The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Tag Archives: Steam

Yui Needs A Weapon: Revisiting the K-On! Mod for Left 4 Dead 2 with Halo Weapons

“I need a weapon.” –Spartan John-117, Halo 2

Having now finished the original two Left 4 Dead campaigns, the only thing that was Cold Stream and The Last Stand, two community missions that rounded out the game. Cold Stream sees the Left 4 Dead 2 survivors fighting through a forest in the mountains to reach a helicopter to evacuate them before a forest fire catches up with them, while The Last Stand represents an alternate interpretation of what had happened in Death Toll had the survivors gone a different route. After abandoning their truck at a roadblock, the survivors make their way into a junkyard and eventually reach a lighthouse. Here, the survivors signal for rescue from a boat, fending off hordes of Infected while awaiting the boat. These community missions are quite unrelated to the stories portrayed in the regular campaigns, providing players with a remote forest setting to explore. At this point in time, the mechanics and objectives were simple enough: having beaten the last two campaigns (and fighting with the community workshop directory, which had been giving me some trouble with the character name plates), getting back into Left 4 Dead 2 to finish off the single player experience was not particularly tricky, and I ended up wrapping up both of the community campaigns with time to spare. As noted in my previous posts, the K-On! mod for Left 4 Dead 2 had been remarkably entertaining, completely altering the aesthetic and mood in Left 4 Dead 2. However, this time around, I’ve decided to further increase the mods introduced into the game: as amusing as it had been to run Left 4 Dead 2 with Houkago Tea Time characters, even new models and sound files can get old to write about. As such, I decided to introduce an additional set of mods into the game which would modify the experience somewhat without conflicting with the K-On! mods.

This mod takes the form of Halo weapon skins to replace the original weapons. While the weapons still function identically to their original forms, the weapons look and sound different. The end result is simple: I am now running with the automatics, pistols, shotguns and long-range rifles from Halo, rather than more familiar weapons. In addition to a new, highly-detailed skin, the Halo weapons also have new firing sounds. Altogether, these new weapons feel considerably more powerful and reliable than any of the classic weapons. Every shot fired feels powerful. The base pistols and Tier 1 weapons, which had felt diminished in power compared to the Tier 2 weapons in their original form, suddenly gave the impression of being viable, lethal tools that could hold their own against the hordes of Infected. The suppressed MAC-10 felt inadequate against special infected, but when replaced with the M7/C submachine gun, players suddenly appear to have a better fighting chance. The hunting rifle is replaced by the DMR, firing rounds with a slow but reliable outcome. The Tier 2 weapons themselves feel even more effective, and when the mods are properly applied, even the introductory pistol becomes a more entertaining weapon to use. I’d first heard about the Halo weapon mods from a friend who’d been interested in asking about why the modders had removed a particularly unique skin from the marketplace. I’d speculated it might’ve simply been because the mod needed more work and suggested said friend get in touch with the modders to inquire about it. After checking out the modders’ workshop, I became intrigued, and subsequently resolved to try the weapons out for myself. The end result was highly entertaining, and after ensuring that the new mods did not conflict with or modify the way my previous mods worked, I set about finishing off Left 4 Dead 2‘s remaining missions.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I figure it would be appropriate to open with the dual M6H pistols: the original pistols felt quite weak despite being useful weapons in practise, but upgrading them to the pistols seen in Halo completely changes the impact they have. In this post, not only do I have Halo weapons, but I have Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Tsumugi wielding Halo weapons. I imagine that with this mod, once Google properly indexes my content, I’ll have the first result whenever one does a search for “K-On! Halo” or similar. All of the Halo weapon mods in this post are supplied by Adorabirb!, whose done a phenomenal job of rendering the weapons and ensuring they sound identical to their Halo counterparts.

  • The suppressed MAC-10 is replaced by the M7S suppressed submachine gun seen in Halo 3: ODST. While one cannot use the reflex sights, and the weapon handles otherwise identically to the MAC-10 in Left 4 Dead 2, there’s something incredibly reassuring about using the M7S against hordes of Infected. The Uzi is similarly replaced by the M7/C with the right mods, and with the Halo submachine guns, I suddenly feel a lot more optimistic about fighting Infected. There’s a psychological boost that results from using cool-looking and cool-sounding weapons.

  • Cold Stream was a particularly fun campaign mission – despite being non-canon, its setting makes it the next best thing to being out in the mountains for myself. It’s now been over a year since I’ve taken a hike in the mountains and had any poutine from the best poutine shop this side of the country, and I do miss it greatly. While games like Left 4 Dead 2 and Skyrim do allow me to visit the mountains and their beautiful forested trails, there is no substitution for a full day spent hiking the mountains for real, followed by a hearty Montreal Smoked Meat poutine and spruce soda afterwards.

  • My yearning to return to the mountains means that I have recently returned to Skyrim with the aim of finishing the main story off: a year ago, while writing about KonoSuba, I mentioned an interest in playing Skyrim again, and it is only now that I’ve managed to do so. Returning to Skyrim, I am impressed with how immersive and detailed the game is. I will be sharing a full post on my experiences once I am finished: at the time of writing, I am pursuing Alduin through Sovngarde, and expect that in a few weeks or so, I should be done with things.

  • Before then, however, I determined it would be best if I wrapped up my thoughts on Left 4 Dead 2 with K-On! and Halo mods first. Here, I’ve picked up the DMR: it replaces the Hunting Rifle, a weapon that I typically did not play with much on my old play-throughs on account of its poor firing rate and small magazine size. Again, the psychological changes brought on by a Halo skin were profound – the DMR’s firing rate feels faster than that of the Hunting Rifle even though the weapon stats remained unchanged, and I had a blast using it to pick off distant foes.

  • The fact a simple re-skin completely changed up the way Left 4 Dead 2 feels, despite having no actual impact on gameplay, speaks volumes to how something as simple as changing up a weapon’s appearance and sound could completely refresh an experience to the extent where Left 4 Dead 2 could feel like an entirely new game. Prior to switching out the Hunting Rifle for the DMR, I’d never used the weapon simply because its low rate of fire and limited situations where a long-range weapon made it less useful to have. However, in Halo: Reach and Halo 4, the DMR is intended more of a precision weapon filling the range between the sniper rifles and Battle rifle.

  • I ended up swapping out the FN SCAR-L for the Battle Rifle: the Combat Rifle in Left 4 Dead 2 fires in three round bursts, and while dealing less damage per shot than the other assault rifles, it compensates for this with a good accuracy. With this in mind, given how often engagements were close quarters, I generally preferred the AK-47 or M-16 where available. The Battle Rifle I ran with is the Halo 2 variant, which is my favourite iteration of the Battle Rifle in any Halo game. The mod lacks the original’s heavy-hitting sound: besides performance, the Halo 2 Battle Rifle feels solid and sounds lethal.

  • The one weapon I was most impressed with in the mod was the SRS99-AM sniper rifle, which is seen in Halo 3. This weapon excels at long range combat, and equips an advanced optic for sighting distant foes. I chose the weapon to replace the semi-automatic sniper rifle in Left 4 Dead 2, with the end result that what was originally an anti-materiel rifle with a four-round box magazine now could hold thirty rounds. The weapon sounds powerful and looks even better: the optics will depict the same view, just as the sniper rifle in Halo 3 did.

  • One of the things I needed to get used to was the fact that I’m technically still using the semi-automatic sniper rifle in Left 4 Dead 2, which behaves more similarly to the DMR than the Halo sniper rifle. If I were to go purely for accuracy, the Hunting Rifle would be better represented by the Halo sniper rifle, and the semi-automatic rifle would be replaced by the DMR skin. This would allow the mods to be more faithful to their original weapon’s roles.

  • While crossing the bridge, I ended up picking up a grenade launcher: the M319 grenade launcher is a single-shot break-action grenade launcher that functions identically to its real-world equivalent, the M79. In fact, aside from a superior construction and digital display, the weapon is more or less a M79: the M79 is the original weapon in Left 4 Dead 2, and this Vietnam-era grenade launcher was intended to give platoons additional firepower. The M79 proved effective and reliable, but being a single-shot weapon left operators at a disadvantage, limiting how much firepower they could put out downrange.

  • Moreover, carrying a dedicated launcher meant grenadiers were limited to their sidearms as a ranged weapon. In Left 4 Dead 2, this is definitely to one’s detriment, unless they were carrying dual pistols, as well. While fantastic for clearing out hordes of Infected and even making short work of the Special Infected, the grenade launcher’s utility is quite limited, and the weapon itself is also quite rare: I only encountered the grenade launcher a handful of times while playing through the original campaign.

  • Conversely, the M60 (replaced by Halo 4‘s M739 SAW) is an excellent special weapon, and when outfitted with a laser sight, becomes the ultimate weapon for taking on common and special Infected alike. Halo 4‘s SAW features a 72-round drum magazine and, while firing the same calibre rounds as the assault rifle, had a higher rate of fire and accuracy, on top of a larger ammunition capacity, making it a straight upgrade to the assault rifle. Spartan Ops missions went more smoothly the instant I picked one up. In Left 4 Dead 2, the M60 is similarly powerful, limited only by the fact that its belt cannot be replenished.

  • At the time of writing, the mod did not replace the weapon icons for the M16 or AK-47. The M16 is replaced by the MA5C assault rifle, which was featured in Halo 3 and for the first time, felt like a proper assault rifle. While the MA5C’s skin does not accurately reflect on the actual amount of ammunition remaining, the modders have taken the effort of ensuring that the digital display uses an emissive texture: in dark environments, the display will glow in the dark, which is a nice touch.

  • Towards the end of the final chapter, I picked up an M90 shotgun with a reflex sight, which replaces the SPAS-12. However, since the final part of the mission entailed pushing through a horde, the shotgun proved inadequate and I ended up dropping it for any faster-firing weapon. Shotguns have always had a limited utility in Left 4 Dead 2, and in Halo, I found them more useful against the Flood rather than the Covenant. With this being said, shotguns have always been fun to wield against the Elites, and my strategy in Halo games has always been to use the battle rifles, assault rifles and marksman rifles against weaker foes, saving shotguns or other powerful weapons for swiftly putting away groups of tougher enemies.

  • The last segments of Cold Stream requires that players reach a tall tower for extraction, and unfortunately, during my run, I ended up losing Tsumugi to the Infected. In spite of this, I still finished the mission in a reasonably efficient manner, earning myself a nifty achievement for my troubles. My best friend has indicated that there is an elegant and simple way to get the toughest achievements in Left 4 Dead 2 without breaking a sweat. I’m not sure if this is something I’ll seek to be doing in the foreseeable future just yet.

  • The last of the community missions, The Last Stand, returns perspective to Azusa, Ui, Jun and Nadoka’s perspective, as well as the grim and foreboding dark of a coastal forest. This mission starts players off with the Uzi, which the mod switches out for a M7/C Submachine gun. Insofar, I’ve referred to the Halo weapons mod in singular, but it’s actually a collection of mods one can download. Like the M7S, the M7/C feels distinctly better than the Uzi, even though the damage model remains completely unaffected.

  • It’s reassuring to know that the modder behind the K-On! mod made certain that the smaller details were properly rendered – I half expected the character models to clip or be hollow underneath, but thankfully, this is not the case. When I first played the K-On! mods, I’d heard that the modders even took into account the special attributes surrounding Mio, and while I’d never had the characters walk up onto a higher surface in campaigns with Yui and the others, I have played as Mio before. Being ensnared by a smoker demonstrated that those rumours surrounding Mio were true, and this level of attention to detail is commendable.

  • The darkness of The Last Stand meant that unlike Cold Stream, the weapons I pick up won’t be in sharp relief for everyone to check out. With this being said, having seen the M7S’ model, it shouldn’t be too difficult to convince readers that the M7/C is equally as well-designed as the M7S. Besides the same report when fired, the modder had also ensured that the submachine guns’ reloading sounds are identical to their Halo counterparts.

  • Somewhere along the way, I decided to swap out my dual pistols for the Tactical Magnum. In any real cooperative matches, such an action would be unthinkable: dual pistols offer firepower and accuracy nearly equivalent to that of an assault rifle, and so, players will hang onto dual pistols for the duration of a match if they can find them. However, since this isn’t a match with other players, I am able to switch things up for the sake of discussion.

  • I replaced the basic pump action shotgun with the M45D Tactical Shotgun. This weapon, I’ve never actually seen in a Halo game for myself before, but it’s supposed to be a straight upgrade to the shotguns seen in earlier Halo titles. I’ve heard that it is unlikely that Halo 5 will ever come to PC: of the Halo games, Halo 5 had suffered greatly from a series of decisions that dramatically altered the campaign, and this in turn led the game to receive poor reception. 343 Industries’ decision to leave Halo 5 without a PC port was likely a consequence of knowing that Halo 5 wouldn’t sell very well if brought to the PC, and instead, it appears 343 chose to focus their efforts into Halo: Infinite.

  • Because shotguns aren’t really my jam, I ended up switching it out for the MA5D with the reflex sight. Informally referred to as the recon assault rifle, this weapon differs only from the M16’s replacement in that it has a reflex sight. I’ve always wondered how Halo weapons would look with contemporary weapon attachments: in Halo, the presence of smart-link scopes means that soldiers don’t really need dedicated attachments to aim with, as a computerised system would do the work for them. Of course, with Halo 5, when the Battle Rifle was given a reflex sight, people took to complaining about it loudly online.

  • In Left 4 Dead 2, since there’s no aiming down sights for weapons without a magnifying optic, the presence of a reflex sight is purely cosmetic, and I chose this rifle purely to differentiate it from the MA5C replacing the M-16. Like the MA5C, the digital ammunition counter doesn’t actually reflect the amount of rounds one has left to them, but in the dark of The Last Stand, the glowing display is rather more visible: here, I make my way through a burning forest with Ui, Azu-nyan and Jun after fighting my way out of a junkyard to reach the safehouse.

  • The Last Stand was so-named because the original mode was about the survivors fending off wave after wave of Infected, at least until ammunition and supplies ran out entirely, leaving them to be overwhelmed. Conversely, in the campaign, players actually can escape successfully after reaching the lighthouse. Here, after exiting the safehouse, I came across a warden’s outpost.

  • Curiosity soon led me to ascend the watchtower, and I picked up another machine gun for my trouble. Whenever holding a special weapon, I’ve always found that having the dual pistols is most effective, giving me enough firepower to deal with the horde. This leaves me free to save the special weapon for the situations that demand it the most. Of the special weapons, the M60 (SAW in my case) is my favourite: possessing the same accuracy as the AK-47 and dealing the same damage as the magnum pistol per shot, the M60’s 150 round capacity eliminates the need to reload.

  • I wasn’t able to do so in The Last Stand, but locating a laser sight and equipping special ammunition dramatically increases the M60’s accuracy and damage further, to the point where it can destroy tanks and witches in the blink of an eye. On my play-through, I wound up saving the SAW for the final confrontation, anticipating that I would need its firepower.

  • This turned out to be a good decision, since a few tanks did crash my party, and with the damage the SAW deals, they were quickly eliminated. Looking around, I’ve noticed that there are also weapon mods for the melee weapons, but because I’d been interested in keeping Yui’s Les Paul Gibson, I chose not to install anything that could conflict with them. The challenge about running a large number of mods at once is that conflicts could be introduced, and it’s up to the players to choose which mod they’d prefer.

  • The mod prioritisation function in Left 4 Dead 2 is actually pretty well-written in this area: if a conflict is detected, the game will automatically load the one that’s higher up on the list, but if this doesn’t produce the desired result, one can always go into the mods menu and deactivate the ones that one isn’t interested in running. There is one more nuance about running the K-On! mod: by default, the game won’t always show the modded names correctly. Online, people suggest moving the mod .vpk files out of the workshop directory into the addons directory, which prevents Steam from automatically fetching newer versions, but also allowing all of the data to be read.

  • I’ve actually found that this doesn’t work: if one is subscribed to a mod, the game will automatically query the server for updates every time it loads. This means that every time I started up Left 4 Dead 2, a fresh copy of the mod .vpk would be downloaded into the workshop directory. Instead, to preserve my settings, one only needs to subscribe to the mod to download it, then move the .vpk out, and unsubscribe. This method is a bit cumbersome, but it does allow me to keep my settings as I like them.

  • Of course, having now completed every campaign and bonus set of levels in Left 4 Dead 2, I’m not too sure if I’ll be returning in the near future: while it could be fun to get those special achievements my friend mentioned and also re-run the game with Halo weapons, there’s quite a bit on my plate, and I’m just glad to have finally gotten the game done. Towards the end of my run, after depleting the SAW’s ammunition, I returned to the trusty BR-55 rifle to round things out.

  • Unlike my Cold Stream run, this time around, I managed to escape with everyone. Having brought back K-On! into my life in a big way, I am inclined to write one more K-On! related post before the month’s out. Once that post is done, I’ll enter May with a clean slate, ready to go through Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered and Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War: while perhaps a bit pricier with respect to how much time I get out of them, I’ve always had a blast going through them.

While Left 4 Dead 2 is very much a squad-based game that is best played with friends, mods like K-On! and Halo weapons transform the way the game feels, while simultaneously leaving the central mechanics intact. This seemingly minor set of changes alters enough of the look and feel such that Left 4 Dead 2 appears as a completely different game. Admittedly, the base Left 4 Dead 2 never really appealed to me in terms of its aesthetic, and I’d only picked it up because the sale price was excellent: my friend is very big on Valve games for their ease-of-modding, and I imagined that we’d spend more time messing around as a two-person team once I’d picked the game up. While we did spend a few fun-filled hours blasting zombies, the base game never really excited me to the same extent as I imagined. However, with things like the K-On! mod, Left 4 Dead 2 became considerably more entertaining, to the point where I can say with confidence that it would be worth buying Left 4 Dead 2 solely for the K-On! mod alone. At that point, the variety of mods available in the Workshop means that, were one so inclined, they could completely transform the way Left 4 Dead 2 handles: particularly well-done and extensive mods allow players to replace the existing Infected with Halo‘s Flood, and similarly, the very same techniques for using K-On! characters as character models allow for one to run with Spartans. Such mods even provide a means of changing up the HUD to closely resemble the Mjolnir armour system, customised for Left 4 Dead 2‘s inventory system. There is no ceiling on what is possible with the mods in Left 4 Dead 2, and while Valve currently has no plans for a continuation, the ability to change the experience via mods has meant that Left 4 Dead 2 has proven unexpectedly fun: what had initially been little more than a curiosity became a full-fledged, meaningful experience that was well worth the price of admissions. Thanks to mods, I’ve now finally completed Left 4 Dead 2‘s single-player experience in full, and while my friend and I are unlikely to co-op in Left 4 Dead 2 with any frequency owing to our schedule, knowing that I’ll be able to retain a highly customised setup should we take this up means that I’d be happy to co-op if the opportunity presents itself in the future.

Halo 4: Spartan Ops, A Reflection On Part Two

“Spartans, looks like there’s one more quick job before you get to come home.” –Sarah Palmer

After being captured by Jul’Mdama’s forces, Fireteam Crimson manages to escape and seize a Phantom, using it to infiltrate Covenant operations and search for another Spartan team, encountering a Harvester machine. Crimson quickly discovers that the Covenant managed to acquire UNSC HAVOK missiles and begin launching an assault on the UNSC Infinity. After clearing the lower decks of Covenant, the AI Roland reboots the Infinity’s systems and secure the engine room, deactivating the nuclear warheads in the process. Dr. Halsey is captured, and Crimson is first sent to close the portal system. Crimson learn that Jul’Mdama’s forces managed to salvage a Pelican and had been using it to listen in on UNSC communications. After the Pelican is destroyed, the UNSC test their ability to read a Forerunner map with an operation, and prepare an operation to recover Halsey before the Covenant can learn anything of value. However, despite being unable to locate Halsey, Crimson determine that the Covenant have been using another Forerunner artifact to anchor the Infinity to Requiem; Jul’Mdama orders Requiem’s self-destruct to activate, but once the UNSC determine that the artifact is controlled by several anchors, they destroy this, allowing the Infinity to leave Requiem moments before Requiem’s collision with its star causes a supernova. Halsey, meanwhile, agrees to help Jul’Mdama’s Covenant. This is where Spartan Ops‘ second part ends, and the story is continued in Halo: Escalation, which covers the events between Halo 4 and Halo 5. Spartan Ops ultimately ends up being a loosely-written campaign that bridges the gap between the two Halo games, expanding the lore of Halo while simultaneously providing more for players to do outside of the campaign and multiplayer. On the whole, Spartan Ops is a reasonably enjoyable, if time-consuming experience.

More so than the first half, Spartan Ops‘ second half strikes a wonderful balance between gameplay and humour: firefights are punctuated by the hilarious exchanges between Spartan Miller and the UNSC’s internal AI, Roland. Halo had remained very serious and focused throughout its campaign, and humour has never really been what I’ve known Halo for. However, with Roland’s wit and enjoyment to show off his capabilities, his dialogue with Spartan Miller adds a considerable amount of light-hearted banter into otherwise serious communications chatter. This gives the Halo universe a new dimensionality; marking the first time that players can openly laugh about something while fighting off Covenant and Promethean forces, the humour in the second partof Spartan Ops was meant to show that humanity has now reached a point where there are things to laugh at again. While the Covenant and Forerunner forces remain a threat, that humour is present suggests that humanity is capable of holding their own, and that dealing with superior forces has become enough of a routine such that we can laugh at unrelated things during combat with said forces. The end result is that the second half of Spartan Ops, while ending with a much grimmer outcome, comes across as being very similar to Portal 2 in style, striking that balance between light-hearted comedy and events that have a much larger implication on events in future games, creating intrigue for what was to come. Of course, Halo 5 proved to be a disappointment in its story, but having what was essentially a second campaign in Halo 4 to set the stage did represent a bold new idea at the time.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • For the second half of Spartan Ops, I largely ran with dexterity and shielding, plus the jet pack: suicide plasma grunts are always a challenge to deal with, but the bonus shielding conferred by this setup meant that I was able to often survive such suicide attacks with still ten percent of my shields remaining, allowing me to remain in the fight longer. Of course, being stuck by a plasma grenade is still instant death, but I found that overall, improved survivability made a great deal of difference in many solo firefights. The jet pack simply makes it easier to get places more quickly, and I find it an indispensable armour ability that made missions much easier.

  • In the absence of a Spartan Laser, rocket launcher, Incineration Cannon or Fuel Rod Gun, Hunters can be a nightmare to take out. Spartan Ops does not provide dedicated heavy weapons when Hunters are encountered in pairs, and my usual strategy is to get close and attack its unarmoured back until it goes down. I’ve found that the energy sword can actually work well against Hunters; a single lunge will bring one down very quickly. Similarly, using the Scattershot on a Hunter is also quite effective if one can hit the exposed orange areas.

  • The episode to clear Covenant off the UNSC Infinity was easily my absolute favourite of the Spartan Ops assignments, feeling like a mix between Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2‘s first missions. Fighting through the hangars and corridors of the Infinity, backed by UNSC marines and soldiers was great, and UNSC weapons were always plentiful. For Spartan Ops, I run what’s called the “n00b combo”: the battle rifle is my primary weapon, and I equip the plasma pistol as my secondary. Most enemies can be felled by a three-round burst, while Elites and Knights die after hitting them with the plasma pistol’s overcharge and then following up with a headshot.

  • The plasma pistol is probably the most valuable of the sidearms in Halo 4: while the weapon is the weakest weapon in the game on a per-shot basis, the fact that its overcharge can completely strip away shields and even stop vehicles briefly makes it incredibly valuable. In a pinch, the battle rifle-plasma pistol is enough to get one through almost any situation in Halo. In a standout episode, the most exceptional chapter comes when Fireteam Crimson must sweep the engine room for nukes: while the Covenant are using cloaking devices to conceal them, once Roland figures things out, they’re conveniently marked on one’s HUD for deactivation.

  • The cavernous space is very conducive towards sniping, and there’s a rack of sniper rifles close to the Infinity’s central reactor. In practise, while the sniper rifles are excellent weapons, there’s hardly any chance to snipe in Spartan Ops, so having the space and positioning to do so here was a welcome experience. The UNSC sniper rifle remains my favourite of the sniper rifles: it has the greatest capacity of the long range weapons and allows for making follow-up shots. The Binary Rifle, the Promethean equivalent, hits the hardest per shot and vapourises enemies on a kill, but is balanced by a low capacity and rate of fire.

  • Ever since Halo 3 brought back the single Needler, being able to pump enemies full of needles for that super-combine explosion is once again a reality. The Needler has limited homing capability and is surprisingly effective against Elites: the needles seem to ignore shielding. To offset its power, Needlers wielded by enemy forces can also super-combine: rushing carelessly into a firefight and being hit with seven needles will be enough to instantly kill players. While quite unrelated, here, I note that today marks the one year anniversary to the day that Toukairin was banned from AnimeSuki – his political commentary ventured into the realm of extremism and drowned out more moderate perspectives. I took no joy in orchestrating his ban; it was an unfortunate but necessary action, and if given a choice, I wouldn’t do it again.

  • The consolation was that after Toukairin was banned, political discussions became more civil and less frequent, less likely to agree with radical standpoints; the AnimeSuki community has become better for this, which is a win in my books. Back in Spartan Ops, after bringing the Infinity’s guns back online, players can watch as a Covenant cruiser explodes from sustained fire: it’s great to see that the UNSC can now fight Covenant ships head-on, and this was something about Halo 4 I’ve long been fond of – when Halo began its journey, humanity had been on the back-foot. Lore told a one-sided story where humanity often needed to fall upon exotic strategies or employ an entire fleet’s resources to beat back a single Covenant cruiser, and even then, at a heavy cost to themselves. By the events of Halo 4, however, considerable advances have allowed humanity to put up a considerable fight in fleet combat.

  • I continued pushing the fight against the Covenant: having run dry on my battle rifle, I’ve swapped over to the Covenant Carbine, which, while lacking the same damage per shot as the DMR, makes up for it by being exceptionally accurate. I generally prefer the battle rifle for ranges where the Carbine is effective, though: despite being quite accurate, I’ve found that the three-round burst on the BR is generally more consistent. Of course, these are merely my preferences, and different players find success with different setups.

  • Here, I managed to board a Wraith: Wraiths are occasionally seen in Spartan Ops, and while it appears that they can only be destroyed (boarding to kill the pilot causes the entire thing to explode and be rendered unusable), it turns out that the best way to commandeer one is to immoblise it using a plasma pistol, and then kill the gunner. This causes the driver to get out, leaving the Wraith free for players. In possession of a Wraith and its plasma mortar, everything up to and including other Wraiths can be easily destroyed. During co-op, things get even better, as one player can operate the plasma turret while the other drives: when my friend and I figured this out, we likened it to stealing a Gundam, turning the Wraith’s firepower against the Covenant to great effect.

  • While I’ve devised a strategy against Watchers since starting Spartan Ops, this doesn’t make them any less bothersome to deal with. Spartan Ops spawns entire flocks of them, and while individually weak, Watchers are able to move in erratic ways that allow them to dodge gunfire. They’re surprisingly durable and take a few bursts from the battle rifle to silence, as well: coupled with the fact they can fly off to regenerate, and even a group of five Watchers becomes a serious threat. I found that getting up close and personal with automatic weapons tended to work best.

  • On my own, having a Scorpion Tank meant being able to use the 90 mm cannon to devastate enemy forces. With a friend playing alongside me, it means either being able to have a gunner in an anti-personnel role or fulfill this role myself. However, when Spartan Ops gives us two tanks to work with, it means being able to absolutely demolish whatever challenges stood in our path: sustained fire from Scorpions is enough to bring down the Phantoms, and speaking to how long I’ve been around Halo for, I remember a time when Phantoms were simply vehicles that showed up during scripted events.

  • If it were not apparent, the co-op aspect of Spartan Ops was one I enjoyed greatly. My friend and I are rocking older computers without microphones, but even without voice communications, we were perfectly in sync: his DMR and assault rifle loadout complemented my battle rifle and plasma pistol loadout, and we generally had no trouble clearing out areas that had individually taken us longer. Having said this, that Spartan Ops can be completed solo attests to the fact that Halo 4 allows players to play in the manner of their choosing.

  • This, coupled with the loadouts and armour customisation options available in Halo 4, makes the game a textbook example of what video games in general should be like. Many games today place an undue emphasis on lootboxes at the expense of gameplay, hoping to make a quick buck, but back in the Halo days, Bungie placed a particular emphasis on world-building and immersion. I’ve always held the belief that if a game developer needed microtransactions to sustain themselves, then their games were never worth playing to begin with: a good game will compel players to successfully recommend that their friends pick the game up for themselves, and this is what Halo did.

  • Having spent most of my youth playing Halo with friends at LAN party, it speaks volumes to the series’ staying power that I picked up The Master Chief Collection as soon as it became available. To be honest, The Master Chief is easily worth 160 CAD, and the fact we got all six Halo titles for a mere 50 CAD is nothing short of excellent value. Beyond having some of the most consistent and balanced gameplay mechanics, The Master Chief Collection also properly demonstrates how to handle cosmetics in a video game.

  • For instance, here, I’m rocking a golden assault rifle, and for good measure, I’ve also got the gold skins for my magnum, battle rifle, DMR, plasma pistol, the Storm Rifle, Covenant Carbine, Light Rifle, Boltshot and Suppressor. These skins are unlocked simply by playing the game and completing weekly assignments, which yield experience points and season points that are used to unlock various cosmetics, from weapon skins to armour variations. All of this stuff is earned without any trouble, and never impacts gameplay: players rocking the basic recruit armour and weapon skins are just as effective as the blinged-out players with a Mjolnir helmet that resembles the RX-0 Unicorn’s head.

  • I’ve been running a golden gun in my games simply for the cool factor, and here, fight my way to the top of Lockout in order to unlock a map for analysis. A combination of Covenant Elites and Promethean Knights were my enemy, but since there was a stockpile of Scattershots here, I capitalised on their presence to great effect, vapourising Elites and Knights alike while waiting for the map to fully activate. The lighting in Halo 4 is interesting, and there have been cases where the bloom has been overwhelming, especially with the golden gun skins.

  • Liches make a return in Spartan Ops, but unlike their fearsome reputation in lore, can easily be destroyed by boarding and destroying or removing their power supply. The final set of missions in Spartan Ops involves calling out a Lich and stealing its power supply for the derelict Harvester, which had been disabled a few episodes earlier. The verdant vegetation and azure skies of Apex made it one of my favourite of the maps in Spartan Ops‘ second half.

  • Having a Mantis against the Prometheans turned an annoying enemy into something that was completely fun to play: as soon as one boards the Mantis, hordes of Watchers and Prowlers swarm the player, but armed with the Mantis and its high RPM cannon, Watchers are swatted out of the sky without effort. It was an excellent choice on 343 Industries’ part, to give players a chance to finally take it out on the Watchers. The goal here is to destroy several power supplies, which force the doors to the next area to open, and one of the things I did notice in Spartan Ops‘ second half was that sometimes, the waypoints for these generators did not line up exactly, making them hard to find. Fortunately, they’re visually distinct, so for scenarios where following waypoints didn’t work, it was a matter of finding these floating spheres.

  • The last mission in Spartan Ops involves reactivating the Covenant Harvester to punch a hole into a cavern where a Forerunner artifact is held. Countless Prometheans are here, but now, experience allowed me to make short work of them, and in the process, I found that the Promethean Scattershot is actually a superbly enjoyable weapon to use in very specific scenarios (at extreme close range, when all of the beams connect): if one can get behind a Hunter and hit the vulnerable areas with all of the beams, the Hunter will be vapourised. After deactivating the Forerunner artifact, it’s time to beat a hasty exit, fight through a group of elites, and wrap up this last mission. With this done, I’ve totally finished Spartan Ops: I’ll also be looking to write about my experiences as a Blood Elf warlock in World of Warcraft and a solid mod for Left 4 Dead 2 that made things even more amusing than I’d thought possible.

  • Beyond this, I am looking to venture back into Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in the very near future to pick up a journey I’d put on hold since 2013. I’m also considering picking up Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered. My decision to do so will be determined largely by how much progress I make through Skyrim Finally, with most of my winter anime done, the only series I have left to write about is World Witches Take Off!. I’m still finalising the list of anime I’ll be watching over the spring season. Yakunara Mug Cup Mo and Super Cub are high on my list, and Hige wo Soru. Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru Churutto! and Soshite Joshikousei wo Hirou are also of note, so I’ll be checking those out to see where they go. This list is subject to changing, but three series and one short seems pretty reasonable for my current schedule.

With full-fledged cut-scenes and visuals, plus unique voice acting, Spartan Ops ultimately proved to be a tricky thing for 343 Industries to continue implementing: Spartan Ops had been a full-fledged campaign in its own right, and 343 Industries only ever released one full season, choosing to instead focus development on Halo 5 rather than expanding these side-stories further. However, even though only one season was produced, it added nearly ten extra hours of content to Halo 4‘s single player and co-op experience, and this was furthered by the fact that I did go through the Spartan Ops missions twice: once on my own, and once with a friend. In the latter, missions that had given me some trouble became much easier to handle. Between the two of us, we could carry different weapons for handling combat at different ranges, and we could cover one another. Having an extra player meant being able to fill the gunner seat of a vehicle, allowing vehicles to provide anti-personnel functions more effectively. Altogether, while Spartan Ops has its limitations (most notably, overwhelming enemy numbers and segments that require waiting, both of which pad out game time), the overall gameplay never grew stale, and there was always a fun opportunity to fight both Covenant and Promethean enemies across a wide range of locales. While Requiem’s rocky deserts were recycled, other locations (Lockup, Apex and Warrens) proved immensely fun to fight through: some maps may have been adapted from multiplayer maps, but many were purpose-made for Spartan Ops, possessing vivid details and rich skyboxes that make them distinct, unique locations. This experience was greatly augmented by the fact that I was able to co-op with a friend, and some of the biggest highlights include using a pair of Mantises to crush Covenant forces, rolling on enemy positions with twice the firepower thanks to having two Scorpions, saving one another from certain doom during firefights, and my personal favourite, hijacking Wraiths from the Covenant to grant ourselves additional firepower on missions that called for it.

Azu-nyan startled the Witch: Revisiting the K-On! Mod for Left 4 Dead 2 and the Classic Campaign

“But, you can always count on her in the end.” –Azusa Nakano

Left 4 Dead 2‘s campaigns also holds a pleasant surprise for players, in the form of the original Left 4 Dead campaigns being available for players to check out. This campaign sees the original group of survivors fighting their way to a hospital, where they hope to catch a ride from a news helicopter. After the helicopter crashes, the survivors make their way to a turnpike and find an armoured vehicle, which they use to reach the town of Riverside. Here, they fight through the sewage system, through a church and the town itself, eventually reaching a boathouse. Later, the survivors make it to a city and decide to head for the airport, fighting past Infected-infested city streets, a construction site and eventually, the airport terminal itself. Upon successfully refuelling a C-130, they manage to escape. The survivors land in a heavily forested area and make their way past a train-yard, arriving at a farmhouse. Upon radioing the military, the survivors manage to escape when an armoured personnel carrier arrives to pick them up. It turns out the military had been interested in capturing them, as the survivors are asymptomatic carriers of the Green Flu, and seek to study them. However, when the military base is overrun, the survivors escape, making their way to Georgia and eventually, the Florida Keys, where it is hoped that they can find a new home. That Left 4 Dead 2 comes with the complete Left 4 Dead campaigns and its original survivors in a refreshed environment was most enjoyable indeed, and being able to play through the original game’s levels with the additional weapons, consumables and infected from the newer game demonstrated that the Left 4 Dead mechanics have worked very well. As with my last play-through of Left 4 Dead 2, I’m running with the K-On! mods that allow me to substitute the base survivors for Azusa, Jun and Ui: the model for Nodoka remains incomplete at the time of writing, but the mod has seen additional improvement to voices, resulting in a doubly entertaining experience. As with the Left 4 Dead 2 campaign, having K-On! characters means improved visibility and differentiation between allies and infected, making the missions a bit easier to go through.

Unlike Left 4 Dead 2, whose campaign was largely set in the Deep South, more levels of Left 4 Dead‘s campaign is set in environments by nightfall, creating a much more compelling and gripping environment where enemies’ appearances are more unpredictable and terrifying: everything is shrouded in darkness, necessitating slower, more methodical movement. Left 4 Dead may have a more generic set of locations in urban areas, but the familiar setting, in conjunction with a zombie outbreak, creates the sense of unease that the unfamiliar is lurking around every corner. More so than the humid, muggy conditions of the Deep South, Left 4 Dead‘s choice of location and lighting results in a more convincing atmosphere. With the updated graphical style and visuals of Left 4 Dead 2, classic environments are sharpened and made more detailed without compromising their original aesthetic. The end result is that the Left 4 Dead campaigns end up being rather more successful in conveying terror through its ambience far more than the Left 4 Dead 2 campaigns, which ended up being a little more corny and humour-driven by comparison. The sharp contrasts between the aesthetics of Left 4 Dead 2 and Left 4 Dead levels are noticeable, but the actual campaigns themselves still handle as one would expect from Left 4 Dead 2: for folks who became accustomed to playing the original, they’ve remarked the originals are more challenging and rewarding to beat. Conversely, as someone who’s still relatively new to Left 4 Dead, I found that Left 4 Dead 2‘s inclusion of the original campaigns greatly extended the sequel’s replay value, as well as giving new players a chance to play old and new maps alike depending on their inclinations. On top of smoother mechanics and more options in-game, Left 4 Dead 2 remains the game of choice to pick up owing to its support for mods, which was the primary reason why I ended up returning to check out the Left 4 Dead campaigns to begin with; it’s not every day one gets to slaughter zombies with Azu-nyan, Ui and Jun as squad mates, after all.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Altogether, I found the atmospherics and aesthetics in the original Left 4 Dead campaigns to surpass those of the Left 4 Dead 2 campaigns: it is a badly-kept secret that I am no fan of the festering, dank swamps of the Deep South and their unparalleled ability to conjure up images of swamp monsters and the Slenderman. While Left 4 Dead‘s campaigns are set in a more generic urban area located near the mountains of the United States, the setting actually works better for a zombie outbreak. There’s a solid combination of rural and urban combat, and to kick this post off, I’m rocking the G3SG/1 semi-automatic rifle.

  • Over the past little while, I had a few conversations with my friends, and they wondered why the Hunting Rifle was classified as a Tier 2 weapon. It turns out that the Tier 1 and 2 weapons differ primarily in damage, with Tier 1 weapon requiring a few shots to take down common infected, and Tier 2 weapons can smash special infected in as few as five shots. The Hunting Rifle deals the most damage on a per-shot basis in Left 4 Dead 2, but is offset by a low rate of fire that leaves its damage-per-second as being the lowest of the weapons in the game. I’ve never run with the hunting rifle for this fact.

  • Back in the Left 4 Dead 2 campaign, there was a bonus mission called “The Passing” which saw the new survivors meeting the old ones. Playing through one of the other bonus missions allow players to see what things looked like for the survivors in Left 4 Dead: the mission is called “The Sacrifice” and ultimately requires that one of the survivors die to keep the others alive. Since I was playing as Bill (Nodoka), I ended up making the sacrifice to conclude the game. Throughout my entire run of the Left 4 Dead campaigns, I played as Bill simply because the model for Nodoka had not been completed in the K-ON! mod.

  • I appreciate that the modders are busy people, and for me, having three of the four survivors completed was all I needed to push forward: I can’t see my own character model, so playing as Bill/Nodoka meant being able to see everyone else as Jun, Ui and Azusa. Since I last wrote about Left 4 Dead 2, the K-On! mod has undergone a few more updates, adding voices to the characters. This is a minor but hilarious addition, since the characters now speak in squeaky anime voices, making them more distinct from Left 4 Dead 2‘s aesthetic. Here, I make use of a mounted 50-calibre MG to shoot the rock from a tank, earning me a rare achievement.

  • I begin the Left 4 Dead campaign proper here in the streets of Fairfield, a fictional city named after Pennsylvania’s Fairfield: unlike the Left 4 Dead 2 Fairfield, the real Fairfield has a population of around five hundred people, and Left 4 Dead‘s Fairfield looks like a city of at least a quarter million prior to the infection. The game starts on a moody, rainy night that feels perfect for a zombie apocalypse, and here, I equipped a suppressed MAC-10 to start things off. Where given a choice, I’ll almost always pick a submachine gun over a shotgun in the campaign, since it gives me a bit more RPM and reach over a shotgun.

  • The eternal question of equipping a pistol or melee weapons is the subject of no small debate amongst Left 4 Dead 2 players: my buddy believed that the best weapon in the game to fill one’s secondary slot was the combat knife, which had no delay between strikes and dealt solid damage. For me, I typically prefer holding onto the default P220 pistol and then pairing it with a Glock if one can be found: dual pistols offers solid all-around performance and allows one ranged capabilities should they ever run out of ammunition for their primary weapons.

  • I will switch out for a shotgun if it’s the only option available and I’m running low on ammunition for my primary weapons. While devastating at close range, the shotguns’ general lack of use at long ranges, and lengthy reload times mean that they’re only really useful in a limited set of situations. I have heard that with a shotgun, one can one-shot a Witch with a body-shot if their aim is true and all of one’s pellets connect. Witches were the one opponent I was absolutely terrified of fighting, and since they blocked access to critical areas at times, I often was forced to startle the Witch, become incapacitated and then dump magazine after magazine into it while hoping my AI teammates would help finish the job.

  • As I got increasingly familiar with Left 4 Dead 2‘s mechanics, I was able to detect Witches more easily and do around them, or else engage it from at range using a combination of Molotov cocktails and gunfire. Here, I’ve finally entered the hospital and cleared out an entire horde of infected. Early in my time with Left 4 Dead 2, special infected would always give me trouble, and I was always wondering how the AI teammates would always melt them so quickly. A part of the reason why this was so common was because I’d originally treated Left 4 Dead 2 as run-and-gun shooter, causing the Director to spawn more special infected.

  • By playing more cautiously and sticking with the team, I ended up setting off the Director less often. After fighting through the hospital, I reach the rooftops and signal to a news helicopter for evacuation, making use of an M134 on the rooftops to fend off the hordes. Left 4 Dead had the M134 Minigun in place of the M2 Browning 50-calibre heavy machine gun: both mounted weapons are powerful, but oftentimes are placed in strategically meaningless locations, so one can’t hop on and mow down infected en masse. However, they can still be useful.

  • Owing to how the campaign missions were, I ended up playing them in order, and here, I played through Crash Course, another DLC mission set between the No Mercy and Death Toll missions. Set in a rural small town just outside of Fairfield, the objective is to secure a vehicle and get on to Riverside. Like Fairfield, Crash Course is set during the night and has a similar aesthetic to Half-Life 2‘s Ravenholm: set purely in an industrial area, the eerie blue lighting creates a very cold feeling that brings to mind the narrow alleys and empty miner’s residences.

  • Of course, having K-On! characters around completely changes the aesthetic – I previously commented that there is a practical reason this mod is so enjoyable, and this was because the characters stick out so much, I have no trouble spotting them difference between them and the infected during a given firefight. Like Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi, Azusa, Ui, Jun and Nodoka stand out from the hordes with their unique look, and in between combat sequences, small animations the characters have add to their authenticity.

  • Since I already wrote about a Jockey riding Mio previously, this time around, I’ve opted not to title the post after a Jockey riding Jun. Jun is Ui and Azusa’s friend in K-On!, having joined the jazz club after the light music club felt a little unusual to her. After hearing Azusa’s adventures with Yui and the others, Jun becomes jealous and in her final year, ends up joining the light music club. She didn’t really stand out too much in K-On!‘s first season, but took a greater role during the second, and becomes an integral member of the Wakaba Girls after Yui and the others graduate.

  • A common enough occurrence in Left 4 Dead 2 is that every time a powered door needs to be opened, or a radio call be made, the noise will draw the hordes of infected out. In general, I find the Molotov Cocktail to be a better throwable than the pipe bomb, since its large area of effect allows it to act as an area denial weapon, perfect for blocking off one direction of attack whenever holding an area. Pipe bombs are better used for pulling infected away from certain areas, making them a better distraction tool, and I’ve never really been too effective with the bile jar. Of course, players with more hours (and correspondingly, experience) will probably have different experiences and remarks.

  • The Riverside campaign, Dead Toll, has a distinct Alan Wake feel to it: a dark, foggy night in an eerie town. However, unlike Alan Wake, my arsenal is greater, and without a shield of Darkness surrounding the infected, it becomes a simple matter of blowing them away. I have heard that the K-On! mod for Left 4 Dead 2 is not without controversy – the exact original creator of this iconic mod is disputed, at least from what I read. If it was the case that there was a previous creator, it would’ve fallen on them to ensure they’d done a satisfactory job of maintaining and advancing things, otherwise, one can hardly fault new modders from taking up the mantle.

  • With this being said, this is not particularly relevant to me; the fact that the mod is actively being worked on and improved is what matters, and so, when I received word of the mod a few months back, I was more than happy to return to Left 4 Dead 2. Back in the sewers of Riverside (a small town quite unrelated to Riverdale, home of Archies’ Weird Mysteries), I managed to pick up a .44 Magnum, modelled after the Desert Eagle Mark VII chambered for the .44 rounds. The weapon’s large size and chrome-plated finish speaks volumes about its stopping power per shot, although most players have noted that the magnum is inferior to the P220 on the basis that it cannot be dual wielded, has a slower firing rate and a lower rounds per minute compared to the P220 or the dual-wielded P220 plus G17.

  • Making my way through Dead Toll, the grim atmosphere really creates a proper sense of horror. The dark night-time setting makes every encounter unpredictable, and conceal enemies that would otherwise be easily spotted during the day. Both Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 make extensive use of forests in their settings to great effect – whether it is the swampy forests of the latter or the Appalachian forests in the former, there’s something unsettling about a forest by nightfall that evokes imagery of the Slenderman or similar. Left 4 Dead‘s choice to use the night creates a more compelling atmosphere; in Left 4 Dead 2, the daytime setting diminishes from the horror piece.

  • With the Dead Toll mission resembling the original Alan Wake, I recall that it’s been about eight years since I played through Alan Wake, having purchased it for five dollars during the Steam Summer sale. I’d been intrigued by TheRadBrad’s playthrough of it – one of my friends had sent me gameplay of Deadly Premonition, and at the time, the game was not available on Steam (curiously, it did release a few months later). While watching TheRadBrad’s Deadly Premonition videos on YouTube, one of the recommended videos was one of his play-throughs for Alan Wake. The concept in Alan Wake intrigued me and I ended up picking the game up along with the spin-off, American Nightmare.

  • At present, I can’t say I have too much interest in playing Deadly Premonition for myself; TheRadBrad’s play-through was very comprehensive and gave me a solid idea of what ends up happening. With respect to Alan Wake, I’ve yet to actually beat American Nightmare despite the game being in my library for over eight years; it typifies my tendencies to procrastinate when it comes to entertainment, and Left 4 Dead 2 is proof of this, as it took me eight years to finally sit down and complete the game. To be honest, my Steam library’s grown larger than I have time to game on account of the Steam sales, and in recent years, I’ve not bothered partaking in sales, knowing I’ve got enough titles to last a very long time.

  • Towards the end of the Dead Toll mission, after arriving in Riverside and reaching a boathouse, the goal will be to fend off the hordes again. I’ve switched off the G3SG/1 to the M16A2: while my favourite weapon in Left 4 Dead 2 is the AK-47, for being a slow-firing, hard-hitting weapon, the M16A2 is reasonably versatile and its large 50-round magazine and rate of fire makes it a great choice for both CQC combat and medium range firefights against common infected.

  • Here, I’ve equipped a laser sight for my M16A2: this weapon mod greatly improves a weapon’s accuracy, transforming the assault rifles into makeshift marksman rifles. They’re able to improve hip-fire accuracy on all weapons, but on the shotguns and grenade launcher, they’re not as effective. Offering tremendous advantages when equipped, laser sights also indicate where allied players are pointing their weapons. To offset their usefulness, laser sights are incredibly rare, and players usually go through entire campaigns without finding one. Having the laser sight made the final fight to keep the infected away while waiting for a boat at Dead Toll proved useful.

  • The Dead Air mission entails fighting through the city streets until reaching an airport, which is host to a range of aircraft the survivors could use to fly out of town to the next area. Of the Left 4 Dead missions, I enjoyed Dead Air the most owing to its setting: there is something unsettling about an orange-tinged night sky that implies the world is burning now, folding from the weight of the infection. The survivors start on a rooftop greenhouse and must make their way over to the airport, which appears to be located very close to the city if one could simply walk up to it.

  • Most airports are located away from urban areas so the noise from air traffic do not disrupt residents and businesses, but smaller airports are often located in the heart of a city to act as an auxiliary facility for domestic flights. En route to the airport itself, this is the moment that lent itself to the post’s title: because one of the AI teammates had startled the Witch, the Witch’s attention was focused on them: a swift finger on the screenshot button landed me this screenshot, and I subsequently dumped a few magazines into the Witch before it could take me out.

  • The Dead Air campaign marked the first time I’ve been in a video game airport since my previous unsuccessful attempt to explore the Washington National Airport in The Division 2. I fought through a concourse area before entering the parts of the airport with the gates: the saferoom is located just inside the gate before the sky bridge. The K-On! mod for Left 4 Dead 2 adds the riff, Kendama-kun, as the song for whenever a chapter ends, and I keep thinking in my head, in Yui’s voice, “Keion!” upon successful completion of each chapter.

  • The final step of the campaign is to wait for a C-130 to finish refuelling. There’s a mounted M134 available here, but as most of the infected will come from different directions, I didn’t find it to be particularly helpful. I’ve got the SPAS-12 equipped here: known as the Tactical Shotgun in-game, the SPAS-12 has the least spread. While dealing slightly less damage than the Benelli M4 Super 90 (Auto Shotgun in-game), the reduced spread means it reaches out slightly further with more reliability. Finale missions always provide an endless supply of weapons and ammunition, allowing one to freely switch between different weapons to get the job done.

  • The final campaign is set in a forested area by daybreak that brings to mind the areas seen in Half-Life 2: Episode Two, specifically the White Forest, even if the forest seen in Left 4 Dead has deciduous trees (and White Forest, being modelled on forests in the Pacific Northwest, are largely coniferous). The early morning light represents a departure from the night settings in the previous levels, but this is only an aesthetic – the sky may be illuminated, but the land is still somewhat dark, and one must remain vigilant. The site is modelled on Allegheny National Forest in eastern Pennsylvania, which is located just south of Lake Erie in the Appalachian Mountains. It becomes clear that any other time, the park would be a fantastic place to go for a day trip of sorts.

  • A glance at the calendar will find that we are two-thirds of the way through March, and that today is the Vernal Equinox. On this first day of spring, the days will only continue to lengthen as summer approaches. I am very glad that light and warmth are returning to this side of the world. The first day of spring also coincides with the city-wide youth science fair – a few weeks ago, I helped with the science fair for the most prestigious secondary school in the city: my old secondary biology instructor took up a post there and invited me to help out, and it’s always been fun to see what the brightest young minds in the area are up to.

  • Like last year, this science fair is virtual: this is for the safety of all involved, and while I very much prefer to see projects in person and ask questions after a presentation, I understand that the virtual science fair format is necessary. With this being said, the plus side about a virtual science fair is that I can review projects at my leisure while rocking my pyjamas before my first cup of Earl Grey. As soon as this post is done, it’ll be time to turn my attention wholly towards the judging.

  • Now that I’m coming close to finishing off the original Left 4 Dead campaigns, and having finished Left 4 Dead 2‘s base campaigns, the thought of a potential Left 4 Dead 3 did cross my mind. It turns out that Left 4 Dead 3 and Half-Life 3 were projects that were permanently suspended in 2017 as work continued on the Source 2 Engine: only a handful of games, including DotA 2 and Half-Life: Alyx, have been developed in the Source 2 Engine so far. With Valve still tight-lipped about their future projects, the only constant is that speculation is quite meaningless, since there’s next to nothing in the way of facts surrounding the future of the Half-LifePortal and Left 4 Dead franchises.

  • The last segment of the Left 4 Dead campaign has survivors holding out near a small farmhouse: once the radio is called, the military will deploy an APC to the site, and until it arrives, the survivors must survive wave after wave of infected. Unlimited ammunition and several first aid kits are available for use inside the farmhouse, and I ended up going with the M16A2, since this was a scenario where RPM and sustained damage was helpful. In the end, I succeeded in fending off the zombies, and as No Thank You! began playing, I watched the end-of-campaign stats roll, revelling in the fact that I finally finished both the major Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 campaigns. At the time of writing, the only Left 4 Dead 2 campaigns I have left are the community-made ones.

  • Towards the end of the mission, I ended up picking up a tonfa and killed an infected to earn the “Club Dead” achievement, which requires players to get a melee kill on common infected with each of the game’s melee weapons (axe, chainsaw, cricket bat, crowbar, guitar, frying pan, golf club, katana, machete and tonfa, plus a pitchfork and shovel on PC). While most guides call this a nightstick because it is modelled after the Monadnock PR-24 police baton with side handle, the baton itself was based off the Okinawan tonfa. I’ve been training with a tonfa for some years, and they’re usually used in pairs. While I’m not as skilful with tonfa as I am with sai or nunchaku, I am sufficiently versed to know that in Left 4 Dead 2, the player is not holding the weapon as one would traditionally hold a tonfa.

With all of the major Left 4 Dead 2 campaigns now finished, this journey has been one that’s been a shade under eight years in the making: the presence of mods has been an instrumental piece of my inclination to pick Left 4 Dead 2 back up, with the end result that I managed to finish a game that I’d all but forgotten about. The presence of K-On! mods for Left 4 Dead 2 also had another side effect: it brought back numerous, pleasant memories I have of the K-On! franchise, leading me to check out the K-On! Come With Me concert and revitalise my interest in the franchise’s music, in turn helping me to relax and keep focused during a somewhat stressful February. Familiarity with Left 4 Dead 2 also means I’m now able to keep up with my friends where conversation turns towards this game: for the longest time, said friend had been hoping I’d complete the game to an extent where I’d be able to offer insights on the mechanics and provide thoughts on why Valve might’ve made certain decisions in the development process, which results in interesting discussions well beyond what gaming discussion today typically consists of (i.e. the best cosmetics and memes, or complaining about games endlessly for not catering to the individual). At this point in time, I’ve now completely experienced the K-On! mods for Left 4 Dead 2, which was an impressive and commendable effort into bringing one of my favourite franchises together with a survival shooter: the process to get the mod set up and running has been effortless, and really adds dimensionality and fun to a game that I otherwise would’ve just left in my backlog. Having now seen what the K-On! mod has done for Left 4 Dead 2, I do plan on taking things up a notch for the two remaining community missions, Cold Stream and Last Stand. Hopefully, getting those last two community missions done won’t take me another eight years to wrap up this time around!

Halo 4: Spartan Ops, A Reflection On Part One

“Spartan Sarah Palmer, Infinity Commander to all Navy, Army, and Marine forces, you can relax. The Spartans are here.” –Sarah Palmer

After Master Chief defeats the Didact, the UNSC Infinity is deployed to Requiem again to mop up remaining Covenant and Promethean forces. This sets in motion the events that would become known as the Second Battle of Requiem. The Infinity smashes through a Covenant armada and lands on the surface to begin a land invasion. Fireteam Crimson secures a landing zone and heads off to disable Requiem’s teleportation grid, allowing the UNSC to begin deploying power stations and laboratories for science teams. Covenant forces begin hassling the science teams, and once the UNSC learn that the Sangheili Parg Vol was responsible, send Fireteam Crimson to assassinate him. By this point in time, the Covenant manage to access Requiem’s teleportation grid, and Covenant Fleet Master Jul’Mdama arrives to oversee operations. While unable to kill Jul’Mdama, the UNCS manage to acquire a Forerunner artefact known as the Didact’s Gift, which revealed that Prometheans were synthesised from human memories. Fireteam Crimson manages to shut down the teleportation grid and defends the extraction team who’ve come to retrieve the remaining scientists. After reaching a cache of UNSC equipment, Fireteam Crimson fends off the Covenant and secures the gear before being deployed for another location, but are shot down. Spartan Ops‘ first season draws to a close here, depicting the events following Halo 4‘s campaign and providing an expanded insight into the lore of Halo while simultaneously allowing players justification to continue blowing up Covenant and Prometheans alike outside of the campaign and multiplayer modes.

Because Spartan Ops is a different game mode, it handles like a cross between Halo 4‘s campaign and multiplayer: there are objectives to complete, but players are given a lot more freedom in how they can go about completing them thanks to the availability of loadouts. Being relatively new to loadouts, I found that being able to create weapon and equipment configurations for a range of scenarios added a considerable amount of depth to Halo 4, allowing me to choose weapons, perks and armour abilities to best fit a given scenario. Different loadouts are therefore valuable: I might need something for dealing with swarms of prowlers one mission, and then return to fighting Covenant forces in the next, so being able to swiftly adapt made this a fun experience. My experiences in going through missions was largely pleasant, and while perhaps facing more enemies than I’d seen in the campaign, I was still able to complete the first season solo: despite being intended for groups, seeing that Spartan Ops could be done without a squad shows that the challenge within the mode is still fair. It helps that one has unlimited lives, and that the mode features persistence (if one neutralised five enemies in a group of ten and then died, upon respawn, there’d only be five enemies left in that group). The only real strike I have against Spartan Ops is the repetitive maps, which use a combination of recycled campaign and multiplayer levels, but this is a very minor gripe, and I am finding the mode to hold my interest in Halo, for the days where I’m inclined to shoot stuff without being in a campaign mission.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • To my surprise, Spartan Ops required that halo 4‘s multiplayer be installed. In retrospect, this makes sense, since Spartan Ops makes use of multiplayer maps and assets. The first few missions were straightforward, being set on the desert maps that the Reclaimer mission took place on, and while not conducive for the best screenshots, gave me a chance to familiarise myself with the setup. Unlike campaign missions, there’s a bit more freedom in Spartan Ops and players occasionally have access to vehicles, which changes the way the game is played.

  • The biggest importance of setting up a good collection of loadouts becomes obvious. Halo 4 does not allow players to spawn with any of the power weapons, and while some missions will provide weapon drops to help players out, having options is always important: I typically find that against Covenant, starting with the Battle Rifle and pistol is a good choice: Covenant forces also drop the Storm Rifle, which is a solid automatic weapon for cutting up Elites. Conversely, against Prometheans, the assault rifle is how I prefer to play: the Watchers are perhaps the single most irritating enemy in the whole of Halo, and a good automatic weapon is needed to fend them off.

  • Of course, when the moment calls for it, Spartan Ops is very generous with weapon drops: during one of the earlier missions, I was given an endless supply of Spartan Lasers to clear the skies of Phantoms. Having now used the Spartan Laser, I find it to be my preferred anti-vehicular weapon owing to its power and lack of travel time: the Spartan Laser will instantly destroy any Ghost or Banshee in one shot, can take down a Wraith in one shot to the rear, and a few shots will be enough to bring down even Phantoms, although it’s usually not a good idea to expend the Spartan Laser on these aerial vehicles.

  • Conversely, the M41 SPNKR rocket launcher is rendered obsolete in an anti-vehicular role – its 102 mm rockets, while powerful and capable of dealing an impressive amount of splash damage, have a slower travel time and cannot reliably track vehicles as its Halo 2 incarnation could. I prefer using it against large groups of infantry and Hunters. With this being said, at close ranges, the rocket launcher is more forgiving than the Spartan Laser, since one can quickly follow up with a second shot if needed.

  • For my preferred loadout against the Covenant, I originally took a battle rifle and pistol with cloak, faster shield recharge and dexterity. Eventually, I transitioned over to the jetpack for the ability to reach places more quickly. Having a battle rifle as my starting weapon generally gave me a decent all-around survivability on maps with Covenant forces: Grunts and Jackals both fall quickly to well-placed headshots from the battle rifle, and the weapon can deal with Elites in a reasonably effective manner, as well.

  • However, on maps with Promethean enemies, the battle rifle did feel considerably less effective: against Crawlers and Knights, the battle rifle fares well enough. However, the Watchers were a constant source of frustration – before I could land the finishing blow with the battle rifle, they’d hover away into cover, regenerate and come out good as new. Against Prometheans, I typically run with an assault rifle or suppressor simply because their high rate of fire makes it much easier to deal with these airborne threats more readily, while at once remaining useful against both Crawlers and Knights.

  • While I found some of the maps a tad repetitive in Spartan Ops, Two Giants was always a source of enjoyment: this canyon is home to two spires that act as communication beacons, and is supposed to be a remake of Halo 3‘s Valhalla, itself an update to Halo 2‘s Coagulation maps. With its blue skies, evergreen trees and green grass, Two Giants was easily my favourite of the Spartan Ops maps,

  • Initially, I ran with the M6H pistol – Halo 4‘s pistol retains the stopping power of its Halo Reach counterpart, but allows players to melee, switch weapons and throw grenades faster than if another weapon were equipped. As a secondary weapon, it is a decent all-around weapon, acting like a pocket-sized DMR in practise in that it is great for picking off Grunts, Jackals and Crawlers with ease.

  • Spartan Ops‘ story was meant to be a continuation of the story in Halo 4 and introduces the AI Roland, who has a central role in Halo 5. While the lore covered by Spartan Ops was enjoyable, the main draw behind Spartan Ops for me was the Firefight-like gameplay where I’d be pitted against a large number of enemies to fight. Firefight is a very enjoyable mode for me all around, providing a sandbox-like space for me to square off against foes. I’ve come to greatly enjoy sandbox-style modes in games of late, since they allow me to play at my own pace. This stands in stark contrast with PvP multiplayer games, which are comparatively stressful.

  • Ever since support for Battlefield V ended last June, I’ve not done competitive PvP multiplayer: as much fun as it was, there was also a frustration component brought on by the fact that my reflexes are not what they were back in my Halo 2, or even Battlefield 3 days: revisiting older articles here and on my old website, I’ve done things that certainly feel unfeasible now in multiplayer games, whether it’s getting a Killimanjaro on Lockout or going on Combat Efficiency streaks in Battlefield 3. My favourite recent achievements in Battlefield include abusing the Ilya-Muromets to score Killionaire in Battlefield 1, and going on a 34-streak with the Ka-Mi in Battlefield V.

  • Cheating continues to be a problem in multiplayer games: I’ve heard that Call of Duty: Warzone is rife with cheaters, and Battlefield V certainly had a cheating problem. This is the primary reason why I’ve pulled back from PvP multiplayer games of late; while they can be very enjoyable and give rise to emergent moments that can only happen in the chaos of online gaming, the prevalence of cheating means that this experience is greatly degraded. Halo‘s multiplayer has a different problem: controllers are given aim assist and bullet magnetism to offset their reduced precision, but bad choices on 343 Industries’ part means that the aim assist and bullet magnetism handles more like an aimbot.

  • Consequently, while having a great deal of fun in Halo 2: Anniversary‘s multiplayer, I’ve not really gone back into the Halo multiplayer experience as I imagined that I would: there is a gap between playing players who are legitimately skilled, and playing those who are using hardware the game mechanics favour. I’ve always been a firm believer in a fair, honourable fight in games: given a set of constraints and rules, those who have the skill and knowledge should generally hold out alright. As such, when this skill piece goes out the window, a game is no longer properly fun.

  • This is why the single-player experience is so important for me: in an environment where it’s just me and the game mechanics, my skills are properly tested. Spartan Ops, despite being more challenging to solo, remains fun precisely because even if the deck is stacked against the player (especially through armadas of Watchers and Knights capable of teleporting at will), the game doesn’t actively punish players for dying. As a result, while I’ve had very rough matches in Spartan Ops, none of them were ever rage-inducing because I knew I’d be able to come back and whittle away at my foes.

  • One of my best friends had the tenacity to solo Spartan Ops on legendary, and for this effort, was met with a special achievement. The most challenging traits of Halo are brought out on this difficulty, and I remember sharing several lengthy conversations about the idea of balance in Spartan Ops: my friend is even more of a Halo fan than I am, having gone through all of the campaign missions on legendary solo. With this level of experience, I have no trouble taking their word that Spartan Ops does have mechanics that are, compared to Halo 4‘s campaigns, make things more difficult (e.g. Elites and Knights seem tougher to kill in Spartan Ops than in the campaign).

  • Having said this, the foes in Spartan Ops are AI enemies with a finite set of behaviours, and that means over time, it’s possible to learn them well enough to have a suitable response. In my case, I found the Watchers to be the most problematic, so equipping an automatic weapon and fighting them up close gave me a fighting chance. This sort of thing is why PvE will never be as frustrating as PvP: in the former, I can response to any mission giving me trouble by taking a break and re-attempting later.

  • There had been such a mission in Spartan Ops that required me to defend a pair of relays from a Promethean onslaught, and while it was challenging, I managed to succeed with some perseverance. Patience and knowledge are key in PvE modes, making them suited for folks such as myself. While as a student, I possessed the time and reflexes to improve in multiplayer games, a combination of shifting priorities and slowing reflexes means that I have a decreasing inclination to play such games. Conversely, games that allow me to explore and progress at my own pace remain highly engaging for me.

  • Having now completed the first season of Spartan Ops, the aforementioned friend has expressed interest in running through all of the missions co-op: I immediately see the enjoyment in doing this, since it would mean we now have four different weapons between the two of us, allowing for a greater versatility in different combat scenarios. During February, the two of us had revisited Halo 4‘s campaign together and blasted through areas of the game that took me longer to individually complete: it was immensely valuable to have a gunner while I was driving, and my CQC style complimented their sniping perfectly.

  • I would expect that in a co-op scenario, we’d probably equip a setup that allows us to be a bit more specialised for our preferred ranges, and this could prove remarkably entertaining. At some point in the near future, I would also like to recount our Halo 4 co-op experience: while the two of us had been familiar enough with the other Halo games so that teaming up made things somewhat easier, in Halo 4, playing co-op was dramatically different to the point where we’d actually completed missions in under the par time.

  • For Spartan Ops, I ended up using the power weapons like the sniper rifles and rail guns for handling Elite and Knights. While I originally was quite conservative with ammunition, it turns out that so as long as one doesn’t drop their weapon, they can continuously top off at resupply stations, and as such, I was able to deal with threats a lot more quickly. Having vehicles around on a mission also helps, although one should be mindful that if they should ever die, their dropped weapons will de-spawn very quickly, leaving one at a disadvantage. It is for this reason that I tend to save the power weapons for moments that really call for it, lest I lose them at critical moment.

  • My favourite moment in Spartan Ops‘ first season was the final mission to the fifth chapter, during which an entire armada of Hunters are deployed against Fireteam Crimson. While this sounds daunting, the UNCS also calls in a supply drop that provides a nearly endless supply of Spartan Lasers. On standard difficulty, one shot from the Spartan Laser will kill a Hunter, and even the Wraiths that the Covenant deploy become reduced to smoking piles of rubble on short order. Spartan Lasers had been comparatively rare in Halo 3 and even Halo: Reach, so I relish the chance to use them. With the first season now in the books, I get to turn my attention towards Spartan Ops‘ second season, and also look towards finishing off the last of the Left 4 Dead 2 campaigns.

Spartan Ops, when it was first announced, represented an exciting new direction for Halo 4: it would add cooperative missions in which Fireteam Crimson, a squad of Spartan IVs, are sent to Requiem to handle the aftermath of Halo 4‘s events. Here, players get to participate in a Firefight-style battle, except each chapter is driven by a story and has objectives to complete. The missions were evidently designed for the co-op experience, and while only adding tangentially to the lore in Halo, allows players a chance to blast Covenant and Prometheans alike in the manner of their choosing: players do have access to their loadouts for Spartan Ops. Altogether, while perhaps not technically impressive, Spartan Ops ends up being a fun excuse to shoot things in environments beyond what was seen in the Halo 4 campaign with a bunch of friends. Levels are objective based, but in practise, things end up more like Firefight in that one has to contend with waves of enemies. I found that missions were geared towards full squads and do not scale for solo players: the sheer number of enemies one must deal with were far greater than anything I had seen in the campaign, and besting missions required a combination of patience, reflexes and map knowledge. Altogether, Spartan Ops represents a fun addition to Halo 4 that provides players with another option (in addition to the enjoyable campaign and expansive multiplayer), one which is especially nice to have for days where one just feels like fighting Covenant and Prometheans.

Black Mesa: A Reflection and Marvelling At The Refreshed Journey Through Xen

“That’s why I’m here, Mr. Freeman. I have recommended your services to my employers, and they have authorised me to offer you a job. They agree with me, that you have limitless potential.” –The G-Man

Upon arriving in Xen, Freeman is met with the same fauna he’d encountered at Black Mesa, and begins making his way through the floating islands that constitute Xen. Along the way, he passes by numerous research facilities and other HEV-equipped researchers who’d visited previously. In order to continue, Freeman activates a series of portals, eventually winding up in the Gonarch’s Lair. This powerful alien monstrosity initially appears resistant to all of Freeman’s arsenal, but after Freeman lands a few good hits with the rocket launcher, the Gonarch takes off. Freeman is able to prevail over this beast, and its death opens a new portal, leading him to a massive factory that manufactures the Alien Grunts. After making his way up through the facility’s cavernous interior, Freeman reaches a portal that takes him to Nihilanth’s lair. Freeman knocks out the healing system keeping Nihilanth alive and destroys the creature’s brain, killing it in a series of titanic explosions that also knock Freeman out. When he awakens, he finds himself face-to-face with the enigmatic G-Man, who provides him with an offer of employment. Freeman reluctantly accepts, knowing there is probably no other way to survival. This brings Black Mesa to a close, and this was such an incredible experience. Even more so than the revamped Black Mesa complex, Black Mesa‘s Xen missions have been completely redone. The alien segments of Half-Life, once a simple collection of crude floating islands, becomes a massively remastered, reinterpreted set of missions that capture the mystique and scale of this alien dimension. It was an absolute thrill to go through each segment of Xen and admire just how much attention went into every little detail, from the plants to the healing pools. The end result of a re-imagined Xen creates an experience that redefines the Half-Life story, greatly enhancing it and accentuating to give players a greater appreciation of the scale of things that would eventually precipitate the events of Half-Life 2.

The biggest part of the Xen missions that impressed were the inclusion of puzzles that kept to the spirit of the original Half-Life game – each puzzle introduces players to a new concept, and once players have an inkling of how to go about solving a puzzle, Black Mesa ramps it up, adding complexity to each area, forcing players to become increasingly creative in how they approach an area. The end result is that players have a chance to really explore an area while searching for a solution to unlock access to the next spot. Some of these puzzles can be quite complex, but once one figures out what needs to be done, it becomes an immensely rewarding. The original Xen lacked the same level of complexity, and was counted as being a disappointment in an otherwise solid game – Half-Life‘s Xen missions were maligned for its simplicity and lack of inspiration, being a very flat ending to the game. However, by re-imagining the missions, Black Mesa has transformed Xen into a detailed, meaningful and integral part of the game, one that is a pleasure (rather than a schlepp) to experience. It was though the re-imagined Xen I fought through; after killing the Gonarch and slaughtering the alien Controllers enslaving the Vortigaunts, I finally arrived at Nihilanth’s chambers. I swiftly set about destroying the terminals keeping Nihilanth alive, dodging fire and dumping everything I had into Nihilanth’s oversized cranium. After a few attempts, I emerged victorious, and with this, I’ve now completed a game that’s been many years in the making.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I was so blown away by the stunning scenery in Xen that I spent a good five minutes just standing here, just admiring the skybox and textures. Unlike Half-Life‘s Xen, which was a minimal and miserable collection of floating islands set against a sickly green backdrop, Black Mesa‘s Xen is beautiful, conveying the vastness of this exotic location. Xen is supposed to be a dimensional void, where detritus from other dimensions eventually ends up. Wildlife seen throughout Black Mesa‘s earlier sections call these asteroids home, and for this segment of the game, there are no live humans encountered.

  • Once the initial sense of amazement wears off, it was time to proceed into the level itself. For the first few moments, Freeman is able to travel freely without too much interference. I had exited the Lambda Complex with my health depleted from fighting the alien controllers, my submachine gun down to one spare magazine. Without human enemies it would initially seem that replenishing ammunition would be a problem, but as I continued to explore, resource caches left by scientists would allow me to top up.

  • Medical and suit recharging stations in Xen are replaced by healing pools and energy crystals, which refill  one’s health and HEV suit energy, respectively. These have unlimited uses, and when encountered, one should always top off to ensure they’re able to survive the next area. The lighting here is mesmerising: star light scattered by the nebulae illuminates the entire area in an ethereal glow. Xen’s first areas proved to have no shortage of sights to behold, and I was impressed beyond words at how the Crowbar Collective had re-built the area.

  • Portals are still found in Xen, being an essential means of travelling through the different areas. Unlike the Lambda Complex, however, the portals of Xen are a bit more straightforward, taking Freeman directly to his next destination. However, unlike the Black Mesa segment of the game, it is not exactly clear where Freeman is headed at this time: the only goal is to kill Nihilanth, but where this ends up isn’t exactly clear. Fortunately, Black Mesa is quite good about guiding players through, and so, I was content to continue exploring Xen.

  • After entering a cave that is gently illuminated by various Xen flora, it was time to put the long-jump module to use. By double-tapping the jump key, Freeman is propelled a considerable horizontal distance, allowing for gaping chasms to be cleared. Black Mesa and Half-Life both feel distinctly like a 3D platformer with respect to how the levels are constructed. Having an extra dimension to manage, however, is a little tricky, and not timing one’s use of the long-jump module could result in being propelled into the void of space. Conversely, mastering the long-jump module will make it easier to clear areas efficiently.

  • Moving through Xen, it becomes clear that humanity actually has known about this dimension for quite some time, and that a considerable amount of resources had been directed towards researching the wildlife and environments of Xen. The implications are that there was something in Xen worth pursuing, if they were willing to put in this level of effort. Exploring the scientists’ deserted quarters and their work will occasionally yield additional ammunition. These details were largely absent in Half-Life, demonstrating how even without any dialogue, things like level design and environment clutter can speak volumes about the lore and story.

  • Venturing deep into Xen, unusual glowing crystals can be seen. One of the things that was a little tricky for me was understanding which crystals served to recharge Freeman’s HEV suit: my intuition had me believe that anything that glowed could be a power source, but this was merely an aesthetic. Over time, I quickly picked up on which crystals were a part of the scenery, and which ones recharged my HEV suit. A classic question in video game design has always been how to indicate whether or not users could interact with an entity in its environment, and while making it clearer improves gameplay, it may also degrade immersion, so a fine balance must be struck between the two.

  • The remnants of the scientists’ research stations and the organic-looking circuitry create for some interesting puzzles: while things may appear different than they did at the Black Mesa Complex, the underlying principles are the same. As such, once one figures these out, they become a simple matter to work through. Here, I ended up using some of the puzzle elements to advance to a new area. The more organic and natural-looking maps in Xen can occasionally mean that where to go next is not clear, but Crowbar Collective has gone with a very clever way to hint at the user’s path: large glowing vines often will point the players in the right direction.

  • Admittedly, there are many sections in Xen’s first chapter that reminded me a great deal of World of Warcraft‘s Outland. The aesthetic resulting from floating islands, exotic-looking plants and a generally unearthy-looking sky, similar to how Outland had some of the most fantastical-looking places in the whole of World of Warcraft on account of it being set in the sundered remains of a planet. It suddenly strikes me that I’ve made no progress at all with regards to exploring the Eversong Woods and Ghostlands with my Blood Elf warlock at the time of writing.

  • Things have been incredibly busy of late, and I’ve not made too much of a dent in my considerable backlog – between real-world obligations, hosting Jon’s Creator Showcase, keeping up with my existing blogging schedule and making my way through Halo 3: ODST and Halo 4 on co-op now that my friend’s gotten their backup machine up and running with The Master Chief Collection, there’s been precious little time for anything else. Having said this, the Halo co-op has been a remarkably fun experience, and because the both of us are now veteran Halo players, we were able to attempt beating the par times.

  • While we weren’t always successful (on a few missions, we missed the mark by a few seconds), co-op missions were a decisive indicator of how team work makes things considerably faster. It’s something that I always value, and Halo‘s co-op made this particularly tangible: my friend and I tore through missions: we covered one another, split up to complete separate objectives where needed and otherwise, were able to equip a wider range of weapons for efficacy at more ranges. I’ll have a dedicated post for this experience another time, and back in Black Mesa, I pass by a healing pool.

  • In the spirit of the HECU Marines’ actions at the Black Mesa facility, the Black Mesa science teams decided that for whatever reason, it’d be a good idea to load laser trip mines into an area filled with explosive plants and head crabs. Their erratic movement sometimes puts them into the path of a laser trip mine, setting off a chain reaction that is impossible to survive: like that explosives-filled building, Black Mesa‘s been implemented such that setting anything off here is a conditional game over rather than dropping a player’s health count to zero to result in a game over event.

  • While some of Xen’s fauna and flora are putrid in appearance, others look visually stunning, such as these bioluminescent plants hanging from a cave ceiling. Back at the Black Mesa complex, some parts of the levels, especially ventilation ducts, began filling with Xen biomass, and it always imparted a particularly unpleasant sensation because of the marked contrast between alien and terrestrial plant and animal life. However, in Xen, native flora and fauna look considerably more natural, and this sense of revulsion was noticeably absent.

  • Making my way through Xen, I pass over regions covered with liquid water. Despite the seeming hostility of Xen’s conditions, it turns out that atmospheric pressure and gravity are largely consistent with Earth’s. The precise physics behind how Xen works is not explained, but for gameplay purposes, it’s not too big of a deal. Here, a flock of boids can be seen: these flight-capable aliens are absolutely harmless, and named after their in-game files, which were in turn named after Craig Reynolds’ BOIDS, which was a computer program that allowed for complex flocking and movement behaviours to be defined based on a simple, finite set of rules.

  • The behaviours that BOIDS exhibit are known as emergent properties, where systems exhibit complexity much greater than the individuals and their rules would suggest are possible. This is a very exciting area in computational research, and had been one of the reasons I became interested in multi-agent systems as a topic of research. I was able to apply concepts from BOIDs to create a model of microtubule assembly and disassembly in Unity3D that was very faithful to how it is thought that the cytoskeleton dynamically adjusts itself in a real cell. This model of microtubules ended up being a part of my graduate thesis, which aimed to combine mathematical models with agent-based modelling to visualise complex biological systems.

  • Of course, it’s been quite some time since I finished, and while I still remember the gist of what I’d built, I imagine it would take a little bit of effort to go back in and get the projects updated before I’d be able to extend them now. With this in mind, I’ll return the discussions to Black Mesa, where after clearing the first chapter set in Xen, I arrive in the level where I am forced to fight the Gonarch. This arachnid-like monster is supposed to be the final step of a headcrab’s life cycle, and the beast itself is remarkably resilient, being able to shrug off direct hits that would bring down a combat helicopter.

  • After sustaining enough damage, the Gonarch will run off into the next area, with Freeman in pursuit. Unlike the original Gonarch fight, Crowbar Collective completely redid this mission such that it became an entire level that takes some time to complete: originally, the Gonarch would fall after a comparatively short fight. Besides being able to spit acid a considerable distance, the Gonarch can also birth small, speedy headcrab offspring that can rush the player. Whenever this would happen, I immediately swapped over to the rocket launcher: the explosions can also set these small headcrabs on fire, damaging them before they can get too close.

  • While the extended fight with the Gonarch was intended to emphasise how powerful this foe was, during play-testing that Crowbar Collective did back in the summer of 2019, players found the mission to be a chore to fight through; while the first area proceeded in a relatively cut-and-dried fashion, later engagements left players with a severe disadvantage: rockets and satchel charges, the most effective weapons against the Gonarch, are always in short supply, and common weapons like the shotgun or submachine gun aren’t particularly useful for dealing direct damage to the Gonarch.

  • The Gonarch’s ability to absorb punishment, in conjunction with its surprising agility and speed, makes it a difficult foe to fight all around, even when ammunition is common. The developers evidently took this feedback into account, because by the time I reached this point in Black Mesa, I was able to figure out a pattern for pushing the Gonarch into the next scriped event without sustaining an unreasonable amount of damage myself. In the retail version, I conclude that the Gonarch fight, while still tough, at the very least, feels a ways more fair than it had been when the level first became available.

  • Black Mesa ended up including some puzzles in the Gonarch mission, during which Freeman would need to unblock water sources to fill a subterranean cavern with water and swim upwards to each the next part of the mission. These segments of the game proved quite cathartic, and act as another fantastic chance for Crowbar Collective to show off their revamped level designs. The variety of props used is astounding and really gives the sense that Xen is an inter-dimensional border world of sorts, where detritus from different dimensions accumulate.

  • The inclusion of underwater barnacles, “beneathacles”, was a new element in Black Mesa absent from the original Half-Life: like regular barnacles, the beneathacles are stationary enemies that pull players in if they should become ensnared. They restrict movement in the water and on the surface, but fortunately, like their standard counterparts, are relatively weak. When they occur in large clusters, use of explosives will defeat them. Individually, I prefer using the pistol on them to conserve on crossbow ammunition.

  • After a lengthy chase through a part of the map where I had to burn through webs to escape the charging Gonarch, I began engaging it with the Tau Cannon, as I’d run out of rockets. While I’ve never played Half-Life in its original form, having watched Freeman’s Mind helped me to appreciate what changed between Black Mesa and Half-Life: the Gonarch mission feels a lot shorter in comparison; while Ross Scott does use damage mods while shooting Freeman’s Mind, and occasionally skips certain areas, he remains faithful to the path that Freeman does take throughout a mission.

  • In Half-Life, once Freeman does enough damage to the Gonarch and prompts it to flee, he makes his way through a much smaller cave system, fights the Gonarch a second time after acquiring more rockets causes it to punch through an opening in the ground, and the faces off against the Gonarch one final time in the caverns’ interior. There is no underwater segment or chase sequence, and overall, the level was much simpler. Freeman’s Mind had Freeman assume that the Gonarch was Nihilanth, and he wonders if killing the Gonarch would allow him to return home.

  • Conversely, Black Mesa‘s fight was much more intense, and on standard difficulty, I ended up exhausting all of my rockets again during the final fight with the Gonarch. Without any explosives left in my arsenal, I turned over to the powerful Gluon Gun in the hopes that its damage output was sufficient to get the job done. The Half-Life fight with the Gonarch is set in a very small cave with pillars, allowing one to avoid the Gonarch’s acid spit, and making the small headcrabs more dangerous.

  • Black Mesa‘s fight, on the other hand, is set in a much larger space, and so, as long as one keeps the Gonarch at arm’s length, it is possible to avoid taking too much damage in the fight while at the same time, dealing enough pain to put this beast away. During my fight, it took me a few tries to determine the best attack pattern, and I barely made it out of my successful attempt against the Gonarch. I’ve heard that during the scripted chase sequences, the Gonarch is actually programmed to be invincible and will only pursue the players or flee after sustaining a certain amount of damage, making this final segment the only place where it becomes possible to deal meaningful damage to it.

  • Once the Gonarch is downed, its remains explode and open a hole in the floor that leads to the next area of Xen. While a challenging fight, the Gonarch mission was also quite enjoyable: it’s clearly come a long way from the beta days, during which multiple threads were opened in the Steam forums discussing the fact that the Gonarch fight had been difficult to the point of diminishing the players’ enjoyment from the game. Since I never tried Black Mesa during its Early Access stages, I cannot confirm (or deny) whether or not the Gonarch was indeed unfairly scripted.

  • The alien factory was probably my least favourite segment of Xen: unlike the expansive open spaces of earlier segments, things are set in the cavernous interior of a factory that manufactures the alien grunts. Much of the mission consists of platforming and puzzle-solving, making use of pistons to continually reach higher elevations. Vortigaunts can be found in large numbers during this mission, and unless the alien controllers appear, the Vortigaunts are non-hostile. There’s actually no reason to waste ammunition on them, since they won’t attack Freeman.

  • Conversely, once Freeman disables something in order to clear a path to the next area, alien controllers will appear and force the Vortigaunts to attack. In these situations, the best thing to do is attack the alien controllers and do one’s best to leave the Vortigaunts alone: there’s an achievement one can unlock if they can make it through the entire level without killing any Vortigaunts. Similarly, if one can kill an alien controller but leave its Vortigaunt entourage alive, another achievement can be unlocked.

  • To avoid any collateral damage, I found that the Tau Cannon was very effective against the alien controllers. Two shots from the Tau Cannon are, on normal difficulty, enough to take one down. Alien controllers, like Halo‘s drones, are difficult to fight not on account of their attacks or durability, but because they are airborne enemies. I’d previously used automatic weapons on them, but they do move quickly enough to require some degree of skill in tracking them. Conversely, the Tau Cannon’s consistent damage makes it a solid choice when dealing with groups of alien controllers: its high damage per shot and semi-automatic firing means that one is able to place their shots with greater certainty and without the same ammunition expenditure as an automatic weapon.

  • Once inside the alien factory, Freeman has nowhere to go but upwards by means of pistons that need to be activated in order to reach greater heights. Occasionally, getting a piston up will also cause it to overload, and a membrane must be punctured in order to remove the electric field buildup, in turn rendering the piston safe to stand on. This segment of the game took me some time to complete: a handful of the puzzles do require a bit of creative thinking to work through, and studying the environment can often yield insight as to how one can go about reaching the next area.

  • While impressive in scale, I ended up finding the ascent through the alien factory to be a bit of a repetitive one. Throughout Black Mesa, the pattern of clearing a set of puzzles, heading into the next area and engaging in a firefight to render it safe, before exploring means of sorting out the puzzles is widely used, but thanks to the interior of the alien factory, things did feel a little stretched here. Fortunately, just before things became too tiresome, Black Mesa introduces a new mechanic that puts the fun back into things.

  • Towards the final segments of the alien factory, Freeman will encounter crystals that top off one’s U-235 supply. Because the rate of regeneration is impressive, players essentially have unlimited ammunition for their Gluon Gun and Tau Cannon. U-235 had been relatively rare throughout Black Mesa, but here, the time has finally come to put the game’s most powerful weapons to use: even the durable alien grunts disintegrate quickly before sustained fire from the Gluon Gun.

  • Having unlimited ammunition thus made the latter parts of the alien factory remarkably entertaining, as I was able to simply keep my trigger on the finger and melt any alien controller or grunt that was standing between me and the game’s final sections. I reached this point in Black Mesa just a shade under a month ago, during Super Bowl Sunday: that morning had been a particularly chilly one, but the weather had been gorgeous.

  • That afternoon, I’d been set to make some homemade nachos ahead of the game between Kansas City and Tampa Bay: in the midafternoon, I’d prepared all of the vegetables and nachoes themselves. Half an hour before the game started, I threw everything together and baked it at 400°F for seven minutes. We’d finished with just a minute left before the opening coin toss, and subsequently found the nachos to be quite delicious. In retrospect, I could’ve added a little more cheese, and having some black olives and jalapeño peppers would’ve spruced things up.

  • In the end, while I’d been cheering for Kanas City, they got wiped out as Tampa Bay secured enough touchdowns to cement their lead. Of course, NFL games aren’t quite as exciting for me as the NHL, and so, the Super Bowl is something that I’ve ended up checking out for the spectacle more than anything. In order to have the time to prep everything, then, I set my sights on finishing Black Mesa as quickly as I could. Having near-unlimited Gluon Gun ammunition really helped, especially in areas where I needed to fight alien controllers.

  • The last segment of the alien factory involves a lengthy elevator ride to the top of the facility, and with a few of those crystals present on the elevator itself, I was able to constantly keep my weapons topped off. At this point in Black Mesa, there hardly seemed a need to use the other weapons the game provided, since the Gluon Gun dealt enough damage to sort out all enemies without difficulty. However, this sort of power can be seen as making the final fight against Nihilanth perhaps a little too easy.

  • This was the culmination of over eight years of patience: after beating the first half of Black Mesa in September 2012, here in 2021, I finally steel myself to cross the portal into Nihilanth’s lair and face Half-Life‘s iconic final boss. Nihilanth is the leader of Xen, and in the lore, its species was conquered by the Combine: despite the species’ power, the Combine managed to overwhelm them, prompting the sole survivor to flee for Xen. Nihilanth would establish itself as the leader, enslaving the Vortigaunts, who had also been escaping the Combine’s reach. Nihilanth’s intents had been to conquer Earth to act as a new homeworld, a sanctuary from the Combine.

  • Possessing the power that keeps the dimensional rift open, it is determined that killing Nihilanth should end the resonance cascade and close the portals to Earth. Nihilanth is initially invincible, but after Freeman destroys the healing crystals, Nihilanth begins attacking Freeman with energy blasts. The trick here is to keep moving to avoid Nihilanth’s attacks, while at the same time, returning fire with rockets and other long-range weapons. Once Nihilanth sustains enough damage, his body weakens, exposing his brain.

  • The final battle against Nihilanth is very taxing and demands a great deal of ammunition, but fortunately, Freeman is periodically resupplied when sections of the Black Mesa facility teleport into Nihilanth’s lair. Resupplying and moving will keep one alive long enough to deal the damage needed to kill Nihilanth for good: upon death, Nihilanth explodes in a green blaze of energy. The impact knocks Freeman out of the chamber, and the gameplay segment of Black Mesa draws to a close shortly after. With this, I’ve finally finished a journey that was years in the making: the final fight proved enjoyably challenging, and I finished with only six health points left.

  • Things suddenly freeze as the G-Man appears and offers Gordon a job. I chose to accept, since this is ultimately what leads to the events of Half-Life 2: while Nihilanth had sought Earth out as a sanctuary world, the Combine take an interest in the planet and subsequently conquers it in what would later be known as the Seven Hour War. The G-Man places Freeman in stasis and will reawaken him when the time is right: some twenty years later, the G-Man sends Freeman to City 17 to aid the Resistance. With this, my journey in Black Mesa comes to a close, and I am certainly happy to have finally tried for myself what is the definitive Half-Life experience. With this post done, my Black Mesa journey comes to an end, and my plans now will be to wrap up Halo 4‘s second set of Spartan Ops, as well as the original campaigns for Left 4 Dead 2 with the K-On! mod, before making a concerted attempt to both finish Skyrim and continue on with my adventures in World of Warcraft.

With Black Mesa in the books, I’ve now completed an essential piece of the Half-Life experience. Black Mesa ends up being much more than a simple remaster, and instead, is Crowbar Collective’s interpretation of what Half-Life: Source could have been. The final product in Black Mesa is a consequence of fifteen years’ worth of effort, being a loving remake of an old classic that modernises the game and really allows the Source Engine to shine. It was absolutely worth the eight year long wait to go through the game in full – the game might’ve been eight years in the making since it became available as a mod, and it still feels crisp, responsive and engaging. Black Mesa definitely lives up to its name as being a proper update to Half-Life. For folks like myself, who’ve got no experience in the classic Half-Life arena, Black Mesa represents a fantastic way for folks to dive right in and check out a re-imagined version of the game that kicked off an entire franchise. Those who’ve played Half-Life will likely enjoy Black Mesa as well. Altogether, Black Mesa is easy to recommend: retaining all of the classic gameplay elements of Half-Life while adding a fresh coat of paint and improving on where the original had fallen short, this is the quintessential shooter that, along with Halo: Combat Evolved, DOOM and GoldenEye 64, are a must play for anyone who is a fan of the first-person shooter genre.