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Halo Reach comes out the day after tomorrow, and we can expect a relentless media blitz about the XBox 360 and its new killer app. But what about us PC gamers who’d rather shoot bad guys with our high-precision mice instead of a clumsy analog stick? Each day from now until Tuesday morning when Halo Reach launches, we here at Player Affinity’s PC department are going to suggest a PC exclusive shooter that you can play instead of Halo Reach (Or at least help kill the time while you wait).
In previous installments I mentioned games that never came out for consoles due to hardware, or legal matters. Today, instead of talking about a full game, I’m recommending a mod for Half Life 2 that can only be played on PC. Technically you can play Half Life 2 on your console, but the thing that makes the PC version of Half Life 2 and its Source Engine superior is that you can mod it.
There are quite a few mods for Half Life 2, and many of them are worth playing, but it’s rare to see a mod done with the level of professionalism and technical savvy of Adam Foster’s MINERVA.
Making a new map for Half Life 2 is more complicated that most games. Simple modding SDK’s use tile-based systems where you can build your level using a selection of pre-made walls and floors. Some mod tools, like Unreal Ed have you “tunneling” your world out of an infinite block of matter (Like a mouse chewing its way through a world of cheese). Half Life 2’s Hammer Editor tasks you with building every floor wall, roof and rock in a huge vacuum. It’s hard work to make anything more elaborate than a series of rectangular rooms connected by hallways, but it will pay off if you put in the effort. That’s why I have such admiration for Minerva, and it’s meticulously designed world.
Minerva is a side story to Half Life 2, so you don’t play as Gordon Freeman, but rather as a new character whose identity and back story are explained as the mod progresses. You have been shanghaied and forced to go on a mission by the mysterious Minerva who communicates to you through text that appears on your HUD. She’s forcing you to fight your way across on an island to a Combine facility that you must infiltrate for purpose revealed later in the story.
The level design makes the player start at the external rim of a circular map then spirals inwards to the center. The player must penetrate a series of barriers, always progressing towards a clear destination in the center, so it doesn’t feel like you’re just running in big circles. The maps themselves are deliberately small, but the available space is used very efficiently.
Playing through all of Minerva will take you a few hours, and it makes for a nice excuse to fire up Half Life 2 if you haven’t played it in a while. The official website is www.hylobatidae.org/minerva and the mod can be downloaded HERE. (The “Singular Transmission” link at the bottom of the page.)
Click HERE for the penultimate installment of Player Affinity’s series on PC Shooters You Should Play Instead of Halo Reach.