Mod of the Week: Underhell, for Source SDK Base 2007
How best to describe Underhell, a mod (a game, really) for the Source Engine? Well, it’s a tactical squad-based hostage-rescue shooter, a supernatural and psychological survival-horror thriller, and spooky puzzle-based mystery-house explorer. Also there are zombies, tanks, prisons, nightmares, journals, trains, hallucinations, bullet-time, choppers, hypnotism, and bowling. Oh, and the restless ghost of your dead wife. And that just takes you to the end of Chapter 1.
The Prologue for Underhell actually came out in 2011, but it's been remade and re-released along with Chapter 1 (of a total of four planned chapters and an epilogue), which came out this week and features hours of new content. You’re Jake Hawkfield, a Special Weapons and Tactics officer. You’re also a homeowner, and your house makes a nice place to relax between spec-ops missions, or it would, except your wife’s ghost haunts it.
Your house acts like a hub: you can visit it whenever you want (from the main menu), explore it, and find pages of your wife's journal. In the garage, gazing at a photo of you and your cop buddies will trigger a flashback to a combat training tutorial. In the house, you'll find a lot of locked doors, and gathering the keys comes as the result of solving small puzzles. For example, a broken music box, when fixed, both plays creepy music and gives you the key to another locked room.
And, occasionally your wife's restless spirit will appear and scare the bejeebs out of you, either subtly (by open and closing doors and cabinets, or by playing your piano while you're in the next room) or not-so-subtly (by shattering all the windows in the kitchen and shrieking, or straight-up chasing you around the house). Most rooms in your house have some sort of "scare" event, but they happen randomly, so you never know quite what to expect, and what you do expect often does not happen at all.
Luckily, there’s a respite from the relentless shade of your dead wife: you can load up your truck, go to work, and shoot a bunch of terrorists in the face! Thank God! Nothing makes you forget your wife’s tragic spirit like kicking down doors and shotgunning enemy commandos.
The Prologue calls you out to a hospital where terrorists have taken hostages. After some rooftop sniping, you get to raid the building, kicking down doors (kicking should be a part of ever single shooter, right?), and clearing each floor of bad guys. This leads to a chase through the sewers, then to a shopping mall, where some hostages need to be rescued and a helicopter shows up.
The mall leads to a parking garage, and then to some offices. This portion is all straight-up, high-octane iron-sights shooting, grendade throwing, hostage saving action, and it’s great. There's a custom soundtrack that seems dynamic: it ramps up during the action and subsides when you put your enemies down. Especially nice is that if you cap someone with a headshot, and their helmet comes off, you can pick it up and use it, improving your armor rating. And, if you didn’t headshot them, you can just kick their heads into mush and get their helmets that way.
There’s a little driving, then a full-on confrontation with tons of terrorists, including a fun bullet-time sequence, and then things get a little weird, though I won't say how. Also, the shopping mall has a bowling alley, if you want a break from leading hostages to safety.
Once you've completed the Prologue, you're brought to Chapter One, which features a massive, multilevel maximum security prison, of which you are the newest guest. Being a cop in prison has its drawbacks, namely, that other prisoners don't like you much, so you get to enjoy fighting for your life in the showers against a knife-wielding convict.
Almost getting shivved will likely be one of your fonder memories of prison. As you're escorted around by guards, you'll overhear some foreboding talk of an infection spreading through the jail, and you know what infections means in video games: packs of raving mindless zombie-types. Of course, we know how to deal with zombies, but it's a little trickier when you're an unarmed prisoner with no way to protect yourself.
Luckily, some guards have survived and before long you're outfitted with armor and guns again, fighting your way up through five levels of supermax. Then, there's a train, some tanks, a bullet-proof ghoul, a mingun, some more bullet-time, and some trippy experiences that take place within Hawkfield's seriously fractured psyche.
So, there’s a lot going on in Underhell. It’s sort of as if modder "Mxthe" said “I have an idea for a mod, and that idea includes ALL OF THE IDEAS.” And sure, it’s a bit cluttered and confusing, and some cutscenes and conversations go on quite a bit longer than absolutely necessary, but it’s hard not to admire the ambition. The voice acting, and there's a lot of it, is all original, which means it's not always completely convincing but is still wonderfully sincere and enjoyable. There's hours and hours of content (it took me a full day and a half to get through it), and best of all, you don't need to own any games to play this mod. All it requires is the download of the Source SDK Base 2007, which is free for all Steam users.
Underhell is also on Steam Greenlight, so if you like it, vote for it!
Installation: First, download the Source SDK Base 2007. In your Steam window, view your Games Library or Games List. By the search bar, it will say "All Games." Click that. A drop-down will open and you'll see "Tools." Click on it.
Scroll down until you find Source SDK Base 2007, double-click it to install.
Then, download the mod. Find your Sourcemods folder (Program Files > Steam > steamapps > Sourcemods) and extract the Underhell folder into the Sourcemods folder. Restart Steam, and you should see Underhell appear on your games list!