Half Life… There is so much to say about these games that I’ll almost don’t know where to begin. I love Half-Life. I discovered this game years ago, sometime during my (pre)-adolescence and I was astonished: it was awesome! Still, there are people considering it the best FPS ever made, even, the best game ever made. I, personally, wouldn’t be able to say whether it or Duke Nukem 3D should be granted the title of best FPS ever: that’s how good it is.
Half-Life 2 was a worthy sequel. A game like Half-Life having a worthy sequel is so rare that it could be considered a miracle, but after all, has Gaben ever disappointed any of us? After that, Valve released two standalone expansions continuing the series: Half-Life2: Episode One and Two. They were once again worthy sequels and for years, we have been waiting for the final conclusion of these magnificent games.
This article isn’t dedicated to those masterpieces. Instead it focuses on the Half-Life 2 Cinematic Mod. A mod that supposedly “Raises the outdated graphical appearance of the Half-Life 2 trilogy to a state-of-the-art level, while giving it a more stressed, darker and minatory look.”.
Does it? To answer this question, we’ll have to deconstruct it piece by piece.
The soundtrack of the Cinamatic Mod is probably the most insidious part of the mod as I didn’t notice its effect until after I removed it. The mod uses various tracks from movie sountracks in order to create an epic feeling to your gameplay and I must say it’s mostly working. I only was able to find this forum post about where it came from.
Normally, one would think giving an epic soundtrack to an awesome game like Half-Life 2 would be perfect. Except it does not really work that way. Half-Life 2’s soundtrack was very close to the action, sometimes environmental, sometime electrically awesome when it needs to be. That use of music was really fitting to the action, in a way that Alfred Hitchcock would have certainly appreciated.
I only noticed that when I finished my re-run, with Episode 2, after I removed the Cinematic Mod. But the original soundtrack in Episode 2, felt way more powerful than the epic-oriented replacement soundtrack of the Cinematic Mod, when I played Half-Life 2 and Episode 1.
As far as HD mods go, graphics is usually their strong point. This one makes no exception in the way that’s how it is advertised and that it is indeed overall pretty. Unfortunately it is not perfect and ultimately, it just ruins the experience too in several ways.
Byb the way, there might be a few light spoilers in the next sections, nothing heavy but still, be careful if you’ve never played the games.
The Cinematic Mod adds a lot of graphical effects to the games, mostly lighting ones. The result is pretty yet unbalanced: in the dark sections of the game, you need to use your flashlight a lot more which makes you pause a lot more to recharge it, whereas outdoor, you are often blinded by the sun. It becomes especially dramatic near the end of Half-Life 2 when you need to deal with flying as well as on feet ennemies on rooftops. I had to tweak the graphical options a lot in order to be able to complete this sequence.
Most of the textures are nice, although not alway the close to the originals but I’ve seen HD mods doing worse things. Unfortunately some of them are rather strange, very strange. Please not that these screenshots have been found on the Internet as a matter of illustration, but these problems still are here in the last version of the mod. they might also have been compressed and do not necessarily reflect the graphical fidelity of the mod.
The mod, comes with the ability to replace character models. I didn’t even try to play with them. When I say these models, I automatically decided to replace the original ones. It’s like the author of the mod didn’t even try to respect Half-Life. Alyx, which received the highest amount of work, and therefore, the highest number of models, lost all of her personality, to just become a sexual object. Here a few screenshots.
Alyx is one of the best female characters in video gaming: she is strong and independent, not a weak a feeble woman that you have to save over and over again. During the games, Alyx shows a range of credible emotions that makes her compelling. She also isn’t here just to make Gordon look good. No, she is a complex and interesting character with strengths and weaknesses which makes here really likeable as a character. Now, look back at those screenshots and then look at this picture of the original character. I think there is nothing more to add.
Bonus: Dr Breen.
The Cinematic Mod comes with a few gameplay options, some of them disabled, other enabled by default. A few of those enabled ones are weapon model replacement, ironsights and aiming features, and reticle removal. Those options are unfortunately gamplay-breaking. They affect the diffuculty on such ways that it is now harder to aim correctly, the game being balanced for the use of reticles, it now is totally unbalanced. That is unfortunate.
I’ll skip on how graphical modifications affect the gameplay as I’ve already said this in the graphics section.
I have one last problem: bugs. There were a few bugs that totally stopped my progression in Half-Life 2: Episode One. One invisible wall and a texture bug that keeps you to see where you’re going, making it impossible to progress at at least two places in the game. This is when I decided to uninstall this mod.
UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU TRY THIS MOD IF YOU HAVE NOT PLAYED ALL THE HALF-LIFE 2 GAMES. If you’ve already played them and want to to a re-reun of those glorious games, it would be a mistake too. This mod totally pervert the game, ruining every possible aspect other than the story, although I would say, give it time and it surely could do that too.