Author Topic: HL2 Mod Mini-Reviews  (Read 91066 times)

Offline bobdog

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Re: HL2 Mod Mini-Reviews
« Reply #165 on: May 23, 2014, 06:43:55 AM »
Part 89: Random-IIIIIs
Set outdoors, Saint Black Mountain (Ep 2) offers a huge level to traverse. A buggy is made available about mid-way through the map but ultimately isn’t helpful because you can fall off the road because it isn’t level with the rest of the terrain. You can see some sharp edges on the map, so a better job could have been done to expand the background. Regardless, this is a really good map to play, with tons of cover, tough battle sequences between Combine and Striders, some puzzle-lite elements, and unique architecture reflective of Combine structures. 4.5 out of 5

Resourceful Protagonist (Ep 2 MOD) offers quite a bit of player choice – you never really know if you’re going in the right direction. But likewise, you never receive any instruction to help you out. In the first map, for example, you come to a blocked exit, only for a bomb to explode. The first time, I ran into the billowing haze to see if the bomb had opened an exit, and promptly died. The second time, I backed away and the screen faded to black – only for the next map to begin with me in a cell. All the map author had to do was to put text on screen after the blast to say "Run Away!"

The levels are nicely designed and truly make you feel like you’re in a zombie-infested city. The dark atmosphere is foreboding and gave me chills several times. However, the transition from the third to the fourth map didn’t work correctly, so I had to go to the start menu and then enter Map 4 that way. Despite its minor errors, the mapset was fun to play. 4.5 out of 5

RavenholmVille (Ep 2 MOD) is possibly the best collection of maps ever assembled for a PlanetPhillip mapping contest, which is ironic because PP has made it abundantly clear how much he dislikes Ravenholm!  ;D  But regardless, we’ve got 8 new maps to explore, one of which was a bonus map that fit into the theme, but was ineligible to win the competition.

Buried provides a couple of incidences with spawning zombies that offer some overwhelming challenges. You’ll also have to find some hidden items to continue forward. This map offers a nice mix of combat and mostly interesting level design. 4 out of 5

The darkness that permeates Exempli Gratia is all-encompassing and surrounds you. The start is especially creepy – with a Cabin in the Woods kind of vibe – and then you gather your first survivor to join your team. Level design is sufficiently disturbing in tone, with lots of hooks and moving parts. You are challenged to retrieve a missing part, as well as to turn off a grinding machine so you can move forward, all the while fending off loads of zombies and headcrabs. 4.5 out of 5

Life Lost Town really incorporates the look and feel of Ravenholm in its level design, with meandering, walled-off streets, lots of flame and blade traps, and tons of zombies. You’ll need to find 4 batteries to open certain "bonus" areas, but they aren’t required to move forward. 4.5 out of 5

Over Run left me with a great feeling of relief after I escaped the area, with winding alleyways leading to a finale of pretty epic proportions that I felt lucky to survive. Foes are tough and numerous, and ammo and health are scarce, so make every shot count. This was my winner of the contest. 5 out of 5

In These Peculiar Dreams, you roam around the outside of a church in a circular fashion, with each tier getting you slightly closer to the center. Layout is okay and loops around itself, bringing you back to areas seen previously. Some puzzles require your brain skills to complete. And in the finale, Grigori himself makes an appearance to help you out. 4 out of 5

Rabbitholm certainly pushes you to run all around the map, with no clear direction to the player. For example, you have to get up two sets of broken stairs in one warehouse room, but the materials provided don’t work. Only after noclipping to the top floor did I find what was needed, but it caused more aggravation than respect. SPOILER: Look up!! And the finale continues to spawn Zombie hordes without letting you know that you should move through a train car to escape. In both these situations, the author could have used light sources to better advantage to notify the player to look around. 4 out of 5

Welcome Holm is a tight, tense map with a great winding layout, lots of zombie-killing opportunities and implements, traps to spring on zombies, and even Alyx as a partner. The finale is a tough arena with numerous foes and some additional human allies. 4.75 out of 5

Power Struggle is the bonus map that PP included into the theme. It uses great voicework, a clever gameplay idea to turn on three generators to power your escape vehicle, interesting and efficient level design, and challenging zombie hordes. Though it was ineligible to win the competition, it was the most polished map in the set (but to be fair, it had more development time than the others) and I give it a 5 out of 5.

Offline bobdog

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Re: HL2 Mod Mini-Reviews
« Reply #166 on: July 16, 2014, 09:27:55 AM »
Part 90: WTF PP??
I don’t know what happened, but in the past few weeks, our buddy PlanetPhillip has been shooting HL2 maps and mods out on a nearly daily basis. Some seem to be older ones that I’ve previously written up, but others are brand new, including PP’s own contest DiamondDogsVille (more on that in a bit).

So let’s start with the individual HL2 maps, shall we?

Crow Avenue is a very dark map, starting in a Ravenholm type city. Level design is not very organic, but I’ve seen worse. Zombies occasionally pop out of previously cleared rooms, setting some tension, and you get the full variety pack here. I had to keep checking doors to see which would open, but the map kept opening up further. Eventually, you drop down into a small Antlion den, with your escape route just beyond … or is it? 2.75 out of 5

Vortigauntlet has a great title but makes little use of the creature in this map. Essentially, you must collect batteries for successively more complex gates, but really, little thought was required as the puzzles are pretty simple. 3 out of 5

Secret Kleiner’s Lab Escape is a tight map requiring some astute observation to get past several environmental traps. I died a few times as I figured out the next step. And then I abruptly fell into a Combine ambush, which is always fun to finish a map. 3.5 out of 5

Rising Water is very short but high on atmosphere, finding you trapped in an Antlion cavern with rising water forcing you ever upward. If you pause in the water, leeches slowly sap your health (although the author should have made their bites even more dangerous to urge you on to greater motion). Acid Antlions are continuous threats, as are the collapsing walls and ceiling in the cave. This would have been a nice set piece as part of a larger mod. 3.75 out of 5

Mining Complex is one of the most gorgeous Ep2 maps I’ve ever seen. It features all-new textures, reflective sheens, new art models and more – it’s all very well done. Storywise, it’s the general Black Mesa gist: You enter an office complex (ostensibly set on Mars), a “bad thing” happens, and now you’ve got to take care of the problem. This features a great mix of exploration and combat to make an enjoyable, nice-sized map with new artistic design. 4.5 out of 5

Shadow of Breen is a nicely designed night-time map, which we don’t see too much of in the HL2 universe. It is a bit dark, but the author makes effective use of lighting to draw your attention. You start near a dam and must use the crossbow effectively (also not something we see every day) to open closed gates and cross the valley. The author spaces out encounters with a full spectrum of Ep2 foes, ending with a climb up the dam’s control structure and a finale firefight. Pretty impressive overall. 4.25 out of 5

So let’s move on to PP’s DiamondDogsVille competition. The name was taken from Alastair Reynolds’ 2003 book called Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days, which contained two novellas; Diamond Dogs forced protagonists to go from room to room in a spire, which each room containing a puzzle that must be solved before the next room is accessible. For this competition, mappers were tasked with creating an area from which the player must escape, most probably accomplished through the solving of some puzzle and/or combat. PP was hoping for some clever puzzles, hopefully environmental in nature and not some obscure and impossible to solve button pressing sequence.

The results, in my mind, were mixed, as to how they connected with the theme.

Cube Maps is all about placing cubes on buttons to open doors. You also have to navigate the puzzles and avoid headcrabs along the way. The map certainly tied directly to the original concept, but it was too easy to complete. 3 out of 5

Timely Escape is an extremely tough train station to navigate due to the sheer number of Combine foes. The author has different elements taking place at certain times, like trains coming through, bombs going off, doors opening, etc. Ammo, weapons and health are sparingly placed, and you can easily run out of supplies and then be killed instantaneously. Combine are thick as flies on a Vortigaunt corpse, so you have to move quickly and shoot clean. Overall, I was sufficiently challenged, although I could never get some “weak” walls to ever break – either with my crowbar or even with a grenade. This has some noticeable faults, but I found it the strongest contest entry. 4 out of 5

Industrial Revolution is set in a large warehouse, requiring a small amount of brainpower (a locked gate at the start, for instance). After you get the gate open, things move along rather quickly, including a brief interlude with Combine forces before your eventual escape. Other than the first “puzzle” the map was fairly straightforward. 3.5 out of 5

Indyo was an additional map, not eligible for the contest vote, that was originally intended for PP’s MovieVille contest (and there is a cute hidden secret detailing it). Basically, the map is a page out of Indiana Jones’ playbook: lots of death traps, sliding chutes into burning fire, locked gates requiring long swims through water, crushing platforms, and even a rumble with the “natives”. The graphical design is simple, evoking a castle fortress, but effective enough to move you through each stage. 3.75 out of 5

Monoxide is another bonus map not eligible for the contest, and was designed over a considerably longer time period, resulting in the most improved map in the group. It features some well-designed environmental puzzles and traps. Crossing water on several occasions leads to some great encounters; in one, the water is electrified every time an elevator comes into the flooded basement where you are, so you’ll have to figure out its occurrence, and how to keep from getting fried. Foes are diverse and nicely spaced apart. The author also lets the player have some agency, requiring you to look all around for clues on how to continue in various locales. A great addition to the contest. 4.25 out of 5

Finally, we have some larger mods to finish up.

Year Long Alarm is the best of the lot, in my estimation. Set around a large, deep mining shaft, you must slowly make your way to the lower levels to escape. Along the way, you have a diversity of traps and foes to encounter, with the author doing an impressive job of placing all the elements in such a way as to bring the player’s emotions up and down. This makes the mod both fun and challenging, with something different around every bend. Upon escaping the mine (which is surprisingly large in detail and only a single map), you exit into a lovingly crafted valley with a bridge, train yard and sawmill. Combine forces give you a final challenge before you can escape. 5 out of 5

Courage is an interesting mash-up of designs. The start finds you in a Portal-like testing area, filled with tons of zombie foes. After dispatching them, you can try out the virtual reality simulator, which takes you to a verdant valley. There, two friends are planting a garden and invite you to join. It has a weird ending but the initial zombie rush is pretty intense. 3.75 out of 5

Have I told you how much I can’t stand most of the abstract “art” mods? With Keys, you are stranded in a mostly black and white world, interspersed with color vignettes. The only element of “real” gameplay consists of finding keys to open locked doors, and finding boxes to get to higher levels, and finding batteries to start a machine. The whole thing is very simplistic, including whatever “deep thought” the author is intending to impart. I would urge the author to develop a plot/storyline with substance that will really make the player sit up and take notice. As it is, I was bored to tears and never felt involved in the story. 2.5 out of 5

Return to Ravenholm fails to deliver on the simple idea of making you Father Grigori, retracing his steps from when Gordon last saw him in the Ravenholm cemetery. The start is a nigh-impossible series of waves of Combine and Elite Combine attacking you in a church, and you’re stuck with a weak, 2-shot shotgun that barely does any damage. If you can manage to kill off enough Combine, you might be able to escape through a sidewall before the next wave. Then it’s a matter of retracing your steps, with very few (if any) zombies along the way; this is made even sadder because what makes Ravenholm “fun” is all the traps you can use to kill zombies, as well as having the GravGun to shoot hooks and sawblades. I think if the author fleshed out the map with more action pieces like the front, I’d have a different opinion, but right now I give it 2.75 out of 5.

I was halfway through The Citizen Returns when I realized I HAD ALREADY PLAYED THIS MOD BEFORE!!!  Well, most of it, anyway. I had played The Citizen 2 (reviewed here, and really liked it, although I had some major problems with the voice-acting -- which is only marginally improved in this revision). Citizen Returns takes most of Citizen 2 and splices it with a new ending. You are a regular Citizen of City 17 who gets mixed up with the resistance. Occasionally you’ll be accompanied by other Rebels, but mostly you’re on your own. Some set pieces include an ice rink, a casino (with a creepy unkillable foe) and a courtyard with an execution taking place (you can choose one of three endings, and this is where Citizen 2 originally ended). Overall, it’s all “OK” but nothing that really wowed me. 3.75 out of 5

Finally, let’s pull this review to a close with Climbox. I don’t know what it means, but this was a relatively quick play. The mod offers special power-ups for speed and health that you can use as you gradually climb to the roof of what appears to be a lobby with skylight. The author makes good use of space and tough enemies to give you a nice challenge. 4 out of 5

Whew!!! Lots of new HL2 gaming goodness, so enjoy!  :smoking:

Offline bobdog

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Re: HL2 Mod Mini-Reviews
« Reply #167 on: August 27, 2014, 12:41:50 PM »
Part 91: Two ‘Villes and Some Mods Were Crossing the Street….

Sewer Sickness (HL2 map) is a quick map to play and is nicely framed, with an airboat ride and a timed finale as you await the teleport to open up and whisk you away. 3.5 out of 5

The Fun Box (Ep2 map) is one of the few games to ever make me nauseous. You are in a large room with a rotating cylinder revolving around you, and must reach 4 buttons to complete the puzzle. It offers interesting level design, but the rotation was way too much for my head and eyes. 2.75 out of 5

Rabbit Hole (Ep2 mod) continues to go deeper and deeper, with some standout locations like a huge open hallway whose path loops around itself. Another makes an interesting use of low gravity as well as how light affects zombies. The finale is creepy and challenging, with a zinger ending. 4.5 out of 5

In the PlanetPhillip contest CombinationVille, authors were tasked with creating maps that only featured two enemies and two weapons – quite a challenging feat, actually. My favorite entry was The Nest.

Canal Flight features some head-scratching environmental puzzles at the start, followed by a very tough Combine firefight and finishing with a canal escape in the swamp buggy. The action is fast-paced but intuitive. 4.5 out of 5

The Nest takes you into a multi-story hotel that has been divided into barricaded rooms. It also houses hundreds of headcrabs, so you have to move fast to keep from getting inundated by them. You’ll also have to turn on a number of electric cranks to power an emergency signal. Then the true finale takes place! The grenade is a good choice and has to be used judiciously to avoid harming yourself. 5 out of 5

Volatile Energy has interesting Combine architecture and the map’s size is huge in scope, but it falters at the simplest things. For example, I couldn’t get any doors to open and had to no-clip just to look around. The map probably needed better beta-testing to catch these. 2 out of 5

Cannon Beach is a BONUS map not eligible as a contest entry. It also makes great use of the Antlion ball as a weapon. The pacing is great, the outdoor level wraps around itself logically, and you have to use your brain to get past the Combine and Strider forces. This map is very nicely put together. 5 out of 5

PlanetPhillip’s most recent contest is SniperVille 2, where authors had to use snipers as the main adversary. My favorite entry was Dead Eyes.

Dead Eyes is a tough traversal past a good half-dozen snipers located at different heights and angles. Throughout most of the map you’re under at least one sniper’s eye, and must duck appropriately to avoid damage. Along the way lie a number of zombies, antlions, headcrabs and even environmental hazards, so you’ll have to be quick between cover sources, hoping the snipers will take down some of the critters. The ending is a little surprising and I actually died on my first play-through, but I survived with a little additional forethought on the third time. 4.5 out of 5

Stop, Thief is a 30-second map where YOU become the sniper. You must look through the magnified scope at nine windows and determine which of 9 people is going to steal a gnome. Basically, you have to look quickly at all the windows and determine who is in the room when the gnome disappears, and then quickly pull the trigger and hope you get them before they escape. It’s an interesting concept, but not real fun, and definitely not what you expect from an HL2 mod. 2.75 out of 5

Finally, On the Rooftop suffers terribly from first-map-itis. The author has created an unwieldy, ugly, blocky map that is too difficult by far, hoping you can run faster than a sniper can shoot. On top of that, the author has unwittingly turned off health gains, so that you can’t access health packs and power-ups. And you can’t use the elevator. And you see through the maps on several occasions. But at least the author has created something, so if he can take the criticism, he has some potential in the future. 2.5 out of 5

Offline bobdog

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Re: HL2 Mod Mini-Reviews
« Reply #168 on: September 02, 2014, 07:34:01 AM »
Part 92: The Gate 2 – Electric Beattie-loo
Mapper Craig John Beattie’s relationship with this forum has been, for lack of a better word, toxic. Reaching back to the Foxhole’s predecessor Hangar 16, Beattie took issue with reviewer Silver Sorrow’s unflattering review of The Gate, which was Beattie’s first mapping experience near the tail-end of Half-Life 1 modding. Essentially the review said the maps were pretty but uninspired, cutscenes were monotonous, voice-acting was all over the place, and overall gameplay was on the difficult to impossible scale. And if you wanted/needed to cheat, the author took that opportunity away from you – basically calling you a “wuss” in the process because you weren’t hard-core enough to manage it on your own skills.

Beattie certainly has the right to disagree with the review, but he never seemed to understand that not everyone was going to love his personal work, no matter how many years he put into it. It’s the same as “art” – there’s some stuff out there that I find absolutely abhorrent that other people think are magical. It’s all personal opinion.

For the record, I was one of the few at the Hangar to actually complete The Gate, but it was hard and difficult and not especially fun, although the lengthy mod did have some bright points. I remember a mine ride specifically as being pretty fun, but other parts were pure slogs, like an 8-minute-long scene where you sit in a jail cell awaiting something/anything, and a “stealth” section where one wrong move will cause a timed alarm to go off and kill you. Not fun.

So with all of this background, what did I think of Beattie’s sequel The Gate 2? First, note that the mod is a 4GB download, and converts to 14GB when installed. (Some critics say it’s because of all the material … “borrowed” … from other sources, including art, music and character assets. You know what, I think ALL art assets should be common-shared between modders so new authors don’t have to create yet ANOTHER AK-47 model or a computer monitor. Spend less time on modeling and more on mapping.)

The mod starts with a lengthy cutscene of a windmill and a car driving down the road set to music from (I think) Raiders of the Lost Ark. The camera angles are nice, but then we skip to a close-up of a house and inside a top bedroom is a Christmas tree with presents underneath. Back to the road and the car’s driver getting taken up by a flying saucer. The year is supposed to be 1969, and we finally settle upon where your character John is located inside his house. I don’t know what any of the first scenes were supposed to be, as there is no relation whatsoever to where you currently are.

Anna, who in the original mod was a blonde German lady, has now turned into hot Alyx with boobs hanging out and belly uncovered. Standing in your doorway, she warns you of something and is immediately shot by snipers. Now the game finally turns control over to you after about 12-15 minutes of cutscenes and exposition. You immediately have to get to the buggy and escape your home while snipers and troops attack your house. This section where you are driving along the highway is frantic but fun, with cop cars swerving to block your path, huge trucks coming at you from the opposite lane, cops shooting at you, and having to stop briefly to refill on health before you make your way to the city. This section is lengthy enough that you can get the buggy up to top speed, trying to avoid cops or running them over. I REALLY liked this part.

Then I experienced my first glitch of the game. As I was driving into the city, two cop cars came together to block me off, but I was able to get past them initially. This allowed me to enter the “back” of that map, with all sorts of complications. So I rebooted and next time swerved to the left, where I got out of the buggy and entered a sewer. Inside, a man (Breen with black hair) tells me to follow him through a portal that takes us to a space station looking down on Earth, with various spaceships flying in the background.

Here’s where we get to the next nitpick I’ll have on this mod – the voice-acting. The Breen character has pretty good voice-acting (the sound is clear and he is understandable even with a British accent), while your character John varies from decent to crappy (background hum behind the vocals). Anna’s first conversation with you is too low, and sounds like she’s in a tunnel. If you’re going to spend 7 years working on a mod, at least try to get all your voice actors to be the same level of sound mix. The voice acting did improve over the length of the mod.

Breen-clone says I need to go to a Mars base that Nazis have taken over because I’m some sort of “specialist.” And that if I do so, I’ll be able to see Anna again. So another lengthy cut-scene showing a spaceship leaving earth, and then the same cutscene showing the same spaceship approaching Mars 6 months later, and then ANOTHER cutscene showing the spaceship’s shuttle landing on Mars. The camera work is nice, but this is a shooter game, not a movie.

When I land on Mars, I have two commandos to accompany me. I named them Bullet Sponge 1 and Bullet Sponge 2. We went into the complex – left up a hallway, right up a hallway, left up a hallway, right up a hallway, left up a hallway, right up a hallway, left up a hallway, shoot some new faster zombies that spit off a crab thingy from Alien. Then right up a hallway, left up a hallway, right up a hallway, left up a hallway, shoot some Nazis, right up a hallway, left up a hallway, shoot some Nazis in a large room. Get the picture? The levels are nicely detailed, but reuse the same props over and over again, especially a whole bunch of dead bodies – all reused copiously. And the level pathing is boring – essentially just one long hallway with right angles.

At this point, we get to a place where the author didn’t make his plans clear to the player. Inside the large room, there is a pool in the middle covered by thick wooden planks that cannot be broken by the crowbar. Above the pool is a large weight hanging by 2 wires. The wires are connected to an electrical wire that comes down the wall and is hooked to a generator at the end. Obviously, I’m meant to have the weight crash down on the wooden planks over the pool. I try fruitlessly shooting at the wires and the mechanism to see if that works. No. So maybe I need to send an electric charge up the wire somehow. But I clicked on every possible object that I thought could turn on something, then tried to destroy anything that might send an electric surge, then tried to shoot anything, then moved an explosive barrel over and tried that, then jumped up and down to try and knock the cable with the crowbar. Nothing worked. So I just no-clipped through, opened the locked gate, and let BS 1 and 2 inside.

[In a walkthrough video, I learned that you have to shoot the struts holding the wires, so my bad. But it could have been made more clear to the player what to do rather than have them fruitlessly meander around the room.]

Left hallway, right hallway, left hallway, right hallway, shoot Nazis, up some stairs, and we finally get the first “open” part of the game where you can go either left OR right to rejoin the hallway beyond and take an elevator down. The first time I got here I jumped in the elevator and BS 1 and 2 stayed at the top, so I had to reboot and send them to the elevator to ensure they came with me. Good thing because there’s a room with about a dozen faster zombies that the boys took care of for me.

I finally enter a huge room with two towering borer machines and a Gate at the far end. Another 8 faster zombies come loping my way that I am able to take out long-distance, and then a portal appears that takes me back to the space station.

Wait. You had a portal that took me from Earth to the space station. Then you sent me in a 6-month long space trip to Mars. And now you have a portal that takes me from Mars back to the space station??? Why the heck did I need to take that space flight, other than to allow the author to piece together three very lengthy and ultimately unnecessary cutscenes??

Whatever, I just want to save Anna, so I’m going to use that portal to go back to several minutes BEFORE Anna gets shot, and then we’ll both jump into ANOTHER portal and come back to the space station. And now you want me to go back to the 1940s to disassemble the bombs I first placed during the first game, without running into myself and disrupting the time continuum? It’s very Back to the Future, but I’ll do it.

My time in Germany is relatively quick, although again I have to wait around for 5 minutes for an air raid to occur and open up a locked door. I get through with a gun-toting Nazi chasing my unarmed self, and I come into contact with a Resistance supporter who supports me by killing the Nazi and arming me up. We navigate through the compound (left, right, left, right, left, right, left) until we reach the submarine pen where I retrieve the bomb placed the first time I was here. I follow my buddy, who farts when he runs, because farting is funny, amirite? Sheesh.

After Germany, the Space Command folks tell me they’re going to drop me in North Korea to stop a nuclear meltdown. I’m glad my character asks why they’re sending a lone man to do the work of a small ops team, and the answer is because OF COURSE North Korea would expect the West to send in a small ops team, so a lone individual should do just great. Of course they send me without any weapons, so I have to run and find some quickly before I’m overwhelmed.

Next nitpick: you come up to an electric generator and around the corner is a group of NK regular troops. I tried getting around that corner a dozen times to no avail. When I went into God mode, I found that the troops keep spawning, and there’s nothing behind them anyway. So then I went into no-clip mode to see what I missed. I flew around for 5 minutes and finally spotted a very hidden tunnel entrance to the left of the electric generators. Maybe an extra clue would have been helpful here, like a spotlight shining on the entrance, or even a dirt path to it.

So I get into the nuclear labs and find where the meltdown is going to occur. All doors are locked, and all actions are tied to VERY SPECIFIC triggers. The nuclear rod hanging from the ceiling only comes down once you jump into what I assume is irradiated water. The locked door below only opens when you click on a monitor in the room above. And the map won’t end until you enter the corner of the room behind some large boxes, upon which a dozen heavily armed NK troops start shooting you up and tossing grenades your direction. REALLY?! Why do I have to enter that corner to get the game to continue? The specific triggers required in this section alone are enough to give the mod a failing review.

But let’s continue, now that we know what needs to be done (via that walkthrough video, NOT via the author’s “great” level design). Unfortunately the next section, based in Alaska, is a HUGE waste of 15 minutes of time. You are dropped off in a cabin in the middle of a snowy wilderness, surrounded by forests and a guarded bridge, where you are to wait for the next 6 months to be in protective custody. Nothing happens unless you happen to traipse outside for several minutes, upon which returning to the cabin nets you a phone call, telling you to get a camera in the bedroom and take some pictures. Upon locating the place you need to take the photos, you can’t click on anything to actually take photos. A helicopter shows up, starts shooting and you have to attempt to escape until it flies off. You can roam around manically looking for a clue of what to do next, but again, you have to return to A SPECIFIC SPOT in the cabin’s furthest corner before it will trigger the next load game. Again you get a  phone call, telling you to pick up a camera from a downed helicopter, which now nets you dozens of snipers all tracking you until you return to the cabin.

This next part gets me: Breen-clone is there and orders you to infiltrate Area 51. I’m glad my character says: “But you said I was supposed to go into hiding – now you want me to go undercover at Area 51?” Oy. By the way, nothing is ever done with either the photos or the camera you are supposed to have picked up.

The outside of Area 51 is nicely designed, but interestingly, if you walk into AN OPEN OFFICE attached to the reception area, then you are immediately considered a terrorist and shot. Really?! If you don’t want me walking into there, put up a counter or something. Also, if you get next to any officer, they start shooting at you. A little overboard there, fellas; maybe some decaf next time. However, the Area 51 maps are somewhat interesting because you must sneak past a general who knew you from the previous game, grab a code to open a door, retrieve a CD and place it in a computer to open a sealed door. This is pretty interesting.

But then …. [shakes head] Beattie, did you learn NOTHING from the first game? One of its most atrocious parts was when you are captured, placed in a cell, and must wait an ETERNITY while German music plays over the loudspeakers. Beattie has upped the ante this time, leaving you trapped in a cell for 10 MINUTES while he plays “The Bird’s the Word” two times. You know, the song that Peter from Family Guy dances around to because Family Guy = funny, amirite? This is interminable, mind-numbing, boring and downright senseless for any map author to force the player to be still for such a length of time. I’m here to play a game, not to wait until the author decides it’s okay for me to play.

Brief interlude in an arena and then it’s BACK TO THE CELL FOR ANOTHER 15 F’ING MINUTES OF WAITING!!!! Why would you waste my time for 30 minutes when I could be playing something else? Why? Luckily, I have 5 pieces of poop in my cell that I can admire, because poop = funny, amirite?

And now it’s official: I hate Beattie as a map author. After yet ANOTHER arena interlude, he sticks me in the cell for ANOTHER 9 MINUTES before Anna and I finally manage to escape. In total, I spent nearly 40 minutes waiting in a cell to actually do something fun. The escape from Area 51 is a better portion of the game, including some really spectacular outdoor areas around the base and a car chase. But then you go back into the corridors, although this time there’s more action as everyone is after you.

All’s well until you hit yet another author-designed snag. When you reach a gated area, you look all over for a way to open the gate. You touch every button and do everything possible to open it. I had to look at a walkthrough, and they had the exact same problems as me. They tried everything obvious, so OF COURSE you had to destroy a console on the other side of the gate to get it to open. Here’s a hint, author: if you want the player to destroy something in HL2, at least link it via an electric wire; that way we know it’s electronically controlling something.

And that’s a core problem with this mod – the author doesn’t explain anything or even hold true to what HL2 gameplay has taught us. HL2 taught that we can move barrels around by hand, but not in The Gate 2. We’re taught that you push blinking or green or red buttons to open a door, but not in The Gate 2. We’re taught that soft highlights show us something that we as players need to know, like a hidden grate or tunnel entrance, but not in The Gate 2. You never know what kind of doors will open, or if you have to touch them, or you have to touch something else, or you have to kill someone before a door will open, or if you have to explore a certain corner to trigger the next action. The whole mod is extremely player unfriendly.

Toward the end of the Area 51 escape, you and hot Alyx/Anna hook up with another fighter (who is he? I don’t know!) and you encounter another closed door. So you look all around for something to open it, you click on the things right next to it and nothing works. Again I had to go to the video walkthrough and of course they had the same issues. After roaming around for 10 minutes they finally spied a grate on the wall HIDDEN by two other boxes. And NOW you can move barrels to jump up onto the wall. C’mon dude, if it’s a grate on the wall above our heads and line of sight, don’t cover it up where it can barely be seen from the ground! Also, any grate that’s hooked to air circulation needs to have open access so these boxes' location doesn’t make a lick of sense.

But Beattie does do some pretty outdoor mapping. After escaping Area 51, you are zapped into a huge valley located during the Jurassic period. The lush surroundings bely the danger inherent in being alive at the same time as dinosaurs. The raptors that chase you are pretty frightening; luckily you have the buggy and really large maps to navigate. But of course, after you do your duties there, you have to return BACK to Area 51 to take care of some nuclear missiles whose launch (in the future) will start WW3.

Returning to the base is a frantic, but genuinely fun affair. Firefights are nicely placed, some dinos keep you occupied, and then you’re faced with a final timed puzzle. Which is totally FUBAR…. Here’s what you’re supposed to do: take a service elevator up to 5 nuclear missiles that are ready to launch in one minute. Then you shoot/destroy the covered control panel on each, click on their keyboard and turn off the computers controlling each missile. Here’s what really happened: I went up the elevator, shot off the covered panel, and then started trying to interact with the console. I clicked all over the place, jumped up on a rail and clicked some more, tried to shoot the thing, tried to blow it up, everything I could think of, pixel-hunting and clicking on each separate key on the keyboard. So back to the video walkthrough, and they had the same problems. They managed to jump on the rail and then aim down to click on the keyboard, then you have to jump back a foot or so from the console and click on the console/keyboard again. The hitbox is absolutely too small for this type of puzzle, and the author should have also given another explanation of what exactly needed to happen, maybe with a simple infographic hanging on the wall before you enter the missile bay.

Here’s the walkthroughs I used, by the way:
Part 1:
Part 2:

To sum up, The Gate 2 is a mod FILLED with promise and scope, but the author gets in WAY over his head to deliver a finished product. He does a pretty good job of creating outdoor scenes and in detailing maps, but his indoor work suffers from too much linearity (left, right, left, right, etc.). I appreciate a mapper that doesn’t baby his players, but that has to be balanced with providing enough clues and information for players to make intelligent decisions. I’ve played 99% of all HL2 mods released and would consider myself an expert HL2 gamer, yet I was clueless with some of the core decisions made in this mod; e.g. having to shoot an unconnected console across the room to open a gate – something we’ve NEVER had to do in any HL2 mod to date.

Additionally, the lengthy periods of waiting in this mod are unjustifiable, other than the mapper thumbing his nose at the player. I’m sure the author wanted to build suspense, but he went beyond suspense to hair-pulling, obscenity-laden territory. It was absolutely maddening to have to wait for so many things in this mod, and you’re never sure if you’re just supposed to sit tight and wait out whatever the author wants, or if you’ve missed a trigger somewhere. In all, you spend a good 60-90 minutes of this mod waiting on something to happen, and probably an equal amount trying to figure out the “hidden” parts of the mod (you’re welcome; at least I shaved an hour off your game time with my spoilers.)

I’ve spilled a lot of “virtual ink” on this review, but there’s a lot of history here, and the author has put in 7+ years of his life to pull this together. He deserves to hear everything I’ve put down for the possibility of perhaps improving this or other mods he chooses to tackle.

I’m sure Craig Beattie is a nice person in real life, and we could probably have a beer and laugh at the local pub. But I am hard-pressed to recommend this mod, even though it does have some really fun gameplay elements, like the initial driving escape at the start of the mod, the sneaking section in Area 51, the escape from Area 51, the Jurassic outdoor valleys, and the return to Area 51. These are all pretty satisfying to the HL2 enthusiast, but all the negatives that I’ve ticked off above may make this unpalatable to any but the absolute most patient gamers. 2.75 out of 5

Offline bobdog

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Re: HL2 Mod Mini-Reviews
« Reply #169 on: April 05, 2015, 03:59:38 PM »
Part 93: Why Do You Do What You Do When You Did What You Did To Me?

The Forgotten Journey Mod is a collection of 7 individual maps submitted for an mapping contest. The whole mod is excellent with strong emphasis on physical and environmental  puzzles. One map had you navigate a complex without any weapons until the end. Level design varied – per the multiple authors – with lots of pathways that wrap back around previous locations. 4.75 out of 5

As a whole, the PlanetPhillip mapping contest AutoVille (Ep2) is one of the weaker contests offered by the site, with only three entries of especially varying quality. In looking at my notes, I had little to say about each entry, even though the concept was sound – that only automated enemies could be used as foes. I’d rate the entire mod as 3 out of 5.
•   Work In Progress was definitely that and not something I would ever choose to download and play, although I must give the author credit for releasing something. 1 out of 5
•   Undefined Index presents a series of challenges of extreme difficulty so with more fine-tuning, it could have been even better. 3 out of 5
•   Encryption was the most polished of the group, and the finale map with hundreds of man-hacks was hella-intense. 4.5 out of 5

Duality (Ep2) offers two maps – Prison Break and Escape – that bring stealth to HL2 and allow you to play through each in separate ways. Prison Break leans towards stealth and allows you to sneak up behind guards to dispatch them, while Escape is a little more action-focused. In each, you must escape your prison cell. If guards see you in either map, they’ll raise the alarm. Once outside, you must make your way past a prison yard with moving searchlights and Combine guards. The final battle features several tough waves of enemies. 4.5 out of 5

Liberation takes you back through Nova Prospekt in a near-duplicate of the original experience. The maps and level design are okay, but the ending fails to work properly. 3.25 out of 5

HorrorVille delivers 6 new maps, which are mostly just slightly above average. The concept was to create a horror-themed map, but all but one didn’t really deliver on that promise for me. Final score for the mod: 3.25 out of 5.
•   Drip Leg offers really nice level design and a semi-tough Antlion battle, but not so much horror. 3.25 out of 5
•   Escape the School has blocky, poorly designed levels and an unkillable/unavoidable invisible foe. 2 out of 5
•   Miter is one of the few HL2 maps to feature the laser-wielding Combine/human synths as foes. It is equal parts adventure, where you must search for and combine some missing pieces, and combat with the newly created weapon, including a timed stand-off battle. However, the map still doesn’t offer much on the horror side. 3.75 out of 5
•   The Station also offers somewhat blocky level design, but the author makes effective use of light to direct the player. I did encounter one real scare, but the game still didn’t put me on the edge of my seat. Maybe if the author had provided an enemy at the end, it would have wiped away your feeling of safety. This was my winner of this contest. 4 out of 5
•   The Host offers seven “games that you must play inside a locked house. The only horror is perhaps “what is the horror of the mind, of senility, of the loss of coherence.” 3 out of 5
•   White Walls is quite bizarre but was the only map that managed to give me chills. Ostensibly a Portal clone, it creates a new puzzle element, but only uses it a few times before tossing you into a real-world scenario. 3.75 out of 5

The Masked Prisoner (Ep2) begins with one of the most atmospheric starts of any Hl2 mod, including a new transport mechanist that deposits you into a large outdoor prison setting. Vistas surround you and are nicely designed, but the whole camp scene kept giving me shades of the 1960’s TV show Hogan’s Heroes, where prisoners of war conduct an espionage and sabotage campaign right under the noses of the wardens. The author does a great job of foreshadowing future locations and foes. The actual escape is exciting and felt like I was part of a group effort to free ourselves. And the reveal at the end is a nice surprise. Truly a great mod! 5 out of 5

Steam, Tracks, Troubles and Riddles (Ep2) is a bizarre, somewhat surreal and oftimes humorous set of maps set in a future Germany. The mod mostly offers environmental/physical traps and puzzles, such as using a crane to lift items, turning off valves, and avoiding rushing trains down a one-way corridor. The mod also introduces a nicely designed and animated robot companion. I’m not sure that I necessarily need more of this particular universe, but for this mod I’ll give it 3.5 out of 5.

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Re: HL2 Mod Mini-Reviews
« Reply #170 on: April 24, 2015, 05:10:34 PM »
Part 94: Feels Like Teen Spirit
Wow – 40,000 views of these mini-reviews! Thank you! To celebrate, how about a whole bunch of recent maps. I’ll list some mod reviews in the next two weeks.


Data Place is a tight map that requires you to download three data caches located off a main courtyard. The action is fast and furious, although you can block up doorways to avoid spawning Combine. The main issue I had was trying to climb a ladder located behind the elevator – I could never manage it and couldn’t see any other ways to access the upper floors. The last rush of Combine were not nearly as challenging as the rest of the enemies. 3.75 out of 5

Dead End Road starts amidst a collapsed tunnel and you have to get past several Combine traps. The hardest part was trying to jump the buggy over a gap – I must have tried that thing about 40 times and kept hitting the roof for some reason, so the author should have made this a little taller to avoid this problem. Once past, you must outlast a challenging wave of Combine until a door opens. And then you’re still not done as a Combine Gunship shoots at you through a crack in the ceiling. Overall, this map was very filling, with some challenging environmental puzzles to navigate and satisfying firefights. 4.25 out of 5

Game of Skills is just that – a heavy refresher course on your main physical skills. Located in a Portal-like testing facility, you have to navigate some wicked jumping puzzles, duck beneath spike traps and avoid saws and lasers. And that’s before a final laser puzzle, which kept killing me and my fiddle thumbs. A nice diversion from the usual HL2 map. 3 out of 5

Combine Escape is a quick play set in a Combine facility, where you must overpower quite a few foes to open successive rooms, finally freeing Alyx. 3.25 out of 5

Hypnophobia is a very weird map, with trees coming out of the walls, upside down and sideways rooms, portals to new areas – it’s all very fantastical, in other words. There are a few Combine and Zombies to face, but this is more a “design” and puzzle map. Unfortunately, I couldn’t finish the map because those stupid lasers got me again! 3 out of 5


Keeping On Track (Ep2) is a really well-paced map, looping back and forth through a trainyard. Combine barricades force you along a set path so they can ambush you from above and below. Nothing really new here, but it’s all nicely executed. 4 out of 5

Set in a rustic cabin, What Lies Beneath (Ep2) is very tense, requiring you to wait out a slow data download while hundreds of zombies block your path to freedom. Added to this mix is a new species of explosive zombie that is as liable to kill you as to kill its cohorts. This one took me a good dozen tries to get through. 3 out of 5

A New Prospekt (Ep2) gives you two decent Rebels to tag along and help you break out some other prisoners. Interestingly, you can order these helpers to breach doors, lay mines, plant bombs, and man guns, although I had issues with this last option. Not a bad little map and some nice coding done for the A.I. 3.5 out of 5

Floodworks (Ep2), despite being primarily an “orange” developer’s map in layout, provides plenty of challenges and atmosphere. Stranded in a seemingly abandoned waterworks, you’ll need to engage a generator. And then all hell breaks loose as hordes of spawning zombies of all types prevent your easy access to a slowly moving elevator. It felt a lot like some of the best Left 4 Dead maps. 4 out of 5

Lost in Transmission (Ep2), was created for a competition, and as such is a concept map that forces you to experiment and see what happens. The map is pretty enough, set on a fantastical floating island, but the Source engine is starting to show its age. 3 out of 5

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Re: HL2 Mod Mini-Reviews
« Reply #171 on: May 03, 2015, 10:43:04 AM »
Part 95: Mod-Tastic – Part 1

To christen his newly named website, our buddy PlanetPhillip developed the RunThinkShootLiveVille (Ep2) contest, which had 5 really strong entries. Authors had to design maps that required you to do all the things that Half-Life first required of us – namely to run, think, shoot and most importantly, live. I gave this contest an average score of 4.5 out of 5.

•   From Ashes certainly adheres to the contest concept, with the first map spent running helter-skelter from the Combine, and the second requiring you to think and shoot in equal measures. Very nice map design complements an easy flow, although the ending is a bit obtuse. 4.5 out of 5
•   G-Man is another testing facility piece requiring you to run at maximum speed through a brilliantly colored obstacle course. I admit that I couldn’t complete the course even without the timer running, so either the author needs to make it slightly easier, or I just suck. 3 out of 5
•   Outland Peak features some great atmosphere in its design, with a Combine base on a snowy mountaintop. However, you’ll have to race through an Antlion cavern first, before making your way up the precarious cliff-face and finally escaping in a cable car. 4.5 out of 5
•   Run Think Shoot injects a healthy dose of humor and even emotion as you proceed through it. The author manages to follow the contest topic, but does it in a fun way. A challenging finale is followed by a heart-stirring kicker that had me choking back tears. My contest winner. 5 out of 5
•   Termina is yet another awesome map, this time set within a Combine facility. The author makes great re-use of space and provides intuitive, yet challenging gameplay and firefights. 4.75 out of 5

Alchemilla is a Silent Hill-themed mod set in a hospital. Although the new textures are incredible, the focus on making this an adventure game was not carried out successfully. I found many of the “puzzles” unintuitive and couldn’t continue past the first 5 minutes. 2.5 out of 5

Below the Ice (Ep2) manages to rise above some serious glitches that required me to noclip through quite a few areas. The atmosphere is cool and I was motivated to push on and find out the truth behind the mystery at this “hidden” bunker location. Some simple yet challenging traps await. 4 out of 5

Tr1p (Ep2) is set in a Ravenholm-styled town, with lots of winding passageways and secrets strewn about both maps. The 2nd map increases the tension significantly, with waves and waves of Combine and Fast Zombies chasing you all over the place and very few “safe” spots to get a breather. The ending is a sit-and-wait finale as a slowly moving cable car comes to your station. I unfortunately couldn’t get the car to return, so that knocks the final score down to a 4.75 out of 5.

Cremation (Ep2) is another “HL2 Beta” remake with separate chapters. The first chapter set in the Canals is nicely detailed and the headcrabs are extremely challenging. The 2nd map features Cremators (which were detailed in the “Raising the Bar” book, but never used in the HL2 game) on the streets of City 17 and requires you to move with great stealth, lest you risk getting killed. The 3rd map takes place in the Sewers and features some creative level design. The final map is another street map, where you must assist a Rebel group in capturing a key location. The mod does not provide a HUD and has no health pickups, so it was extremely challenging, yet intriguing enough to try. 4 out of 5

Project: Blue Room uses the orange “developer” mapping again, but for a completely separate reason, which is teased throughout gameplay. It’s extremely clever and the gameplay is very demanding – a great set of maps. Make sure you stay through the credits. 4.5 out of 5

Transmissions: Element 120 (Ep2) tosses so many awesome new ideas into the mix that it literally blows the mind. It is perhaps the most innovative HL2 mod we’ve seen in 10 years. The author has enabled you to use the dark to sneak past turrets and zombies, as long as you’re not right next to them. He also created a device that can drill into all those Combine door locks you see everywhere, although it wasn’t portable in this mod. He utilizes a Smartphone app to leave coded messages along the wall. And finally, he delivers the most original use of the Gravity Gun yet – to blast away objects or to use the device to jump over walls or stop your fall. Add all that up to a killer finale Strider battle where you can use the new destructive powers of the Gravity Gun, and it’s the best mod we’ve seen in years. 5 out of 5

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Re: HL2 Mod Mini-Reviews
« Reply #172 on: May 21, 2015, 06:48:34 AM »
Part 96: Mod-Tastic – Part 2

CityStreetsVille (Ep2) offers 9 new maps from a contest arranged by our buddy PlanetPhillip. The theme was to set a map in City streets, with multiple ways to approach different locations. On average, this was a very strong competition with an average score of 4 out of 5.

•   I didn’t play the entry for Avenue Odessa because I first played the updated version below, but I’m going to give it the same score of 3.75 out of 5.
•   I’m not really sure what my goal in Beneath the Overpass was supposed to be. I kept trying to destroy everything I could think of, but I just kept dying from several various directions. The design was okay, but the author should have been more specific on his goals, maybe through some text on screen at the start of the map. 3 out of 5
•   Business District starts you right in the middle of a Combine attack, with the Gravity Gun in your hands instead of pistol or crowbar, so you start losing health right away. Then, as you run through a couple of blocks, Combine continue to spawn at a barrier, which I was unsure how to lower. This entry was a little rough. 2.75 out of 5
•   Eye on the City is a great map with lots of critical thinking and varied skillsets required. First, you must sneak past a Combine troop to get some weapons. Then you must navigate some ambushes and finally play hide-and-seek from a destructive new foe. This is great all around from pacing to item placement to the use of enemies. 4.5 out of 5
•   El Bucle finds you and Alyx trying to catch a train. But of course the Combine have barriers in place that force you out onto the city streets, where a Gunship gets you in its sights. This could have used one final challenge, but overall this was nicely made. 3.75 out of 5
•   Memory Lane manages to tell a poignant story while re-using the same map assets, so that you complete a leg and start over, but with a few changes each time. Besides environmental and logical puzzles, you’ll get plenty of tense shootouts and chase scenes. This is also pretty lengthy for a single map. 4.75 out of 5
•   Raining Down Hell pulls no punches, starting you with a group of Rebels and Barney, as you must make your way through, around and over various buildings and streets. This map features lots of tough firefights and ends with two Strider battles. The second Strider requires you to be extremely resourceful to find materials to take it down. This was my winner for the challenge amidst some very stiff competition. 5 out of 5
•   This Current Predicament is an acceptable entry but is kind of boring actually. There’s not much new here but nothing to really complain about. 3 out of 5
•   Trolleying Tires is quite complex, from nearly overwhelming odds to hard-to-find vents – I had to noclip to find the next way to proceed, but finally made it through the last obstacle. 4.25 out of 5

It’s hard to judge Bunker 66 (Ep2) fairly since it is obviously an uncompleted mod. For example, when I began the first map, all I saw were pink and black “missing textures” and large red ERROR messages scattered throughout the first area. But then it leads into a dark cave that has some nice level design. And then the next area is set inside a WW2 bunker, with those missing textures prevalent throughout. The author has attempted a few new things here, but the mod is just too incomplete to be worth the trouble. 1.5 out of 5

Avenue Odessa (Ep2) – previously released in the CityStreetsVille competition – teams you with Colonel Odessa on two occasions. The first is a street battle where Odessa claims to be a sniper extraordinaire, but then fails to hit anything; the second is on a moving train, where he claims credit for taking down a Strider. The action in the first map is non-stop, with waves of increasingly challenging foes, but the second is too easy in comparison. 3.75 out of 5

Offline bobdog

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Re: HL2 Mod Mini-Reviews
« Reply #173 on: August 20, 2015, 11:30:24 AM »
Part 97: Dog Days of Summer ‘15
We’ve got a good selection of mods and maps to wade through. For the most part, the mods are really good, but only one of the individual maps is a stand-out.

CombineBaseVille only includes one map, but it’s a humdinger – sprawling in scope, requiring various platforming/puzzle/shooting skills, and featuring a super-tough finale battle against waves of Combine. 4.5 out of 5

Killzone – Source is a Source-based conversion of the Playstation FPS Killzone. But if this is what the original game was like, I’m not terribly impressed, as it features pretty basic level design and didn’t really interest me. 2.75 out of 5

RaiseTheBarVille offers three entries and is an excellent map-pack, re-envisioning various Half-Life set-pieces. I’d love to see a sequel to this contest and more of these types of maps.
•   Nova Exchange throws a good mix of gameplay, from “secret” passages to move forward, to large arenas where you are under fire from different heights and directions. I definitely felt like I earned the ending. 4.75 out of 5
•   Delayed takes us back into the bowels of the Antlion caves, culminating in an escape from a Strider. It’s not very long, but is done well. 4.5 out of 5
•   Blast Pit is a nice homage to the original HL1 level of the same name, but placing a Strider in the place of the big claw. You still have to get around the Strider to turn on key components of the infrastructure. The construction, level design and puzzles made this my favorite entry in the contest. 5 out of 5

Aftermath is a three-map mod that incorporated three distinct locales. The first map is a maze through several adjacent buildings to open a gate. The second features a Ravenholm-type village with challenging platforming elements. The third takes you into a subterranean lair populated by Combine troops. Level design is superb, the mod is lengthy, and you face a challenging and diverse selection of foes. This is one of the best map packs I’ve played recently. 5 out of 5

Station60Ville offers two entries, set around a Resistance base under attack by Combine Forces. Overall, this is a good map-set, but one of the entries is better.
•   Camp 43 has a rather ingenious framing device that utilizes cut-scenes effectively. The outdoor camp is fairly small in an enclosed space, but has concise design, good flow of actions, and nice enemy selection. The final gunship is an interesting challenge, but requires a unique new way to take it down. 4.5 out of 5
•   Tunnel Dwellers is partially complete and takes a while to build up, but then tosses two finale-level events at you. Level design is very basic, but works. With a little extra work, this could be improved significantly. 3.25 out of 5

We finish up with five individual Episode 2 maps.

Wow – just … wow!! Forgotten Valley is perhaps the largest individual HL2 map I’ve seen, including White Forest for Ep2. But it’s also really good, with lots of diverse things to do, including going through a zombie-infested church, surviving a lengthy sniper run, countering a Combine offensive, and finally retrieving your car to escape. 5 out of 5

RCDF Industrial Mission has map leaks, blasé architecture, overwhelming odds and little story. Not worth the effort, in my eyes. 2.5 out of 5

City Prison 5 has poor layout and then ends with you stuck in a pipe. The author uses different textures than normal for doors and grates, so you’re not really sure what to do. I’d skip this one too. 2.75 out of 5

Ravenholm Clocktower sets you in Ravenholm, with non-stop spawning zombies at every corner making it difficult to escape. You’ll need to open some gates until you can finally leave. 3.5 out of 5

I couldn’t get a script to work in The Mineshaft, so I had to noclip through a rock in the middle of the way. What I found was that the entire map was swamped with zombies and headcrabs through subterranean tunnels and a large cave. Not real fun from my perspective. 2.75 out of 5

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Re: HL2 Mod Mini-Reviews
« Reply #174 on: March 05, 2016, 01:40:04 PM »
Part 98: Half-Life 2: Episode 3 aka The Closure
Give it to Leon “SpyMaps” Brinkman – he sure knows how to cause controversy. Supposedly he wanted people to rally around the fact that Valve hasn’t seen fit to give us Episode 3 in the Half-Life 2 story (and it has been 10 years, so I can understand). However, when you name your game as the next chapter in the saga, and you specifically state that this is the continuation of what happened after the events of Episode 2, including finding the infamous Borealis, you should be prepared for the internet to explode when you try to dress your wolf up in sheep’s clothing. [NOTE: the name has now been modified to “The Closure”, but the damage has already been done.]

And that’s exactly what has happened: many players disappointed in the lack of “Valve quality” in a game purporting to be the next installment in the tale, while others back “Leon’s style”, which near as I can tell consists of removing all fun from the game. I’ll say this: the controversy surrounding this game (or mod, if you need to get technical) is much more interesting than the game itself.

Since August 2006, I have played and reviewed nearly every HL2 map available. And I admit that I really liked Leon’s COD2 maps and his first major HL2 opus Coastline to Atmosphere (which was my 2nd mini-review); I even wrote at the time that Valve should hire him as a mapper. Then came Strider Mountain several years later, with which I was a little less impressed but still had a few interesting elements and settings, and now comes The Closure, which to me is unfortunately his most disappointing mod of all. Too many HL2 players are quick to defend Leon and how he gave 6 years of his life in creating 35 maps that will give you an additional 15+ hours of FREE gameplay. I don’t discount the sacrifice that Leon has given, but size doesn’t matter when the quality is so severely lacking.

And the sad part is, The Closure offers a couple of really neat settings and scenarios that if cut down to a tight 3-5 hour mod would make this absolutely amazing. Unfortunately, Leon seems to be stuck in the past with original HL2 level design, and hasn’t grown as a level designer while many new mappers are taking the Source engine to new heights. It’s the same feeling I had after playing Duke Nukem Forever – that the game designers were stranded 10 years in the past while the industry “grew up” around them.

So many others have already written about what drags this mod down, but here are my additional thoughts:

Story – Unlike some players, I don’t feel you need a lot of reasons to go shoot things in a FPS. Gordon had to get to the Borealis, stuff got in his way, and he made it happen. No, none of the main protagonists acted like they would in a canon HL2 game, but that’s really not the strongest issue here.

Cutscenes – These should ONLY be used to provide exposition that can’t be provided easily in gameplay. I had no problem with the opening and ending cutscenes, but why on earth would you have a cutscene for a camera popping out of the ceiling, or Gordon walking through a door, or opening a first aid cabinet? One 3-minute cutscene showed me a fight in a canyon deep below between antlions and Combine, and never once did we enter that canyon – this is gratuitous and worse, a waste of my playing time. Most egregious were the cutscenes that constantly wrenched control away from me, showed me walking 12 feet, returned play to me, I walked past a door, control was wrenched away again to show the door closing, and play returns to me again. Tell me, Leon, what part of this is fun to a player? I almost threw my mouse at the screen, I was so infuriated. DON’T TAKE CONTROL AWAY FROM THE PLAYER FOR SIMPLE TASKS!!! So what I started to do, and this is actually the only thing that makes The Closure fun to play, is made a drinking game – every time you get a cutscene, you take a drink, and I was well, roaring drunk after each of my play sessions.

Level Design – The closure only has a few stand out setpieces, mostly offering vertical gameplay with stairs, moving bridges, and caverns. The rest? A mishmash of hideous colors, textures, and non-canon elements. You never know if a door or a button or a control panel will open, because Leon is “bored” with using doors with handles in his mapping, so he expects the player to work at figuring it out, as opposed to allowing us to use the knowledge that 10 years of playing HL2 maps and mods has trained us for. Tell you what, Leon, having to click on every single element in a room to open a door and guess at what you the author have created is not fun. I have no problem with using new assets and textures, but I do take strong issue when level design is haphazard, when you have absolutely no idea where you are, or where it lies in relation to where you’ve been or where you’re going. For example, the Borealis – other than the outside, I never felt like I was on a ship – it felt like Leon “Tardis-ed” some underground lair into the layout. As a player, it felt like many sections had very little thought made to creating a realistic setting and layout, which would pull you deeper into the game. As an example of good Leon mapping, in C2A, he allows us to use the jeep to drive into a dock, then use the swamp buggy to find a key to finally come back and unlock the door to drive the jeep through -- this is great level design, but The Closure never has anything like this.

Gameplay – Likewise, nearly no thought is made to make the gameplay interesting. Almost every single scenario has you walking past closed/locked doors, you get to the end of a hallway, find a locked door, and then you go back and something opens, with enemies pouring out. And many times it was a multiplication of that, as then you go back to what just opened to find, nope, that won’t open either, so you go BACK down the hallway where something else lurches out at you. That’s boring and lazy, yet Leon considers this his favorite type of gameplay for some reason, which is why he continues to do it in his maps. The only interesting gameplay situation in my mind was the first time you have your weapons taken away, and you have to get around foes by using turrets and laser fences – that was well done. Also, the second time your weapons are removed, you must use friendly turrets to protect you – also well done. But by the 5th time my weapons were removed … I was beyond frustrated.

Easter Eggs – Don’t tell us there are Easter Eggs – let us find them on our own. People will start talking about where they are, and how to get them. Worse was the soft porn artwork that I had no desire to see, yet had to follow all the way to the end to get out. I’m no prude, but I found these in extremely poor taste. Know what you could have done instead? Make your Easter Eggs a piece of paper that each provide a piece of an online link that when added together people will visit your website for that same artwork.

FINAL THOUGHTS: I would rather replay the 25-minute prison "waiting" scenes from The Gate 2 for 24 hours straight than have to sit through another play-through of The Closure. At nearly every juncture, Leon takes the player out of the game – through unrealistic level design, overly intrusive cutscenes, non-canon situations and personalities, frustrating gameplay sequences, and soft porn artwork. Although I do appreciate the effort that he made and the time he spent developing something free for HL2 fans, I never once had fun while playing The Closure. I wish Leon well with his future efforts, but fear that any “indie” development he attempts will be fraught with disappointment when he realizes very few people like this “retro” style of mapping. 2.25 out of 5

Offline bobdog

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Re: HL2 Mod Mini-Reviews
« Reply #175 on: March 12, 2016, 03:19:50 PM »
Part 99: Miscellaneous Maps & Mods

Der Schwarze Nebel (Ep2) is yet another ambitious “re-imagining” of the Half-Life 2 that might have been, pulling from the 2003 Beta demo that was leaked, as well as from the “Raising the Bar” book that Valve put out with the original HL2 storyline. It does offer new hi-res textures, models, prefabs, weapons and materials, but at a huge cost. Because it basically includes both the Cinematic Mod and the FakeFactory Mod, the download is 10GB, and blows up to 20GB when unzipped.

It was a little challenging to get started, so here’s some easy steps for you:
1) Download all files.
2) You must use WinRar to combine these 7z files (I tried 7-Zip and couldn't get it to work) by clicking on the first 001 file and "Open With" WinRar.
3) Go inside the unzipped folders to 1. Mod Directory, which has folder "DSN1".
4) Move the  folder to your desktop; you can add in the new skins for Alyx, Combine Soldier and Metropolice if you like.
5) Inside "DSN1" folder, launch the game directly with "Launcher_DSN". DO NOT place this folder in your SteamApps folder or in the SourceMods folder. It won’t show up in Steam.

The mod is about 8 hours long if you play through everything. I sort of sampled what the mapper offered, and parts I was uninterested, I skipped. What you play is sometimes tedious, sometimes overly challenging, but often creative. It is buggy, with places that will hang-up you or your car, but it does offer some interesting concepts for some of these “what-if” maps, like the Air Exchange, Borealis, the Wasteland and more. And then it pulls in some of the HL2 stuff you do remember.

I’d say try this only if you’re a completionist and have a spare 20GB space hanging around. It’s probably not one you would care to keep, but if you liked Missing Information and have an interest in what HL2 “could” have looked like, then it’s probably up your alley. 2.75 out of 5

Antlions Everywhere (Ep2) is a lengthy mod with decent level design – it is mostly based in mines and underground caverns, but has an outdoor finale. Unfortunately, the transitions between levels are poorly executed. Some levels offer larger vertical settings for multiple ways to attack your foes – surprise!! They’re antlions!! – but generally everything is a straightforward movement. Occasionally, a group of soldiers will accompany you, and they certainly make it easier to figure out the puzzle keeping you from the next area. I did have to noclip twice in the first few levels and couldn’t figure out how to get past the obstacle holding me up.

The finale against a Gunship is made nearly impossible because it is protected by several floating spheres that provide a shield. Unfortunately, regular bullets and even RPGs will not damage these spheres that I could tell; the only way to destroy them was to “grab” them with the gravity gun and smash them against a wall. However, the Gunship stays about 40 feet in the air and never gets close enough to the ground to allow you to grab the spheres… so I did a little God-mode and noclipping to take care of that BS. 2.75 out of 5

Part of Uncertainty Principle (Ep2) was offered in the BeginningVille contest, but has been expanded to be a fuller mod. It’s got some really great settings and reuses space well. For example, at one point, you must turn on a radio tower, so you have to cross a storage yard from one building to another each time you complete a task, and you’ll be attacked by various foes in ever-increasing difficulty. I quite enjoyed this one, but the difficulty was extremely challenging at times. 4.25 out of 5

Abandon: The Town (Ep2) sets up a creepy atmosphere in a seemingly deserted city. The author has modified some of the gameplay elements such as allowing regenerating health and requiring you to “use” health packs, but he’s also coded the enemies to be much tougher. After a couple of super-charged Hunters kept killing me, I decided to move on. Great if you’re an HL2 player who wants more challenging enemies, but not so much if you want some story with you gameplay. 3 out of 5

Local-Motive (Ep2) is an outstanding map set in and under a Combine-controlled trainyard. You gain a couple of helpers midway through the map who are crucial to your escape, but you’ll be pressed – in a fun way – to finish the map with more than 10 health. 4 out of 5

Omega Prison (Ep2) features some very tough firefights in a Combine prison setting. The level design is a little rough but generally functional, although I did have a problem in finding some vents to enter the next area. 3.75 out of 5

I’m not really sure the difference between The Sprucescape Mod (Ep2) and the Map-pack released several years ago, but you start in a house and must find a key to escape. You’ll gather several notes from your wife saying she has to leave, so I’m still not sure what the story was – maybe a tale of domestic abuse? At any rate, you must find various items to continue, so at a gas station, you need to collect a gas can and a battery to juice up the car. After jumping a ravine, you must escape a junkyard and waste heap before finally heading along a mountain pass. The author inundates you with tons of zombies of every stripe, but he also provides enough tools for the Gravity Gun and sufficient ammo and health kits to make it through. 3.75 out of 5

Dread City (HL2) requires some work to get running, and you have to drop individual folders into the appropriate location to get it to show up. Overall, the layout is a little boxy , but interestingly, the author requires you to trek through a vent, jump down and push a button, and then crawl BACK into the vent – I haven’t seen that but a handful of times in all of HL2 mapping. Enemies are very tough, including a new boss battle that I just couldn’t seem to win before being overwhelmed by Fast Zombies, zapped by the boss’s electric attacks, or running out of health and ammo. This mod offers some effective and unanticipated jump scares as well. The author has promise, but this map is just a little rough. 2.75 out of 5

And for some recent individual maps:

BL Onirico (HL2) presents a truly eerie map because your flashlight doesn’t work – the only light you have is the ambient light, or what you are able to turn on manually. Each light leads to the next, but as soon as you turn it on, prepare for some scary encounters. This map offers intricate level design and some nice scares throughout. 4.25 out of 5

Sniper Yard (Ep2) has some challenging setpieces where you have to be efficient and quick against both Combine and zombies, while also avoiding two snipers. The ending is slightly anticlimactic but the overall challenge is good. 3.75 out of 5

Cliff Cottage (Ep2) isn’t the prettiest map, but it is effective. Set against some cliffs with deep drop-offs on all sides, you must turn on a lift to cross one section, and take several calculated leaps of faith to gain access to other locations. The ending tosses several very tough zombie and headcrab encounters. Overall, this was very satisfying to play. 4.25 out of 5
« Last Edit: September 16, 2016, 01:23:50 PM by bobdog »

Offline bobdog

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Re: HL2 Mod Mini-Reviews
« Reply #176 on: September 16, 2016, 01:27:35 PM »
Part 100: It Takes a Ville to Raise an HL2 Player
For this entry, I’ve combined several of PlanetPhillip’s “Ville” contests: CrossoverVille and WaterVille.

CrossoverVille contains seven maps that cross over between a Half-Life game and another game – using a location, a story element, a gameplay style – almost anything. Quid Pro Quo is my choice as winner of this contest.

•   Construct Conspiracy starts promising but is buggy in the middle (the room with the gun). It also has a very short play time. This was inspired by Garry’s Mod. 2.5 out of 5
•   Deadmines is extremely tough, and the most health I ever had was 56. I mostly made it through the level by the skin of my teeth. A challenging Hunter battle and multiple Combine traps made this hard but worth playing. This was inspired by the opening dungeon of World of Warcraft. 3.5 out of 5
•   The Hunter’s Dream was inspired by Bloodborne. From a central hub, you enter several different areas to open a final location. It features some tough battles in close quarters, but also some easy boss battles where you just flip on a button. 2.75 out of 5
•   Gnome Heist is based off of Payday and is a pretty faithful recreation. Hordes of Combine continue to spawn, making it challenging to fend them off while you wait for a timer to open a door. I couldn’t survive long on my own. 4 out of 5
•   Mesa distills the whole Half-Life experience into a 5-minute map, and is pretty effective for it, with some symbolic moments. 3.75 out of 5
•   Quid Pro Quo is inspired by a Halo 3 map and forces you to battle from a beach up through a Combine base. Offering great layout and level design, you must fight off differing waves of Combine once you’ve freed your friends. 5 out of 5
•   Duke is a poor-man’s version of the opening map of Duke Nukem 3D. However, it doesn’t really feature any notable gameplay. 2 out of 5

WaterVille offers only two maps, with water as the dominant feature, but they are both very good. Swamped is my choice as winner of this contest.

•   Swamped is as good a map as I’ve ever seen. It features great use of water over multiple occasions to raise and lower levels, as well as use electric conductivity to disperse various foes. It makes great use of space to wrap back and forth over where you’ve been previously. And then the finale escape is extra exciting. Just a perfect map! 5 out of 5
•   Dr. Breen’s Private Reservoir lacks polish but the firefights are decent and the layout is interesting. 3.25 out of 5

Offline bobdog

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Re: HL2 Mod Mini-Reviews
« Reply #177 on: September 23, 2016, 09:14:21 AM »
Part 101: It Takes a Ville … – PART 2
For this entry, I’ve combined several more of PlanetPhillip’s “Ville” contests – HalloweenVilleTwo and VerticalVilleTwo – which are themselves the second set of earlier contests.

HalloweenVilleTwo offers four maps aimed at providing a horror experience. Granted, trying to scare people in only a 5-minute map can be very challenging. Nyctophobia, while not being excellent, is the best of these contest entries, in my opinion.

•   A Murder introduces a new foe, but I didn’t realize it at first. The game made me more wary than scared, but it’s still a decent effort. 3.25 out of 5
•   Incident offers eerie music and a good jump-scare or two, but never serves to truly horrify me. 3.25 out of 5
•   The Stretch is competent but never really scares me. 3 out of 5
•   Nyctophobia is more harrowing than scary but the author creates unseen foes that can do you serious harm if you can’t effectively get past them. This is my winner for this contest. 3.5 out of 5

VerticalVilleTwo has four maps that feature the idea of vertical gameplay or movement as the central theme of each entry. Synthesis takes my vote for this contest.

•   Apartment Block doesn’t really feel like an apartment, but it definitely offers several layers of verticality. You’ll face tough battles with Combine, zombies and a ferocious Hunter battle. 3.25 out of 5
•   Construction takes place in a high-rise under construction, but there’s really not much gameplay and you never get the feeling of heights. 2.75 out of 5
•   Synthesis is freakin’ incredible, with great layout and superb use of verticality at several different points in the map. With so many great scenarios, it’s hard to tease them apart, but just know that this is HL2 mapping at its best. 5 out of 5
•   Truss is also very nicely put together. It’s a competent, HL2-style map with good layout and level design, including a tense Copter battle, but it lacks the “wow” factor of Synthesis. 4.75 out of 5

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Re: HL2 Mod Mini-Reviews
« Reply #178 on: September 30, 2016, 07:20:38 AM »
Part 102: The Hammer Cup 16: Challenge 1: ChasmVille
PlanetPhillip created a 5-contest series of mapping challenges through the first half of 2016, with the winners added up through each map toward an overall total. The winner received a replica of the Zero Point Energy Field Manipulator, aka the Gravity Gun. Second place received a Gordon Freeman Action Figure. But the real winners were us – the players – with dozens of new HL2 maps to play!!

PlanetPhillip’s Chasmville is one of the best overall ‘Ville competitions he’s run, with 13 entries, most which are above average or great. The main element of each map had to feature a chasm of some sort. Overall, this was a really strong contest both in terms of map count and quality. My favorite was High Wire, which was also the favorite among PlanetPhillip readers.

•   Abyss has a very slow focus and you never attack anyone, lacking an HEV suit and weapons. The atmosphere more than makes up for the lack of gunplay, however, with fog obscuring your path forward. Lots of jumping puzzles plus portals to little side locales help you build a bridge around a cliffside that leads to your escape vehicle. 3.5 out of 5
•   Coast has some great verticality in its design and offer some great settings for a variety of foes, though the levels aren’t of professional quality. This was fun but challenging, with lots of tools to take out all the enemies. 4.25 out of 5
•   Core Facility is a Combine facility with steep ledges all around. You’ll have to turn on two separate cores to open a final doorway, but beware some tough fire fights with barely enough health and ammo. 3.25 out of 5
•   Disposal is not a large map, but stacks nearly overwhelming odds against you several times. This has a nice atmosphere, but it feels like the chasm itself was almost an afterthought. 3 out of 5
•   Drain is also a relatively small map, but packs some cool ideas into it, starting with a massive circular drain that you must go in and around. There are some sketchy jumps but the highlight was a cat-and-mouse game with a copter. 4.25 out of 5
•   Fissure is fairly boring, taking place in a Combine facility. The linear path to your objective is merely reversed on the way out. 2.75 out of 5
•   High Wire features great scenery and level design, filled with plenty of challenges and different types of gameplay elements. Set in a tram station, you must make your way across a chasm to Alyx. The map offers several exciting battles, including Hunters and a gunship. 4.75 out of 5
•   Mega Structure simply goes around the interior of a stairwell and really overtasks the player, including a final battle with two Hunters that can seemingly walk on air while you can’t harm them. 2.5 out of 5
•   Northern Face has a serious bug at the start of the map, where if you click  the switch on the aerial tram, you immediately complete the mission! If you actually want to play the map, it has nice level design incorporating the contest theme, with lots of scary drops possible. However, the final Copter battle is too unfair and I had to Godmode it. 4 out of 5
•   Outpost 57 starts in an unassuming sewer but then moves quickly into a Combine base set inside a huge cavern. You have a few physical and environmental puzzles, including an electric grid, but the biggest challenge might be the Manhacks that assault you inside the cavern. Honestly, this was a better map than I expected. 3.25 out of 5
•   Retraction Valley almost feels too long, and I felt weary of playing it toward the end. I also don’t recall any noticeable chasm as I went from a shopping mall to a multi-level car park to city streets, clearing Combine the whole way. 3 out of 5
•   The Gap feels like an old Western mining town, with you going down deeper into the mine. The layout makes sense and the setting has a great sense of scale. It offers a few physical and environmental puzzles mixed in with a limited number of zombie attacks. 4.5 out of 5
•   Watering Hole again doesn’t really feel like it incorporates the “chasm” component. In its simple level design, you’ll use an airboat to go down some rapids. 3.25 out of 5

In all, this Ville contest gets a 3.5 out of 5.

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Re: HL2 Mod Mini-Reviews
« Reply #179 on: October 07, 2016, 11:12:07 AM »
Part 103: The Hammer Cup 16: Challenge 2: LiberationVille
LiberationVille is the second challenge in The Hammer Cup series, and contains 15 entries, all with the idea of a “liberation” as the main theme. Offering an astounding number of great maps, it was hard to choose my personal winner: A Hero Once More.

•   Confusion offers an interesting premise of turning regular Citizens against you, so to liberate them, you must destroy a transmitter. The actual level design is very basic, but the firefights are extremely challenging. 3.25 out of 5
•   Lakeside is an attractive map somewhat reminiscent of HL2’s Lost Coast add-on. You start alongside a shoreline and make your way up the beach into a Combine base. You’ll encounter lots of tough firefights, but the author has some nicely placed cover to allow you to catch your breath. You’ll also find some cleverly hidden areas if you use your brain. 4.75 out of 5
•   Pain is a Ravenholm-inspired map but only offers a few traps and sawblades to take out zombies. It also includes a weird ending where a dying Father Gregori gives you his shotty and then the map fades to black. 3 out of 5
•   Cemetary Valley features some nice but simple physical puzzles as you try to free a soul from bondage. The map design is interesting and it was somewhat pleasant not to have to fight anything. 3.25 out of 5
•   Roxon Hole is a nice surprise that throws a couple of neat scenarios at you. What I initially thought would be a simplistic “break-in” map turned into something much more interesting. 3.5 out of 5
•   Prison 16 is a quick little map that basically has you freeing Citizen prisoners. A couple of helpers can join you and the map is well defined. 3.25 out of 5
•   Liberation Version 1 starts with a highly humorous vibe that permeates the map, basically tying into how a mapper creates a map and the type of thought processes needed. It ends with a VERY challenging multi-level firefight. The level design is slightly better than average, but the incredible storyline propels this entry to the top of the heap. 4 out of 5
•   Vortessence didn’t trip correctly for me, with some missing triggers that were critical to open locked doors. Even when Barney magically appeared by my side, I still couldn’t open anything and had to noclip to move around. 2.5 out of 5
•   Rebel Island takes place on an odd man-made island, requiring you to raise a bridge and some gates to move forward. You’ll face a lot of Combine but also have plenty of cover. 4 out of 5
•   Ancient Dust comes off as an Indiana Jones type of map, with traps, secret doors, jewels and other elements. Unfortunately, the author has made this much harder than necessary, starting with an impossible jump (I must have tried it nearly 20 times before getting across) followed by an overpowering force of four waves of Combine, Manhacks and Hunters. 2.75 out of 5
•   Transfer brings a diversity of gameplay, starting with driving a car, crossing a toxic swamp, some firefights against Combine and a sniper, and finally a Copter battle – all before starting a train to liberate Citizens!! 4.75 out of 5
•    Nova Nadeje is a decent prison map but is very challenging with little extra supplies. Nothing else really stands out as especially positive or negative. 3.5 out of 5
•   Pigeonholm is a multi-level city that asks you to liberate both Citizens and pigeons. The level layout is nicely done and wraps against itself multiple times. You’ll face some tough fights, but helpers and traps can thin out your foes. 4.25 out of 5
•   A Hero Once More is indeed impressive, with lots more to it, the longer you play. It offers great level design with environmental and physical puzzles, challenging fights, and the chance to free some Citizens. 5 out of 5
•   MAMH is probably the prettiest entry in this contest, with a gorgeous skybox. Located along a bay, you must use some critical thinking to bypass locked areas. After that, the author does an amazing job to code the AI for a new friend, who helps to free you. 4.5 out of 5

In all, this Ville contest gets a 3.75 out of 5.