Mod of the Week: The Citizen Returns, for Half-Life 2, Episode 2
The Citizen Returns, a mod for Half-Life 2: Episode 2, is a sequel to a 2008 mod called The Citizen. They're both about, as you may have guessed, a citizen. He's trying to escape City 17 at the same time Gordon Freeman is fighting the Combine elsewhere, and he's teaming up with rebel forces along the way. In addition to urban combat with enemy soldiers, zombies, and gunships, there's a fun rescue mission in which you can choose the style of your attack, either at long range as a sniper, up-close in disguise, or just plain loud, with explosives. It's like a little taste of GTA V's heists crept into the Half-Life universe.
The mod begins with a couple of rebels scraping you off the ground and getting you patched up after, apparently, you were hit by a train. After a lengthy (slightly too lengthy?) intro, the action kicks off with the Combine assaulting the rebel base, forcing you to fight your way through the city to freedom. In the midst of this you meet a recurring character named Larry. More on him in a bit. The mod does a nice job of balancing solo roaming with group combat among the ranks of the rebels, and even throws in a few bits of puzzle solving and interactions with helpful characters.
In the mod, you're not Gordon Freeman, you're just some dude, which means no gravity gun. I did miss it a bit, especially when a bunch of rollermines came tumbling my way. It also means that while you often are fighting side-by-side with other rebels, they're not just waiting around for you to give them orders. They do their thing, you do yours. It works out, though, and at least they're not crowding around you, blocking doorways and suggesting you reload every time you expend a bullet. Sometimes it's nice just being a face in the crowd.
There are some new environments to explore, like a large casino which appears (based on a radio recording) to have been the site of some human experimentation, along the lines of Dr. Suchong from Bioshock. The result is a briefly appearing new zombie monster, who honestly isn't that scary or hard to fight, but which scared the bejeebs out of me with the way it just casually strolled through the casino to start punching me. There are a couple of other effective surprises and scares in the mod as well.
The centerpiece of the mod is toward the end, when the rebels are planning a rescue mission to free their leader (Larry) after he's been captured from the Combine. It's interesting in that there are a few different ways to go about it, and after the rebels can't choose between using explosives, subterfuge, or snipers, you get to decide for them and spearhead the mission. I went with undercover work, disguising myself as an Elite and walking freely through a crowd of Combine to kick off the mission.
The voice acting in this mod runs the gamut in a way rarely seen. Some mods have great voice acting, some have passable voice-work, and some are just plain terrible. The Citizen Returns has all three, sometimes all in the same conversation, and includes a ton of different accents, levels of enthusiasm, and even sound quality. At least one voice sounds like it was recorded over a scratchy telephone line. None of this bothered me, as I'm actually quite charmed by non-professional voice-work in mods, it's just unusual to see so many different levels of performance all in the same mod.
Then, there's the voice of Larry, which is—and this is not an exaggeration—the least enthusiastic performance ever recorded in human history. I'm honestly not even sure how to describe it. It's more than robotic, more than monotone, more than bored. It's simply the most lifeless and least-interested recitation of dialogue I've ever heard. It's amazing, and as the mod went on I grew to love Larry more and more. I just sat around waiting for him to say something, and he says a lot of things, and all the things he says are incredible. I actually grew a little disappointed near the end of the mod, when a tiny bit of inflection and life began to creep into his voice.
I made a little highlight reel of Larry's finest moments:
The mod takes, I'd say, just under two hours to play, and it's well worth it if you're looking for some new Half-Life 2 action with a handful off oddball characters and, like I said, some really perplexing, yet not unenjoyable voice acting.
Installation: You can download the mod file here. To install, drop it in your Sourcemods folder in your main Steam directory. The mod will be added to your Steam library and can be launched from there.