Mod of the Week: Deep Down, for Half-Life 2: Episode Two
Another E3 has come and gone, and with it absolutely no indication that we might ever, ever, ever get another Half-Life game, ever. So, what's a
hopeless loyal Half-Life fan to do while we prepare to wait yet another year to hear even a single word about the further adventures of Glasses McWhatsisname and Woman O'Whosherface? (It's been so long I can't remember their names.) Well, I guess we can look to the modders. Deep Down, a mod for Half-Life 2: Episode Two, provides a solid two-hour campaign for Scientist Guy and Shotgun Woman as they descend into an abandoned mine to find and destroy a Combine Advisor. Is it Half-Life 3? Noooo. But pushes enough of the right buttons to serve as a fix.
The mod begins with a rebel laying out your task for you in what I truly hope was a deliberately ridiculous French accent. Essentially, Frenchie says, the resistance hideout you've woken up in is under Combine bombardment, so you and "zee beeyooteeful Alyx," as he calls her, need to hightail it out of there in Gordon's patchwork hot-rod to locate and destroy the Combine Advisor responsible for the attack.
The early driving sections aren't particularly complicated. Step on the gas, speed through some tunnels, and run over as many Combine soldiers and Hunters as you can. Stop for a cache when the radar beeps, turn something that is not a ramp into a ramp and then jump it, and, every now again, see if you can manage to drive away before Alyx hops into your car. Standard HL2 business.
It's evident pretty early on that this is not going to really feel like an official Half-Life 2 episode, simply because the levels don't look particularly awesome. They just don't have that lovely Valve-y look about them. They are, however, still designed pretty well, if not aesthetically, then at least from a game flow perspective.
For instance, after having to stop my car at a dead end, I have to make my way to a crane to hoist the Halfmobile into a parking lot. The path takes me over a fence, into a building, through several rooms, up some stairs, through more rooms, onto a roof, through a gap in a fence, across the roof, down onto a balcony, and finally, to the crane, fighting all the way. That part feels Valve-y: most maps in Source aren't particularly huge, so making the most of the available space is important, and Deep Down does that pretty well. I also never feel like I don't know which way to go: there's a specific path laid out and I don't get lost, but I don't really feel like I'm being shoved around on a rail, either. The modder did a good job with the music cues, too.
What does make Deep Down feel nice and Half-Lifey is hanging around with Alyx again. Obviously, there's no brand new dialogue for Alyx, but the modder managed to collect some extremely appropriate bits of Alyx's speech clips from the original games and put them into the mod in a way that feels entirely natural. She doesn't gab at you by any means, but she does talk a lot more than I would have expected. "Good job!" she says brightly, after I solve a puzzle to get an elevator working. And you know what? I did do a good job! I'm a good science man!
"You found a gun!" she exclaims, when I return from a solo excursion carrying a new Combine rifle. I did! I found a gun! And she noticed. Little touches like that are present throughout the mod. So long as Alyx is nearby, she'll comment on your progress, provide surprisingly appropriate hints for the puzzles you're facing, and give props to you for solving them. Even if this mod doesn't pass the visual inspection, the feel of being back in the Half-Life world is there due to the work the modder did to give Alyx some life.
In terms of enemies, the mod gets a visit from just about everyone. There are catacombs filled with zombies and buildings filled with soldiers. Hunters make several appearances, a Strider shows up at one point, and antlions, both standard and glowing, are also on the scene, bursting out of sandy pits at the junctures of metal sewers or spitting toxin at you from across chasms. There's plenty to do with the gravity gun, and there's even a fun jumping puzzle that will have you leaping across a bottomless pit along a series of rickety swinging structures.
There are environmental traps as well, such as when tremors send heavy steel beams plummeting down into a shaft you're trying to traverse. Another trap sends an enormous metal cylinder rolling down an incline at you, Indiana Jones style, as you furiously backpedal. There are even a few good scares, such as when I was trying to muddle my way through a gravity gun puzzle, only to turn around and find a Fast Zombie screeching inches away from my face.
So, this weekend, why not spend a couple hours with Alyx on a new adventure? You'll get to drive her around, listen to her talk, and feel all warm and fuzzy when she congratulates you on your accomplishments. Plus, you get to once again wonder why your gravity gun always works but your flashlight has the shittiest battery ever invented. It'll make the pain of waiting for a new official Half-Life game a tiny bit easier to bear.
Installation: You have to enable the Steampipe Beta to use the mod, and while I don't know what the hell the Steampipe Beta is, I know how to enable it like a boss. Right-click Episode 2 on your Steam game list, and choose Properties. On the Beta tab, select "Beta - Steampipe Beta." Then select Close. Then go do something else for about twenty minutes while Steampipe Beta does whatever the hell it does to allow it to do whatever the hell it's doing.
THEN! Download the mod, and extract the DeepDown Folder into your Sourcemods folder (Program Files, Steam, Steamapps, SourceMods). Restart Steam, and you'll see Half-Life 2: Deep Down on your Steam games list (I hope). Then, double click Half-Life 2: Deep Down. Then, stop reading this and start playing it. Why are you still reading this? Stop. You're playing the mod, now. You're done here. Go play. I have nothing else to say to you.