Cheerful ska helps anything, and the more sax the better. Take this mod, Gateways, which seemed to be fairly unremarkable “let’s just throw as many Combine in as possible!” Half-Life 2 fan-faffery. Until, that is, I was being chased around giant cubes of light suspended in the sky by all the antlions in the world, to the sound of very cheerful, very saxy ska-lite. It’s basically Benny Hill with giant angry insects, and it’s very funny, exactly the sort of “what happens if I do… this!” that modding is, at heart, about. There’s some ridiculously over-the-top guitar noodling in another level, too.
The concept is you’re a Combine prisoner (in a familiar orange suit, natch) who breaks out into a room full of portals. Each of these portals takes you to a psychotically designed mini-level that bombards you with waves of braindead foes in massive numbers until they’re all dead. There’s some button-pushing. And, well, that’s it. While there’s a certain admirable surreality in the odd-hued, physically impossible levels, at lot of the fun comes from HL2 bads being placed in situations they can’t really deal with. An antlion placed in a giant chamber with a thin, spiral walkway reaching up to the ceiling will, for instance, attempt to land on it but repeatedly and comically fall off. A Combine soldier left on a 3-foot square floating platform just that little bit more than grendade distance from you will somehow manage to look hilariously frustrated despite there being no new animations. And, as has been proven many times but is always good to see again, something explosive thrown into a pack of a dozen zombies is always value for money.
It’s not actually a good mod. Despite sounding fairly serious about it all, really this is just a bunch of guys dicking around in the way anyone would with plenty of time and a rough guide to building HL2 levels. But they’ve gone that extra mile into occasionally pushing the silliness just as far as it’ll go, and that makes for a half-hour of play that’s at least partly screamingly entertaining. I’m not entirely convinced its makers realise how funny Gateways can be – not that it matters.
Oh, and it’s also a perfect delaying tactic from the just-released overhaul of Ultima Online, which I feel oddly compelled to look at but at the same time am a little bit scared of. More on that tomorrow, anyway, and in the meantime there’s a 14-day trial of it here – 2.3Gb, mind, which by my maths is equal to roughly 153 copies of Doom 2. Now there’s a useless fact I really hope someone accidentally remembers forever.