, log in with Steam, and you’ll be able to quickly download and play whatever you want. There are dozens more mods on this menu that I’ve never played; try a few out and let me know if you’d like to see them reviewed.
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.