Mod of the Week: Estranged Beta, for Source SDK Base 2013

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Christopher Livingston at

After months of alpha releases, Estranged, a first-person shooter/exploration mod for the Source Engine, has finally entered beta! With new (and reworked) maps, new voice work, and new models, Estranged casts you as a fisherman stranded on a mysterious island where many of the residents have gotten a bit bitey. Solve physics puzzles, talk to a few oddball locals, and engage in occasional bouts of armed combat with zombie-types and guards as you explore the mod's first three-chapter act. You don't even need Half-Life 2 to run it, only the free download of Source SDK Base 2013.

It was supposed to be a three hour tour. A THREE HOUR TOUR.

The mod begins with a a boat caught in a midnight storm, a mysterious radio message, and a crash on the docks of a dark and spooky island. After exploring a few empty buildings, you'll engage in some environmental puzzles: throwing small objects to break windows, and moving and stacking larger objects to clamber over obstacles. The overall mood is unsettling, enhanced by some effective and elegant music cues. Nothing is terrifying, but the overwhelming feeling is that things could get terrifying at any moment. Which is therefore terrifying.

Nothing good has ever happened in a tunnel.

Eventually, you'll find a small, cozy home and its inhabitant, a polite fellow who seems pleased to see you. Unfortunately, he’s not able to radio for help: something is blocking the signal. After assisting him with a small chore, you come to realize something has gone quite wrong on the island. The water supply has been compromised, somehow, and those who drink from it become, well, very angry. Outfitting you with a pistol and a handful of bullets, your new friend sends you off to find the source of the radio jammer.

Use your bullets wisely: you won't get many of them until much later.

The zombies (or infected humans, I guess) are scary. Not because they shriek, or because they’re horrifyingly rendered. They just look like grubby people with glowing eyes. But when they show up, it’s without fanfare: no screeching or wailing, no lightning speed, no jangling music cues. They’re just sort of... there, all of the sudden, trying to get you. The effect, or lack of effect, is jarring. Thankfully, they're not hard to kill, provided you pick your shots well. Ammo, initially, is scarce.

No. Really?

In addition to a single weapon (which will be a pistol, a hammer, or a machine gun, depending on where you are in the game), you've got a flashlight that runs on a series of ever-dwindling batteries. In other words, a typical video game flashlight. Is it time someone looked into these crappy, energy consuming flashlights we get handed in games? Or should we question, at gunpoint, the battery-makers? Someone is dropping the ball here. I have a flashlight in my kitchen drawer that I've used intermittently for years, and the batteries have never died.

It's a swipe-card you actually have to swipe! I was so excited I carried it around for the next twenty minutes.

Anyway, a massive corporation has built a research facility on the secluded island, and if you know anything about massive corporations doing research on secluded islands, you know a) they're probably to blame for any horrifying monster-people you encounter, and b) they're going to be real dicks about letting you snoop around in their buildings. And snoop you shall, even getting a little Deus Ex as you look through company email accounts.

"I didn't ask for this," growled Adam Jensen, as he solemnly ate the missing lunch.

The puzzles are of the old-school variety: find some valves to close to allow passage through a flooded sewer, restore power to a pump system by plugging in some electrical cables, get a tram running, disable some dangerous electrical activity before crossing through a flooded room, that sort of thing. None of them are particularly mind-bending, but that actually works to the mod's advantage, letting you proceed at a healthy pace without feeling frustrated or impatient.

This familiar-looking fellow is afraid to get his feet wet! Or maybe it's the electrical bolts. I'm not his psychologist.

The revised mod consists of Act I, which comprises three chapters, which take maybe one or two hours to play through. The combat is fairly sparse, featuring only occasional encounters with zombified workers, and an enjoyable extended shootout with the facility's guards, who are trying to keep the truth about the island from being discovered. There's a fair amount of platforming as well, but again, it's nothing that will slow you down for long, letting you continue to explore without getting frustrated.

The note says "BACK IN FIVE MINUTES." Cute.

Installation: First, you need Source SDK Base 2013. if you have Steam installed, clicking here will install it for you. Then, download the mod here. It's an .exe file, which will install itself when run. There's also a Linux version here.