Half-Life Before: A mod that should’ve gotten the red light.

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I remember a couple years ago when Steam Greenlight was a thing. A way for more independent publishers and developers to get their games on Steam, Greenlight was a simple voting system where one’s game could be published under the system if it got enough support.

Unfortunately this lead to a lot of fairly questionable works hitting Greenlight. A fair share of games using stock assets from Unity, Unreal, and such. Others were people not understanding copyright law and posting stuff like World of Warcraft to Greenlight. One game was a fairly unremarkable team shooter that got re-posted to Greenlight several times after the creator had difficulty taking constructive criticism, even changing the name to “Tactical Anal Insertion” in a fit of rage.

On the bright side, games like Divekick, Broforce, and Undertale were some of the more standout choices that made it to Steam thanks to Greenlight. So it wasn’t all bad, even if there were people spending the $100 to release a proof-of-concept game that wasn’t even in a playable state.

Though, not everything was a game. Sometimes software made the Greenlight seal of approval. Even community mods like NeoTokyo made it into the mix, which was nice for people to get their project noticed. Though, much like a majority of Greenlight submissions, not all of them were winners, such as this one.

is it “artifact” or “artefact”? and what parallel world are we talking about here?

Half-Life: Before is a cheap free mod from developer Creashock Studios, a one-man studio who I hadn’t heard of until this game.

Now I’ve played a bevvy of Half-Life mods. Some of the best and most notable like They Hunger, Poke646, Azure Sheep and many others. Though for every good mod, there’s at least a dozen bad ones. Before falls into the latter category.

The story really doesn’t make a lot of sense: You play as Black Mesa scientist Andrew Winner as they’re teleported onto a cargo ship to… find something to go to Xen? The story isn’t that clear, and the brief amount of story given doesn’t explain much beyond what the Steam store page and the main menu gave me.

One option when you start is using this machine gun in this helicopter to take down the headcrab zombies. Or you could just take them down with your normal weapons.

So it’s a Half-Life mod. Some mods try to make the areas look unique and different, changing up everything so it barely resembles what Valve made, like Poke646. Others are content with just giving the player new levels to play with while leaving the Half-Life formula intact. This is not a bad thing, I’ve played a fair share of decent level packs.

Guess the creator didn’t like the Beretta from the HD pack. I can’t blame him, really.

Before is definitely in the “level pack” category. Short of changing the default pistol to some P226 model presumably taken off the internet, the rest are all stock assets from Half-Life, Opposing Force, Counter-Strike, even from Gearbox’s “HD pack” originally made for Blue Shift. Even the scientist model seen below is just a reskin with no moving mouth. It all comes off as extremely cheap.

Before was originally made in 2009 according to the store page, so 11+ years of amazing single player level packs had come out since. There isn’t a lot of effort put into the customization, and the mod maker probably would’ve been just fine leaving the models alone.

Artifact. artifact. The word is spelled “artifact.”
also why aren’t your lips moving, are you speaking to me telepathically

This uses the “Spirit of Half-Life” technology that modders made to make the GoldSource engine do things that it couldn’t do previously, but if the mod maker used it, I don’t really see it being used here, short of the boss fight on the second level.

Never thought I’d have to circle-strafe to fight a boss in 2018…

Much like the rest of the confusing mod, the “boss fight” is a modified Nihilanth from the original game, except he now has a magic tongue like the game’s Barnacles. Alongside a bunch of Alien Controllers, Winner must dump a bunch of ammo, grenades and other assorted things to destroy the weird monster. Get sucked in, the player dies and the game restarts, forcing the cutscene that shows off this monster to replay. The fight isn’t even that interesting, as circle-strafing while shooting it full of holes is enough to kill it.

Once finished, there’s an epilogue cutscene doing a pan across a facility as a makeshift credits sequence, followed by a scientist (presumably Winner) finding the yellow crystal, the same one the boss alien monster absorbed for some reason. Presumably, this is meant to be part of the crystal that starts the events of Half-Life, but it certainly isn’t clear.

Half-Life: Before is not that long, in fact my played time was about 15-30 minutes. Even some of the more decent Half-Life level packs at least get a few hours of entertainment, this just feels more like a proof of concept than something ready for prime time.

What baffles me more than anything about this mod is that this was something Valve thought was worthy enough to put on Steam. There were likely so many other projects that possibly got skipped over for this extremely mediocre mod.

This was the main problem I had with Greenlight: There wasn’t much of a vetting process for quality, where several games only got on Steam because they enticed gullible Steam users with free keys for other games just to get their work on the service.

Towards Greenlight’s end there was so much trash that it was impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff. It just became a punching bag for Jim Sterling and Twitter accounts like Steam Greenlight Gold, highlighting why Greenlight was more of a trash dumping ground than the place to find hidden gems.

Imagine putting in a lot of effort to make something good only for mediocre trash like Half-Life: Before to get the go-ahead. It would certainly discourage one from making games, that’s for sure.

A lot of this mod screams “My First Half-Life mod” rather than something really outstanding.

The ratio of good-to-bad games is probably why Valve abandoned Greenlight for Steam Direct, which skipped the voting process entirely, allowing anyone with $100 to publish their own games. Unfortunately, this just skipped the middleman Greenlight had, and now Steam is filled with trash asset flips from other games, games with malicious software in it, even garbage that touted having 5,000 Steam achievements for the explicit purpose of making bank off the trading cards.

One of these games, Abstractism, had items that resembled the most valuable items in games like Team Fortress 2 and DOTA2 for people to swindle unsuspecting traders. Worst, it also had a cryptocurrency miner secretly installed alongside the game. It took a fair share of outrage before Valve removed it from the store. But by then the damage had already been done.

So. Many. Snarks. They’re all stuck together, too!

Honestly, this makes me want Greenlight back. At worst you would just have mediocre games that would do Steam key giveaways for votes, which is less scummy than cryptocurrency miners and stuff that wouldn’t even pass Newgrounds’ muster in 2001.

As for Creashock Studios, the studio released one more game, the dull-looking Telepathy Zero, which looks like something from the bygone Xbox Indie Games era. However, that’s not the only game the guy has made. Under his real name Andrii Vintsevych, he made a fair share of boring, unremarkable horror games, including Gynophobia, a horror game where the protagonist has a fear of women.

…Now that I think about it, Half-Life: Before is probably the best thing he’s ever put out.

At least the texture work is good?

Writing about this bad Half-Life mod is a bummer, really. I don’t like being cynical that often, but there was a small amount of potential for this to be good, and it wouldn’t even get coverage in PC Gamer twenty years ago. I wrote about some damn fun mods over the years, like Counter-Life.

There is another Half-Life mod I’ve been playing lately that’s damn good, similar in spirit to Counter-Life. I’ll probably write about that next. Grab your Berettas and painkillers, cause Max Payne is about to invade Black Mesa in Half-Payne.

When I originally published this, the screenshots I took were accidentally using a field-of-view setting that was too “zoomed in” for 16:9 resolutions, presumably as an oversight by Valve since Half-Life was made for 4:3 resolutions back in 1998. The original screenshots have since been replaced with ones with correct FOV. I regret this egregious error.

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