In 2016 a demo was released Hunt Down the Freeman, a Half-Life 2 mod starring the leader of a squad beaten down by series hero Gordon Freeman. It was not very good. Last week the standalone version of the mod went up for sale on Steam, and it’s a huge mess.
In its current released form, now available on Steam for the sale price of $21.24, Hunt Down the Freeman is a bad game. I’ve not played much—my computer crashed in the middle of my first session—but what I did play was not pleasant. Following a lengthy cutscene, players are dropped into the Black Mesa Research Facility circa the first Half-Life, already crawling with headcrabs and zombies. I know the general idea is the protagonist, H.E.C.U Sergeant Mitchell, is supposed to have an encounter in which series hero Gordon Freeman decimates his entire squad with a crowbar, but with very little ammo and not much direction, I had trouble getting there. I alt-tabbed out of the game to check a Youtube video, at which point the game music became distorted and my system rebooted.
While I don’t have much first-hand experience of the game in action, evidence of its poor quality is all over YouTube. There are let’s plays painstakingly breaking down the game’s various failings, from textures, maps and models seemingly borrowed from other games to over-the-top dialogue delivered unevenly by a mix of amateur voice actors and YouTube celebrities. YouTube personality Keemstar’s turn as the President of the United States is particularly cringe-worthy.
Hunt Down the Freeman’s problems began way before last weekend’s launch.
The game debuted as an IndieGogo campaign in 2016, which only raised $12 of the $100,000 being sought by creator and game director Berkan Denizyaran to acquire the rights from Valve, purchase software tools and complete the project. The it showed up on Steam Greenlight, accompanied by a playable demo that was widely panned for bad voice acting and dialogue, poor level and encounter design and general buginess.
With a failure of a demo and little interest generated via crowdfunding, it’s surprising that Hunt Down The Freeman even got to the point where it was actively in development. According to developer Royal Rudius Entertainment’s head of PR (and a senior level designer), Gabe “BLACKM3SA” Sumner, speaking to Kotaku for this story, Berkan Denizyaran disbanded the demo team, created a company, found investors willing to front the needed funds and created a new team to bring the game to fruition.
Throughout its development, Hunt Down The Freeman continued to be something of a joke in the Half-Life modding community. The addition of YouTube personalities as voice actors, continuing allegations of code theft, using pre-existing assets from other Valve properties with little modificiation—every step of the development process, up to and beyond the official game trailer released last month, has been accompanied by derision.
After a series of delays in late January and early February, Hunt Down The Freeman was finally released on February 23 ... only it wasn’t the right version. Addressing the poor quality of the game at launch, Royal Rudius’ Gabe Sumner told Kotaku that a remote programmer failed to apply an update to the game before uploading it to Steam. Maps weren’t updated, previously fixed bugs were reverted, and after spending the better part of two years creating an hour’s worth of cutscenes—a feature the Half-Life series proper is lauded for not using—the game shipped without them.
“That was the single most humiliating moment of our lives,” Sumner said. “We were watching one of our partner’s stream and we knew something was wrong within the first two minutes. We are a small studio based in LA with team members all over the world, we sent the update to one of our programmers to update the steam version. When the programmer built the Steam version, they didn’t actually update anything, instead moving the cut scenes to another depot, so the game was chopped up.
“It honestly hurt seeing the player (in a launch day stream) run into things that I personally fixed weeks and weeks ago, and we never intended to ship a broken game,” said Sumner.
A patch deployed the next day got the cutscenes downloading and running properly, but the maps are still outdated, many assets incorrect and the game is basically still not the one Sumner wants people playing. According to him, the “real game” is coming out on March 5. “We hope that you will review the version of the game that was supposed to be released.”
It might be too late for Hunt Down The Freeman. No matter what cause of the disastrous launch version and overall poor quality, this is a game people are paying real money for. It’s a game that Valve let (well, sold the rights to) Berkan Denizyaran and Royal Rudius use its characters, settings and assets to create. Even if Hunt Down The Freeman somehow makes a triumphant comeback when the “real game” arrives on March 5, it’s likely it’ll never rise beyond being the punchline to a long, drawn out Half-Life joke.