Shrink Rapt – Radiator #2

By Alec Meer on July 17th, 2009 at 3:07 pm.

Art-mod Radiator returns, and its (entirely standalone from the first part, worry not – but you do need HL2 Ep 2) second instalment is a dramatically different affair to the maudlin stargazing of the first episode, Polaris. It’s no less introspective, but if you’re the kind of chap who’s turned off by even a hint of navelgazing, consider this: it has explosions.

Handle With Care features the male character from Polaris, with no reference to the female protagonist of that first episode. His marriage – to a man, which casts new light on the events of Polaris – isn’t in the best of shape, so he and his partner are seeing a counsellor. You play as the partner, your perspective flitting between the mutually antagonistic therapy session and a sinister memory kingdom of your own mind’s creation.

This latter is science fictional, cheekily employing Combine assets and Half-Life-esque Game/Evaluation Over messages – essentially, depicting the character’s subconcious as a Big Brother oppressor, all machine-like and unsmilingly dictatorial. Your essential choice in Handle With Care is to either follow its orders and knowingly repress painful memories raised by the counselling session, or to resist and tackle those memories head-on.

Clever – that what is, ultimately, the right thing to do provokes visuals and noises that suggest it’s absolutely the wrong thing. Klaxons and crumbling masonry aren’t events you’d associate with positive occurences, after all. Creator Robert Yang is playing with you, subverting your sense of right and wrong – and in doing so evoking the broken moral compass that intense self-interest tends to bring about.

Less clever – this is achieved by either placing or destroying crates. It’s a neat enough metaphor for memory-organisation, especially on a visual level, but is perhaps repeated just a couple too many times, which risks dragging the acute sense of agonised deliberation into a degree of frustration. The pay-off (or, at least, one of them; as with Polaris, this has multiple endings) – is entirely worth it, though. Clearly I don’t wish to spoil it, but the phrase ‘personal apocalypse’ seems apt.

As a whole, I’m hugely impressed. It coolly provokes the intended bittersweet emotions, and without repeating any of Polaris’ tricks. I enjoyed the amping-up of the locations, but there’s a part of me that nonetheless wishes it had stuck to Polaris’ resolutely real-world, real-events setting, rather than treading an overtly metaphysical path expressed as a sci-fi setting with crate-stacking challenges. Not because I thought it did it badly – it didn’t. It does it successfully – but because Polaris’ resolutely buttoned-down approach was such a refreshing rarity, even if the nature of its challenging was mildly infuriating. More of that, please – playing the mundane through the fantasy-window that is videogaming.

Definitely something you should play nonetheless – get it from here. Once you’ve done so (but not before), have a read of the developer’s liner notes here.

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42 Comments »

  1. Orta says:

    I loved Polaris. Played it through with my girlfriend then went stargazing afterwards to see if we could do it for real.

  2. lumpi says:

    Not entirely “stand-alone”. You need Episode 2.

    Outstanding mod, nevertheless.

  3. Alec Meer says:

    Oops, yes – phrased that poorly. Fixed.

  4. JonFitt says:

    @Orta. Is that what the kids are calling it nowadays? :)

  5. Bhazor says:

    I liked that a lot. Its just a shame the climbing in Source is pretty poor. I still can’t get to the top three shelves.

    Still, I thought the slow collapse of the memory room was brilliantly done and hooray for emotions!

  6. Rohit says:

    I eventually just used the Gravity Gun.

    Anyway, is there something you can do with X9?

  7. Vandelay says:

    @Orta – Considering the endings to Polaris, re-enacting it is probably not the best thing to do with a girlfriend.

    I enjoyed this. I would say that it was more successful than Polaris because it managed to incorporate the game elements far better. The “now find the constellation” parts felt tacked on and bared little relation to the events. Organising the character’s repressions is a nice idea and immediately creates a game, which adds to experience. Perhaps a warehouse setting would have been less jarring for you Alec. I can certainly see where you are coming from, but I felt that the playing with someone’s mind angle to be very intriguing, in a compressed Psychonauts kind of way. Also, the cold and clinical sci-fi setting fits nicely with the repression that the mod explores.

    It is not entirely successful in this regard though. Probably through the fault of the Half Life 2 interface more than a problem with the mod, it is very awkward navigating with the boxes. I was attempting to sort them all, as that would be the ending to take the longest, but ended up destroying them by accident.

    Still, a nice experiment and I continue to be interested in what this guy has up his sleeve for the next episodes.

  8. dragon_hunter21 says:

    I have played both Polaris and Handle With Care, and I really love both of them. Something about the experimental nature of them just appeals to me- I can’t remember having this much fun with a game since I started messing about with Fallout 3 and discovered the weird and wonderful places Bethesda stuck in everywhere. Either way, these developers could certainly produce something simply amazing, and I can’t wait ’till August for their next work.

  9. Theory says:

    There have been a couple of other HL2 mod releases recently: Mission Improbable (good) and Research and Development (un-fecking-believably good).

    Its just a shame the climbing in Source is pretty poor. I still can’t get to the top three shelves.

    I think that may be part of the design. ;-)

  10. Robert Yang says:

    Anything that’s bad and not fun about anything in this mod is actually a meta-commentary on the functional dialogism and discourse modes between the centrality of games and transrelational player psychology. Ahem.

    Oh, and I helped test Mission Improbable. It’s kind of awesome, everyone should play it, etc.

  11. Kerbang says:

    As the author noted when I made a similar comment about “the girl protagonist” from Polaris – how do you know it was a girl?

  12. A-Scale says:

    I’m afraid this just isn’t for me. It seems like its trying too hard to be artsy/edgy.

  13. Bahumat says:

    I feel dumb for asking this, but I could never unlock the second ending in Radiator mod Polaris. Anyone know where I can find a video of it? Youtube wasn’t helping.

  14. arienette says:

    Brilliant, I hadn’t tried polaris before today either, both are great, really made me think. I’m attempted to get through handle with care by repressing all the memories now, but it’s gotten a bit too tricky for me I think.

  15. FunkyLlama says:

    @arienette
    You could just noclip to get the boxes up there. I know I didn’t miss the tedious box-stacking gameplay, anyway.

  16. Maj says:

    I can attest that Research and Development is one absolutely incredible mod. It’s just brilliant. The vehicle controls feel more like driving a hovercraft, but it’s all good. Also, I think the crosshair needs to be enabled by default -_-;;

    Radiator #2 is quirky and deep, like a Charlie Kaufman movie. The only problem is that, for the ton of work stacking boxes, the ending is still quite short. While I recognize that it’s a metaphor, having gameplay that’s so frustrating that you can’t reach the ending without noclipping isn’t a good idea.

  17. roBurky says:

    Heh. I think Alec needs to go back and replay Polaris.

  18. Bhazor says:

    Put me down as a Research and Development fan too despite having the same bloody carrying problems as Handle with Care.
    Valve really needs to incorporate some of G-Mod back into the core engine.

  19. Captain Bland says:

    *spoilors*

    I really enjoyed this. At the beginning I was having some doubts as to whether the central idea was too simplistic (All repression is regressive and cowardly) but when I realised that through my constant confrontation I was destroying James’ mental stability i was really quite impressed. It’s a really special game and I look forward to more from Yang.

  20. Chemix says:

    I have to say, this mod had me for a a bit, with the psychoanalysis and such, but then I noticed something, and then, I turned off the sound. “He doesn’t listen. why doesn’t he listen? Because I don’t speak up. why don’t you speak up? … Because he doesn’t listen. Why doesn’t he listen?” That repeating phrase made me absolutely hate the other guy. I mean really, he’s a whiny piece of crap that acts like a woman with PMS, which to some extent makes sense, as the character is homosexual and that can have woman like tendencies, but I could care less about them when they act like this. When he said he wanted to stay married, I wanted to bring out the magnum and splatter his brains on the wall. then, I just picked up the crate and smashed it, and the pseudo-metaphor came out; the world’s a stage and people are actors, I could have gotten that out of a fortune cookie. I appreciate effort in artistic design, but the voice acting is just awful, and lazily repeated. You can make a point, but when you repeat the phrase endlessly until you complete a frustrating task list, the meaning is erased.

    To put it simply, Pyschonauts did it better

  21. Geoffrey says:

    Just a note: I managed to get all of the boxes into their appropriate places, without no-clipping. It was challenging, and it required creative thinking at times, but in the end, I never felt like I had to cheat.

    @Rohit: Drop it… hard.

  22. A-Scale says:

    Anyone who has played Research and Development: how in the hell do I get the cube out of the radiation shielding device? I’m trying to punch the numbers in the fuse box into the keypad, but there is no aiming dot on the screen and I can’t seem to punch numbers accurately. Am I doing something wrong?

  23. Rohit says:

    Try going into the console and typing crosshair 1. Not sure if that’ll work, because I learned it after doing it the hard way.

    Also, remember to input it by the order of lights on the pad, not the fuse box.

  24. Arienette says:

    @ Chemix: Both straight and homosexual men can have both masculine and feminine traits, don’t stereotype. Being gay is irrelevant to how acceptable it is for a character to be whiny. Go play the game again and this time examine it through your own discriminatory views.

  25. Bhazor says:

    Reply to A-Scale

    Thats it’s biggest problem really. First open the console you’ll need to activate it in the advanced options menu and then check the controls menu to see what “Open Developer Console” is set to. Then with the console open type “crosshair 1″ (without quotes natch) and you’ll get the standard, no the godly, HL2 crosshairs.

    It really boggles my mind that this got through testing and actually renders some parts unplayable. Still a spiffy wee mod though, I’d say best single player mod since Minerva.

    Reply to Chemix
    Wow, thats a hell of a comment you’ve got on you there. Homophobic, sexist and you miss the point of the looping conversation. Throw in a comment about the Jews and you’ve got a full house.

  26. Anarki says:

    Ok can anyone please tell me how I can play the first episode Polaris? The new package says it comes with both games, but only the 2nd episode shows up in my Steam games list, no Polaris, its driving me crazy!!!

  27. Frank Snow says:

    Anarki: You should be able to get at it in the “Chapters” section of the mod itself.

  28. Chemix says:

    Towards Arienette: I am aware that straight men can be whiny as well, hell, I’m whiny (but I wouldn’t repeat myself so many times), however, feminine tendencies do occur more frequently in genetically gay men despite environmental factors. IIRC, it’s something to do with an extra “x” gene (xxy) as opposed to normal (xy) and female (xx). And as for gay people and discrimination: I’m not a discriminatory person, I’ve known and gotten along with people who happen to be gay for some time now, though admittedly I think gay sex is wrong on some level, but this isn’t about discrimination, this is about a mod that could have used more dialog.

  29. Chemix says:

    Since the edit option is not apparent, perhaps I have to go through and log in proper again: I missed the note by Bhazor: I understand the point of the repeating 2 lines of dialog, we go over things in our head that we don’t find fitting to the norm, but there should have been some resolution to it or continuation once you placed the first box at least. Even then, background noise of a continuing coversation would have been nice. I’ve been through situations like this, perhaps too frequently, to see entertainment, or insight, in such a mental event.

    On sexism: sensitive much? When I say women and most people say women, I’m talking about a generalization gathered from the majority of women that I have interacted with (or they in the case of most people). By my past experience, women tend to avoid direct confrontation on a subject, which leads to problems because men are not (usually) psychic and thus are not informed by the body language and “common sense” that women are more capable of perceiving. “common sense” is in quotes because “common sense” is relative in this case; one woman may consider it common sense that if there is clutter, it must be removed immediately, because that is the thought process they have learned, whereas the average man does not have that “common sense” thought process and doesn’t come to the same conclusion. These thought processes are learned by culture and genetic bias which makes certain processes more acceptable.

    On Homophobia: See above post

  30. Caitiff says:

    Ok then, you’re not homophobic then Chemix, you’re just wrong (about gay men, not the mod which yeah, could have used more dialogue). Personality and sexuality are two totally different issues. If you want I can find you articles detailing the studies on this, but the comment thread seems like a rude place to do it. >_>

  31. Bhazor says:

    Reply to Chemix

    No, XXY is Klinefelter syndrome not the gay gene. Klinefelter is essentially men who have tits and shrinky dinky testes. If you are going to try defending the indefensible at least check your facts in Wikipedia first.

    Now enough, this a blog about games not pseudo science and bigotry. Well a blog about games and games writing. Well a blog about games and games writing and plugs for the authors. Well a blog about games and games writing and plugs for the authors and the fact that Ken Levine has come to bed eyes.

  32. ACS says:

    I mean really, he’s a whiny piece of crap that acts like a woman with PMS, which to some extent makes sense, as the character is homosexual and that can have woman like tendencies, but I could care less about them when they act like this.

    Considering that you dislike both women and homosexuals, please never be in a relationship. Thanks.

  33. Kieron Gillen says:

    Chemix: Man, seriously, if you don’t know the Biology, don’t pretend to. You’re being really offensive.

    KG

  34. Heliocentric says:

    Truth is, there observed patterns around the basis of sexuality, and its quite independent from sexual identity. The common line being many transvestites are not gay. But really i find it all flawed as there is an pre-requisite that sexuality is a biological truth rather than a mere preference.

    In short chemix, if you are going to complain about the character being a whiney bitch don’t let me stop you, but keep the bigotry out of the comments eh?

  35. Muzman says:

    Say what you will about the guy, I bet he’s got the most awesome collection of ‘relationship’ comics and doctorial advice books from the late fifties.

  36. Chemix says:

    Oke doke folks, I made a mistake when recalling bio-101, if you find it offensive, then I’m sorry, alright, I’m not trying to upset anyone. I was simply being honest on my opinion, perhaps, too honest, but it is an easy association, as the stereotype stands, and knowing some homosexuals, the stereotype can be true, obviously, generalizing on this point can be harmful if people are sensitive to the issue, as this discussion shows, but when writing a quick post on the internet, one can make assumptions and post without thinking too heavily.

    On that note, I acted defensively on the post because of real life experience and the direct attack comments (mind you, some poorly remembered bio-homework from 2 years ago). I’ve had friends, and not so friendly acquaintances over the years that have been homosexual, so being called homophobic was interpreted on an attack on my character, which has shown a rather poor reflection of what I’d like to think of myself, or at least, the placement of my flaws, and that’s mostly my fault.

    As for my collection of “relationship” comics, if you’re talking about my hentai archive, then I do have quite an awesome collection. Doctoral advice books from the 50s I am lacking, mostly due to heavy biases drawn from a “democracy/ America/ other countries are shit” perspective and a lean towards the psychoanalytical form of psychology that hasn’t proven very effective in the past century (whereas it might have been semi-helpful in the Victorian era).

  37. Bhazor says:

    Reply to Chemix
    You said homosexuals are deformed and that women are mentally attuned to cleaning and being emotional. How exactly were we meant to take that?

    Also repeatedly talking about your gay friends as some sort of collective individual body just illustrates how you see them as different than the normals. That isn’t helping.

    You’ve done your damage now just duck out before you dig yourself deeper.

  38. IvanHoeHo says:

    Man, almost made it to G1 (the last one, I think?)… but then there’s just too much stacking – like others have said, and the never-ending whining was getting on my nerves. Is that what it’s like to be in a dysfunctional relationship?

    Whatever. I mean, What’s the worth of a marriage if they can’t at least be reasonably honest to each other?

  39. Chemix says:

    I said the homesexuals are genetically different, something that many gays believe, and I mis-recalled a lesson in bio on genes related to sex, a big mistake, yes, I screwed up, yes, I know and admitted that it is not kleinfelter syndrom. I was speaking out of memory misread and should have treaded more carefully, yes. As towards women being mentally attuned, that’s based mostly on personal experience, which I noted, is a generalization, and can lead to mistakes, and is also related to the evolutionary psychology theory. I’m not going to retract that, with few exceptions, the women I’ve been around act as I described, note, this generalization is not meant to cover ever single woman on earth, just a cultural majority from one puny man’s perspective.

    My citation of gay relations are attempts to show connections and a lack of apparent bigotry, and as for differentiating them from others, I regard them as people, even if they themselves make a distinction. It simply wouldn’t make any sense to just say people however when being accused of bigotry. Perhaps a better word is to use for the specific people I was rationalizing the characters behavior to would be feminine, or stereotypically feminine, but I didn’t think Political Correctness to such a degree would be required here, nor did I think that it was such a hot topic, I was apparently wrong, in many respects. At least this experience will leave me with a mental note to make sure I don’t make that mistake again, or cite that mis-information from memory again.

    As for damage I’ve done, I am sorry for any offense I have caused. I’d say more, but, no need to dig anymore with the chance that I may be wrong, but one little bit must come out: there are trends (psychological) that define cultural sexual identities, feminine and masculine, and they tend (note: tend- in this case meaning a high probability or ratio) to affect their namesake genders, hence their names.

  40. Freddy says:

    I have played through Polaris again (after hearing there were more than one ending). It was nice, but I liked HWC better.

    In HWC, I went out the exit after I realized it wasn’t locked like I expected. That wasn’t a satisfactory ending, though. So I replayed it. I had heard that there were three endings- leave early (the one I just did), get a divorce, and stay married. I went through breaking boxes once and then storing boxes. But they both lead to the same ending- sitting in a room with the therapist and Dylan just looking at a each other. That isn’t a satisfactory ending, either. I decided to noclip around and see what I could see. Apparently there was a movie theatre set (I am guessing that this is the backlot thing mentioned in other threads), but I can’t figure out how to get there without noclip. Same thing with X9, something I had heard mentioned in other threads. I have no idea what this is. Maybe someone who could play this game right could answer some of my questions:

    1- What is X9?
    2- How do I get to the backlot without no-clipping?
    3- Are the endings supposed to be something other than sitting in a room for an interminable amount of time?

    Hoping that the new post that brought me here will also bring someone who knows more about the game. Much thanks.

    • rei says:

      (1) X9 is where you’re supposed to file the last repressed memory you get, but the numbers only go up to 7.

      (2) If I don’t misunderstand what you mean by backlot, you should end up there after you wreck enough boxes and presumably freak out in the physical world.

      (3) All instances—the happy, the sad and the premature—should terminate with you walking out of a door (either in the repression centre or the movie prop place).

      It kinda sounds like your installation might be borked; when you end up back in the counsel session Dylan should either tell you that you’re getting a divorce, or are going to try again.

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