Who knows when or if we’ll get Half-Life 3, Half-Life: Episode 3, or whatever Valve calls Gordon Freeman’s next outing. Thankfully, modders like Shokunin are picking up the slack.
It’s been too long since I’ve played anything Half-Life, but there’s comfort in returning to City 17, even if said comfort’s wrapped up in fighting aliens from another dimension and it’s fan fiction. I’ll never tire of picking apart boxes with a crowbar, scanning around for newspaper clippings, and waiting for my favorite sound effects to show up. They’re so damn good!
Transmissions: Element 120, an hour-long mystery set after the events of Half-Life 2: Episode Two, has been in development by Shokunin for more than two years. It’s been worth the wait. Even better, you don’t have to own Half-Life to play it. Just follow these basic instructions.
I think mods are great, but I tend to play with the goofier creations, stuff that shies away from directly imitating the original developer. It’s fun when fans go in unexpected directions, and chances are you’re not going to make something as cool as the original creatives—usually.
Transmissions, however, might as well be be plucked from a series of short stories set in City 17.
The story opens with the player listening to a warped version of the G-Man whispering into your ear. It sounds like a record being played backwards. Before long, you’ve woken inside a train car, and the chatter of Combine soldiers is uncomfortably close. Naturally, there’s a trusty crowbar hidden away, letting you bust the lock off a door, and start exploring further. It’s not long before you come across a series of helpful notes that seem specifically left behind to guide you towards...well, something. With nothing useful behind you, it’s time to move on.
The nearby sewers are home to some familiar faces I’d have been okay with never seeing ever again. The spider/headcrab hybrid is a video game enemy that’s haunted my dreams for years, and while I take great pleasure in killing them every one of them, my skin crawls the whole time.
It all starts pretty basic, but before long, Transmissions proves itself more than a new map.
What I’ve always loved about Valve’s approach to environmental storytelling is how it’s not just about subtly driving the narrative. It’s usually about pointing the player in the right direction or giving hints about how to solve the next sequence without spelling it out. You get to feel smart.
Lemme provide an example and, in the process, fully admit this mod scared the shit out of me.
At one point, you come across a series of notes that don’t seem to suggest anything useful.
“The wolf moves freely amongst the flock.” Okay. What else?
“Veiled in the black of night.” Sorry, buddy, that doesn’t really tell me anything. What exactly are we dealing with here? To find out, I decided to look down and what I found was...oh god.
Yes, that’s a horde of those headcrab zombie things that moan with ghoulish consistency. I counted at least 15 down there before I just started mumbling to myself, looking for the exit. There was nothing around, though, besides some kind of motor, a ladder leading to a locked door, and the entrance to a dark part of the sewer that I had zero interest in ever exploring.
Unless I was missing something, the only option was to head down there. I made a beeline for the ladder, discovered the ability to turn off the lights, and silently considered my next move.
Not only were there 15 horrible monsters shuffling below me, not-so-quietly contemplating my flesh, but I’d turned off the lights. Then, it clicked. “The wolf moves freely among the flock.” “Veiled in the black of night.” It appears the game was suggesting I should, um, drop into the crowd, trust the darkness would protect me, interact with the motor, and hope for the best.
THAT SOUNDS LIKE A HORRIBLE IDEA, BUT OKAY, VIDEO GAME!
Uuuuuuuuggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. But, hey, it worked! I managed to escape with my life.
This is when I realized how much Transmissions gets what I’ve dug about previous Half-Life games. Even though Shokunin may not be a Valve employee and Transmissions might not be an official release, I didn’t care at all. I was fully on board with finding out what happened next.
The rest of Transmissions doesn’t disappoint, but I don’t want to spoil it all for you. But...
You get access to a gravity gun that lets you pull off a safe version of Quake III’s rocket jump.
And there’s a battle against some Striders that rivals the sequence at the end of Episode Two.
When Transmissions ended, I cringed. I wanted more so, so badly. I know this mod landed Shokunin an interview at Gearbox, but I’d be happier if Gabe Newell snapped him up, instead.
If you’d like to watch me play through the introduction to Transmissions, you can do so here.
You can reach the author of this post at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @patrickklepek.