A free Half-Life mod with a single player campaign by an ex-Valve developer? Why, yes please. Though it should really be called “C.A.G.E.D. – A Half-Life Mod” considering it has nothing to do with the world of Half-Life, it just shares the engine and models of the original. Some point through the game I noticed this and felt a tinge of disappointment but I wanted to reach the end and judge it accordingly on its own merit. The basic premise is that you’re locked up for some unspecified crime and you prefer the view from the outside of the bars, so you decide to have a dandy old time going on a one-man jailbreak.
Upon asking the guard politely if you could leave your designated cell, you wind up crawling around the bowels of the prison compound. I like these scattered quiet moments where the game leaves the player with only their thoughts and time to prepare for oncoming struggles. It’s nice being skittish and paranoid with sounds coming through the walls as you navigate the underbelly of the establishment. Only being armed with the mighty power of a plunger also makes the moment you find some real firepower that much sweeter. After that it becomes more of the run’n’gun, 80s action movie it wants to be… Too bad it shot itself in both feet.
The difficulty is bizarre. “Normal” mode is anything but, it’s balanced horribly. It becomes a game of save scumming and corner peeking to abuse the A.I. into running after you to close the distance and fight them at a range where you can actually hit the sods somewhat reliably. There’s very little health or armour in the game in general, even after combat sequences, so there are large stretches where you’re wounded badly and still expected to go toe-to-toe with a group of soldiers. All of which are coincidentally laser-accurate at any range, deal copious amounts of damage and can hurl instakill grenades every time you as much as think about diving behind the nearest slab of concrete. Your own weapons on the other hand, are pathetic. Either they do way too little damage or the enemies are all demigods.
The shining moment of realisation came when I was on low health and had killed all but one enemy. With no cover, I pulled out my shotgun and serpentined towards him while bunnyhopping, finally crouching in mid-air, sliding across the ground and pumping two 12-gauge shots squarely into his chest. He didn’t even flinch. Promptly, he smacked me over the head with his SMG and fired a volley of shots into my chest. Half-Life requires you to click before you respawn, so I had ample time to scowl at my killer who was seemingly made of nothing but kevlar and ceramic plating. The only weapons worth your time are the SMG and its grenade launcher, the crossbow and hand grenades. Everything else is more likely to get you killed than save your life.
The tone of the game can be completely at odds with the method you’re forced to play it by. The finale in particular wants to be a fast-paced, badass sequence with 80s synthwave blaring as you leap through the air shotgunning some poor sucker’s face off. But instead it’s an awkward, slow, tedious back-and-forth game of ducking and weaving behind the same piece of cover while you chip down the enemies enormous health reserve and it completely kills any flow the game had going for it. It wants you to get hyped but when you die as quick as you do and enemies resemble biological tanks masquerading as people, it’s not worth the risk. The only way it’s even close to being possible to play like this is by playing on easy mode. Which is why I’d heavily recommend it if you end up trying it for yourself. I did not enjoy my first playthrough of the game on normal. It flows a lot better on easy. I also completed hard for the hell of it and that was (as can be imagined) even more miserable.
But ultimately, this mod is a love letter to the GoldSrc engine. The best part of this game hands down is the developer commentary. Just getting to understand the design decisions and workarounds to get things to work in such an old engine is great. I found myself agreeing and disagreeing with certain points and arguments but it was easily the most engaged I was with the game as a whole… Not sure if that can be considered a positive or not. After finishing the game, I’d advise playing the developer commentary mode. Wait until you assume control of your character, then bring up the developer console and type in that good ol’ sv_cheats 1, followed by god and maybe even noclip for the best (and fastest) experience. It’s a nice reward for beating the game that way. Funnily enough, impulse 101 not only gives you max ammo for all weapons but also supplies you with every weapon in Half-Life 1 even those not found in the mod.
Final thing to note! There are in-game achievements you can earn. I could feel some of you rolling your eyes as you read that, but stick with me a second! By earning all six of the achievements you get a special ending which is totally worth the trouble. The game can easily be completed in an hour so it isn’t that much effort. Hell, I think you can even cheat in the developer commentary mode and it still counts. Make sure to look out for a very… Shall we say, lecherous, easter egg? (Which acts as a bonus for the secret ending!) If you need help with any of these there’s an excellent guide in the STEAM overlay which I’d recommend. That easter egg is craftily hidden and I’m upset I didn’t notice it on my first run.
I may not have enjoyed the core experience, but for a free mod it’s definitely got enough weird and interesting stuff in it to at least give it a try! Take a look!