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This killer mod finally made me OK with never getting Half-Life 2: Episode 3

Combine Elite soldier in white uniform with red glowing eye
(Image credit: Valve / Breadman)

For a nerdy scientist, Gordon Freeman quickly proved himself a capable warrior. Xen creatures couldn't kill him. The US military couldn't stop him. Striders couldn't zap him. Assassins, attack choppers, explosions, radioactive waste, interdimensional monsters, and even an entire army of Combine soldiers couldn't stand in his way.

Ultimately the only thing that could stop Gordon Freeman was his creator. After all he'd survived, Valve put the fatal, final bullet in his dome by simply never releasing Half-Life 2: Episode 3.

It's not like I'm still waiting around for it after all these years, but I don't think I've ever truly been 100% OK with the final chapter in Freeman's story going full vaporware. But that just changed. After playing Half-Life 2 mod Entropy: Zero 2, I've finally got complete closure on the fact that we'll never get Half-Life 2: Episode 3. The mod is inventive, surprising, and it's packed with cool Half-Life stuff including some of what we expected to see in the missing Episode 3. It delivers what Valve decided not to. And strangely enough, in this mod you don't even play as Gordon Freeman. You play as a Combine soldier.

The free mod from developer Breadman, which you'll find here on Steam, is a sequel to Entropy: Zero (also free on Steam), where you played as a Combine metrocop in City 10, months before Freeman ever even stepped off the train. In Entropy: Zero 2 you pick up the story as the same metrocop and spend an enjoyable intro sequence strolling around Combine HQ. It's fun to see behind the curtain, where cops aren't just interrogating human prisoners but performing menial tasks like sweeping floors, changing light bulbs, and making snide remarks under their breath (which, considering their voices are monotone mechanical broadcasts, are pretty loud). Your first job isn't a glamorous one either, as you're sent into the air ducts (usually a place reserved for action heroes) to clean out a few headcrabs with your stun baton.

But soon you've earned a promotion to Combine Elite, and you're dispatched to Nova Prospekt. Unlike the original Entropy: Zero, the timeline has shifted to post-Freeman. Nova Prospekt is a mess because the renegade scientist recently stormed through it with an army of antlions, and many of them are still scuttling around. Like Freeman, you can assemble a squad of helpers from the Combine soldiers and issue them orders, which is weirdly enjoyable. They've been my enemies for so long, it's somehow endearing for them to be backing me up.

(Image credit: Valve / Breadman)

And while you may look like every other Combine Elite, your character is on a proper adventure, complete with a storyline, a real personality (unlike Freeman, he talks, and he's pretty funny at times), and even a nemesis. Another Combine Elite appears on TV screens occasionally and tries to hamper your progress. Why? Who is this mysterious soldier, why does he seem to know you, and what does he want? That all unfolds as you move from Nova Prospekt to the frozen north in pursuit of traitorous researcher Judith Mossman.

There are several big setpieces that, like Freeman's own adventures, range from huge combat missions to quiet puzzle-solving sessions to horror-based experiences as you find yourself alone in the dark with Xen monsters. Like Portal 2 you even wind up with a chatty, comedy relief companion for a while, and best of all there are missions to fight your way through rebel outposts and strongholds with the full force of the Combine behind you. It's a damn thrill to launch missiles from an APC while getting air support from Combine choppers and dropships. Even hunters, those unnerving mini-striders from Half-Life 2: Episode 2 are on your side, and it's oddly pleasing to see all that alien hardware and synthware fighting for you and not against you. The first time I saw rebels fleeing as rollermines chased them instead of me, I whispered "Hell yeah" to myself. It's so much fun being on the bad guy's team.

There are some fun new weapons alongside the standard Combine gear, too, like an experimental grenade that can suck objects and enemies into the Xen dimension… though it tends to also spit something out in exchange. Usually a Xen monster, so step lively when you pull the pin. And you can kick, too, through doors and even to knock weapons out of a rebel's hands. Could Gordon Freeman kick? Nope. And Entropy: Zero 2 eventually delivers on at least one of the promises of HL2:E3: the Borealis. The research vessel that floated into Half-Life mythos to become legend simply because we heard about it but never got to visit it in the official games. 

Entropy: Zero 2 is fantastic. Play it! It's got everything you could want from Half-Life 2: Episode 3, except for Gordon Freeman. And thanks to this mod, I kinda feel like I don't really need him anymore.

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.