You know what I haven’t covered in a while? A game mod. How about a game mod for Half-Life, one of my favorite games of all time? Sounds good.
I’ve always been fascinated by Half-Life‘s mod scene, which had some really creative stuff being made for it. Even to this day people are doing some outstanding work with the that 25-year-old game engine. But let’s jump back to 2005, when Half-Life 2 was new. Let’s talk about Black Ops.
No, not that one.
Not that one either. We talked about that one years ago.
There we go. Third time’s the charm.
BlackOPS (or Black Operations as it’s called in-game) is a Half-Life mod that covers the Black Ops soldiers, the reskins of the HECU soldiers initially introduced in Half-Life: Opposing Force. Released in 2005, BlackOPS was primarily the work of three folks: Stephan “little_otis” Grabenhorst, Volker “Thrillhouse” Schreiner and Daniel “DeeGee” Grabenhorst, who came from the German custom mapping scene.
By this time, Half-Life 2 had been released and the fancy new Source engine was starting to be one of the go-to engines to mess around with. Despite that, GoldSource — the old Half-Life engine — still had some legs in it, so much so that there were still mods being made for the seven-year-old game. Honestly, the Half-Life mod scene post-HL2 is really interesting to me, so let’s check it out.
The mod starts with an exposition of the creation of the Black Operations squad in game, and mentioning the Black Mesa incident that happened in Half-Life. Eventually we’re dropped into the Black Ops HQ as the protagonist, Declan Walker, is briefed upon his mission: Go to Metro City, find Dr. Gallagher, a rogue scientist, and procure a special case he was holding onto. Doing this while fighting off any aliens and soldiers along the way.
Initially armed with only a silenced pistol, Declan fights his way through the apartments of Metro City, fighting mostly headcrabs, zombies, houndeyes and even the Alien Controllers from later on in Half-Life. Declan’s journey eventually takes him to a subway, into the belly of a drug-addled club, through the obligatory sewer, before arriving in Chinatown.
When I wrote about Half-Life: Before, I had realized that writing about such a mediocre Half-Life mod felt disappointing to me. I usually try my best to avoid going for easy punches and writing about bad stuff. Besides, there’s other people that cover bad stuff so much better than I ever will.
So I wanted to make good and write about a different Half-Life mod. After all, Half-Life is probably the game that got me interested in mods, after Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. So after playing and writing about Before, I had stumbled upon an existing mod that had recently updated, and decided to give it a whirl once more.
I always get a kick out of crossover mods. Counter-Strike into Half-Life. Mario platforming in Doom. That sort of stuff. I don’t remember how I found this one, but last year I had stumbled upon one of the coolest crossover mods I’d seen. This Half-Life mod takes the concept and character from another iconic game franchise and transplants him into the original game.
This is why I said “grab your Berettas and painkillers” at the end of the Before article. We’re about to do some bullet time in Black Mesa.
“I was in a game modification. Funny as hell, it was the most horrible thing I could think of.”
Half-Payne is pretty self-explanatory: It’s Half-Life but instead of the crowbar-wielding silent protagonist Gordon Freeman, you play as Max Payne, the pill-popping, dual-wielding protagonist from the titular series.
I remember when this sequence was pretty cool. A shame that nowadays it looks out of sync…
Sounds pretty simple on the surface. Max Payne’s primary gameplay feature was the “bullet time” mechanic, one of the earliest action games to use that feature. Go into slow motion and shoot enemies with your trusty Berettas. That seems easy to make, right?
Well, I figure that making something like bullet time work is a complicated process unless the engine is made for it. Remedy’s engine for the first two Max Payne games – and presumably the engine that Rockstar used for Max Payne 3 – was built to handle slow motion on the fly. The older GoldSource engine that Half-Life uses doesn’t really have such an ability built in but the later Source engine that powers Half-Life 2 does (“host_timescale”). Surprisingly, thanks to Half-Payne’s creator suXin, they somehow found a way to make it work, and it works gloriously.
(Update: After I published this, suXin, the mod creator, responded to me on Twitter by clarifying that the GoldSource engine does have support for slow-motion, it’s just not something that can be accessed normally compared to the Source engine:)
Similar to Counter-Life, Half-Payne gives you the dialogue of Max Payne from the previous games in the series, alongside some of the iconic weapons like the Berettas, the Desert Eagle and the Ingrams, alongside the normal Half-Life weaponry. Painkillers replace medkits, and since Max Payne is just an ordinary guy in a coat and not a scientist in a futuristic suit, all instances of HEV chargers and batteries are gone entirely.
It even says his name! How considerate of them.
Even all the enemies are unchanged from Valve’s classic game, which I can understand. I mean, replacing all the enemies with mafia goons or killer suits from past games would look even more tonally inconsistent than the mod already does. Maybe for a custom campaign, perhaps?
For additional tension, try playing the Black Mesa Minute mode throughout the campaign. It’s quite tough.
It’s got all the essentials of Max Payne: bullet time, some of Max’s iconic arsenal, even lines from the game. But it doesn’t end there. suXin added bonus modes from the Max Payne games, like a Black Mesa Minute mode based on New York Minute from the first game, and a score attack mode like in Max Payne 3. That and the existing game is good enough to make it fun to play through.
I may not have enjoyed VVVVVV, but having a mode based on it is good for a laugh.
But it doesn’t end there. Wanted to play the game more like SUPERHOT where time moves when you move? Wanted to play through the game but only shooting can make Max move? There’s a lot of bonus game modes in the game that while don’t completely fit with the theme of Max Payne or even Half-Life, that they give endless replay value beyond playing through the Half-Life campaign once through.
Surprised the scientists are pretty chill with a gun-wielding maniac helping them out.
They didn’t have to do that, really. Just having Max and bullet time would’ve been nice for me. But going the extra mile like this gives the mod a unique flavor despite being a “what if X was in Y” crossover mod on the surface. Even small touches like letting CD/MP3 music play through level transitions and having Max Payne 3-styled subtitles for everything are nice quality-of-life features that I wish all Half-Life mods had.
Someone should tell that alien to look behind him…
Something I hope they add in the future would be support for Opposing Force, Blue Shift or other notable Half-Life single player campaigns. I mean, they already use the Opposing Force Desert Eagle model, might as well go all the way.
If you wanna check it out, it’s available here. I will stress that this only works on the Steam release of Half-Life.suXin says this version is required, presumably because of updates in the GoldSource engine that are unsupported or missing in pre-Steam releases. I know there’s very few people out there still using the pre-Steam (or “WON”) version of Half-Life these days, but it bears mentioning.
Now I wonder if anyone’s ever done a mod where Gordon Freeman is in Max Payne. Bashing mafiosos with a crowbar would be hilarious to play at least once.