Friday, April 22, 2011

One of the Best Free Half-Life 2 (FPS) Mods: Underhell: Prologue

[UPDATED: Now has a gameplay video. Click HERE.]

I tried out Underhell: Prologue (hereafter known simply as "Underhell"), a Half-Life 2 mod that promises a horror-tinged first-person shooter gameplay experience on the PC. While what I went through was not exactly what I was expecting from this free PC FPS, this is one of those free PC shooter games that you should definitely try out.

The full review after the jump.

Underhell is, oddly enough, two PC games in one --- the main game where you run around gunning down terrorists in traditional first-person shooter fashion and an RPG-ish aspect where you go around this house collecting keys and clues in an effort to uncover memories that the protagonist has buried deep in his subconscious. While my main complaint about this PC mod is the almost non-existent connection between the two aspects, each is definitely riveting.

First and foremost, Underhell---like the PC game it modifies---is a first-person shooter (FPS) game. In it, you play as Jake Hawkfield, a SWAT operative who just lost his wife. The game begins when terrorists attack a nearby hospital and Jake's unit is called in to storm the edifice.

In terms of immersion, Underhell really delivers --- the mod's graphics is decent and the terrorists' death animations are convincing. Blood splatters on walls, smoke billows out every time something explodes, and plaster and chunks of concrete fall off from pillars that are under a hail of gunfire. The developer also included the awesome ability to kick objects and your opponents.

I think the developers borrowed models and sound files from several PC games as the terrorists remind me of Counter-Strike: Source. There are also sound clips that remind me strongly of Splinter Cell and Far Cry. These do not detract from the overall experience though as borrowed assets are not uncommon in free PC mods.

>>>This site reviews free, legal-to-download PC first-person shooters (FPS). See more of them HERE.

The game also resembles F.E.A.R. What with the parking lot level's prevalent blue-green hues, the ramps, and the chunks of flying concrete, I couldn't help but be reminded of Monolith's award-winning PC shooter game. Whether or not it is intentional, I have no complaints about this parallelism; though it may resemble F.E.A.R., it does so without feeling like a rip-off. Anyway, this is immaterial; with so many games coming out, drawing parallels among them is unavoidable.

"[I'd open the gate myself but] I think I need a specialist for this one."

Even with all these high points, Underhell wouldn't be mistaken for a retail game. While the textures are good, they'd be heavily criticized if they appeared in a modern retail PC game --- there are some parts (especially in the shopping mall) where walls appear too flat. Also characters in the game tend to be too dark; in areas with dim lighting, hostages and fellow operatives look like moving masses of pure black with no signs of gradients whatsoever. (Turning up the gamma levels didn't help, the environment ended up looking heavily desaturated.)

>>>This website has a Facebook page. It contains more Underhell pictures. Click HERE.

The audio is superb. While the shotgun uses the vanilla Half-Life 2 sound clip, the SMG is very satisfying to fire. It sounds like something I would expect from a real submachine gun. Then there's the background music. This free first-person shooter has an original soundtrack. A musician by the name of Tom Stoffel created the OST, which really immerses you in the action. The only low points were two
saxophone-heavy tracks that reminded me of the B-movies of the 80s. Aside from that I have no complaints about the excellent scores. (This falls in the realm of the subjective really; I just don't like sax-heavy music in my action films or games.)

"The House" phase of the game is something of an oddball for me. I installed Underhell thinking that it's a PC horror-action hybrid, but it turns out that the developer separated the "horror" and the "action" bits. "The House" phase of the game delivers the former in spades. In it, you uncover clues to the death of your wife. It also has these dream segments where you delve into your subconscious and unearth the past. Due to its relatively short length, divulging more details here would ruin the experience so suffice to say, I ended up grumbling "Oh dear God, I didn't know there were Amnesia: The Dark Descent bits in this one!!" And it is similar to that PC horror game --- you go around interacting with objects (sans the slide-the-drawers-out-with-your-mouse physics) and go traipsing into VERY dark places.

Warning: The above gameplay video has spoilers!

The major complaint I have against this freeware first-person shooter mod is the almost nonexistent connection between the two major segments of the game. You could play the shooter aspect without ever completing "The House" segment. This is a bit distracting for me as I found I could go back to the house even after I finished the shooter segment. (The discovery is surreal given that by the game's end, your character will be in another locale entirely.) It would also have helped if the developer placed the game's "tutorial button" (the blackboard) on a more accessible place. I ended up learning about the melee attack midway into the game.

Still taking all these into consideration---superb audio, satisfying shooter action, disturbing horror segments---Underhell is one mod you should try out.

>>>Get Underhell: Prologue HERE.

Review of other freeware games can be found under "Categories" on the upper right.