Mod of the Week: Hopelessness: The Afterlife, For Half-Life
With another E3 come and gone and nary an official word from Valve about another Half-Life game, it's probably time to get some new content the old-fashioned way: with mods. Enter Hopelessness: The Afterlife, which gives Half-Life-hungry gamers about forty minutes of new-yet-retro action split between careful puzzle-solving and frenetic gunplay. Grab your crowbar: we're going back to Black Mesa.
So, yeah, another year, another E3, and another big "no comment" on Half-Life 3 from Valve. Frankly, I think it would be cool if, after all this time, they just announced Half-Life 2: Episode 3. That's right, after six longs years of waiting, here's two more hours of gameplay in the same engine, with the same assets. Kill a couple hundred more antlions, knock down a strider, and drive that damn car around while stopping every thirty seconds to look for a weapons cache. Oh, and there's a seesaw puzzle! You like those, right?
Can you imagine? We'd be both grateful and enraged at the same time.
Anyway. In the sequel to the original Hopelessness mod from 2013 (also worth your time), you are once again an unnamed scientist struggling to find your way out of the Black Mesa complex after the poop hits the paddles. Before you are darkened corridors, dead labcoats and barneys, and a bunch of locked doors. The first half of the mod will leave you wandering, weaponless, listening to the facility go to hell (or hell come to the facility, I suppose) while you navigate your way through the blood-splattered halls.
This isn't just a collection of new environmental puzzles built out of the same old parts, either. The first clue that you've got a bit more agency than Gordon Freeman, who basically just smashed his way through the joint like a rhinoceros, is upon spying a key through a grate. Can't smash the grate—you've got no crowbar or weapons of any kind at that point—but you could hook the key if you had something hook-like. Like a hook! Other puzzles involve fixing broken mechanisms with spare wiring and pliers, and finding keys to open doors instead of just smashing windows like a looter. Even opening vents requires something more subtle than a crowbar: a screwdriver. And how do you use a retinal scanner if your eyes don't have the proper clearance? Use someone else's, maybe?
Of course, this is still Half-Life, so not every puzzle is something new. I hope you remember how to crouch-jump. I hope you like awkwardly pushing/dragging those crates around and watching them slide forty feet past where you're trying to place them. I hope you like trying to climb ladders—er, wait, ladder-climbing has basically never advanced beyond 1998, has it? It's still awkward as hell in every game. We should probably stop putting ladders in games altogether. How often, in real life, do you find yourself climbing a ladder, anyway? Never? For me, it's never.
There are some nice additions to the atmosphere, too. Sounds, like distant screams, not-nearly-distant-enough screams, and at one point, someone sobbing softly behind a closed door made the Black Mesa complex spookier than its felt in years. Add in some well-timed lighting cues and it's genuinely pretty distressing to be trapped in there again. Half-Life has become so familiar over the years, it's nice to see a mod making it feel truly menacing and creepy again, especially when so much time is spent walking around with nothing to defend yourself.
Don't worry, it's not all creeping around, pushing crates, and unlocking doors. After a half-hour of holding nothing more dangerous than a pair of pliers, you'll suddenly be picking up guns left and right and finding the opportunity to empty them into aliens and soldiers alike. They're pretty much all here: headcrabs, zombies, bullsquids, and vortigaunts, not to mention the army that was sent to kill you and the army that was sent in to kill the army that was sent to kill you.
The end is, well, rather abrupt, as if the modder reached the end of the last map and said "Welp, I'm done," but then again, we're Half-Life fans. We're used playing to the end, wondering what's next, and not getting a satisfying answer. Right?
Installation: It's as easy as smashing a crate with a crowbar. Download the mod file, and extract it to your Half-Life directory. Then double-click the hopelessness2.bat file, and voila.