Half-Life 2: Calamity is, before anyone thinks a new Half-Life 2 game has been released, a new community mod which was released late last night by its creator, Bobby Cardona. It’s essentially a (completely non-canon) prequel to the events in Half-Life 2, taking place on the 6th day of what Half-Life 2 characters and aficionados call the 7 Day War (when the combine arrive at Earth and blah blah blah… You’ll know it if you’ve played Half-Life 2, and you need Half-Life 2 to play). The mod’s been a fairly long time coming, and I’ve been keeping a casual eye on things as they progressed for the last year or so, so here it is: Half-Life 2: Calamity.
First of all, the mod stays very true to it’s source game – the gameplay you find in the mod will not differ hugely from Half-Life 2 in any way. It puts you in the very shoes you inhabit in Half-Life 2, with the same weapons and enemies as you would find in the original. This is not a criticism, as the creator is clearly not going for anything other than a mod in the Half-Life universe, and what he attempts to do, he pulls off with a fair amount of success.
The gameplay for example, while I said it won’t differ from HL2 in any meaningful way it does manage to play a lot like HL2, which as many will remember has very good gameplay. The levels are a familiar blend of streets, houses and squares which cause a good flow from one area to the next, and it never gets repetitive due to the constant introduction of new enemies from HL2 – you’ll fight standard combine, snipers, zombies, manhacks, striders and gunships all within the space of a few hours. This makes for an intense, if somewhat crowded feel within the game, and the game constantly ups the ante towards the climactic finale.
There are a few places in the mod where the flow does fall short, however. The developer’s choice to have audiolog-type sections where you have to stay near to a stationary radio to hear what the broadcaster is saying, and therefore fill in a bit of the backstory, are jarring to the comfortable flow that had been built up to that point. However, these points are few and far between, and you’ll soon be back to shooting zombies in the face.
Visually, the mod does leave a little to be desired. While the maps are all functional in terms of scripting and gameplay, there’s little visual flourish which could be found in Valve’s games. The lighting in particular is a little dull throughout, and really makes a difference to the mood of the game overall. It’s a shame, it doesn’t really detract from the fun you’ll be having but you will notice it.
The level progression is a little odd as well. When you start, you’re given instructions by someone painting messages on walls as you progress. This is a perfectly reasonable way to find purpose without having to make a convincing character, but often you’ll find a message like “We’ve made the train into a bomb, activate it in their base!” in the open, right next to where combine enemies had been. This makes it a little hard to believe that the combine didn’t notice and do something about it. As well as this, while you are directed by these signs, the mod never really gives you the illusion of choice that Half-Life 2 really excelled at. It tells you what you’re meant to be doing, but never makes you feel as if you’re taking some initiative yourself. Instead, you just follow the corridors from beginning to end.
Of course, none of this really matters if the game itself plays well, which it does. If you’re looking for a free bit of Half-Life 2 that you’ve not played before, but aren’t looking for anything visually stunning or with a strong plot, I heartily recommend Half-Life 2: Calamity. If you’re a bit fussy about which free mods you play, well first of all you’re probably a bit of a dick, but secondly I’d urge you to give this a try for the gameplay alone. It’s available on ModDB and FileFront.