Commercial Half-Life fangame Hunt Down The Freeman launches to a less-than-glowing critical response

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Folks, I think we’re going to have to let Half-Life go. It’s been over a decade since Valve did anything with the license (beyond cross-promotion deals), and the seemingly posthumous leak of the sequel’s planned story beats cemented the sense that the series wouldn’t be returning any time soon.

Seemingly disinterested in using it themselves, Valve have been approving the use of the Half-Life setting and assets (if not the name) for use in commercial fan-works, Hunt Down The Freeman feels like it might just be the last nail in the coffin for the series, if public response thusfar has been any indication.

Of course, this isn’t the first case of Valve officially authorising Half-Life fan-works for commercial release on Steam. On top of the excellent (but still unfinished) Half-Life 1 remake Black Mesa, we’ve recently seen the likes of mod-turned-commercial release Prospekt. Hunt Down The Freeman from Royal Rudius Entertainment is one of the more ambitious commercial fan-projects to date, promising a full length campaign set in between Half-Life 1 & 2 propped up by a bevy of fully voiced pre-rendered cutscenes. Sadly, this seems a case of overreaching beyond the developer’s means in excess of even the deliriously wonky EYE: Divine Cybermancy.

While I don’t have a review copy of it to dig deep myself, I have watched a fair amount of Hunt Down The Freeman being streamed, enough to get a rough measure of its qualities. Visually, it manages to look a few years behind the original release of Half-Life 2. Despite attempting to leverage some of the fancier visual effects only available in later iterations of the Source engine, the world of Hunt Down The Freeman is full of oversized, under-decorated corridors, industrial-scale buildings with nary an item of clutter to define the space, and outdoor segments featuring terrain that manages to be blurrily textured and awkwardly angular in equal measure.

Mechanically, there are some ideas here that seem nice on paper, but are executed poorly. In attempting to portray the short but doomed defense that Earth’s militaries put up against the Combine, almost every encounter appears scaled up haphazardly, with dozens of AI combatants on both sides, firing wildly. When not accompanied by a gaggle of NPC minions, the player has to contend with similarly up-scaled hordes of zombies and headcrabs. On top of that, the game attempts to make gunplay more realistic through a minimalist HUD, an absent crosshair, and a requirement to aim down each weapon’s sights for any kind of accuracy, a decision seemingly at odds with the increased enemy density.

All of this would be bad enough by itself, but among the litany of complaints from those who have played the game is that it’s more than a little buggy, frequently crash-prone and generally unpolished. The developer has issued a confusing yet broadly apologetic statement, opening with a claim that they were forced to release by negative press coming from Half-Life fans dissatisfied by what they saw of the game during development. They go on to claim that the game that they (and we) are now seeing through other player’s streams and videos is not what they believe they have on their development machines.

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This bizarre claim is followed up by a suggestion that some error in file organization may have put an unfinished build out into the public’s hands, which would be a more convincing argument if they weren’t already incrementally patching the version that was just released, directly addressing some of the more glaring faults pointed out by players. Royal Rudius Entertainment go on to state that ‘We will release the actual version of the game we were supposed to release’. If they do, we’ll be the first to let you know, but somehow I find myself skeptical.

Hunt Down The Freeman is available to buy on Steam for £19.49/$25, minus a launch discount, but you probably shouldn’t.

33 Comments

  1. shinkshank says:

    Okay, I was willing to accept this as a flawed-but-possibly-not-terrible game until I read “and a requirement to aim down each weapon’s sights for any kind of accuracy”. Who in their actual fuck plays a fast-paced PC shooter like Half Life, takes a good hard look at the mechanics, and says “You know what’s missing here? Iron-sights aiming.”

    This is greatly upsetting.

    • bill says:

      “and a requirement to aim down each weapon’s sights for any kind of accuracy”

      I was going to quote that line in the comments and then write some deeply snarky comment about it… but I guess that’s unnecessary now.

      I still feel the need to write something negative about such a dumb decision, so I’ll just go with: Kill It With Fire!

  2. gabrielonuris says:

    Why would I pay for a Half-Life 2 mod?

    Also, E.Y.E.: Divine Cybermancy is simply awesome. One of the best games made with the Source Engine.

    • Pharaoh Nanjulian says:

      Yes indeed. I was playing it co-operatively yesterday… I’m still saving up for that BK444.

    • pookie101 says:

      Saying EYE is one of the best games ever made is used in some hospitals to diagnose traumatic brain injury

      • phlebas says:

        I’m not sure ‘best’ is the word I’d use – EYE is deeply broken in many ways – but one of the most intense and memorable games I’ve played in a long time, one (according to Steam) of the ones I’ve spent the most time with and one I’m not ashamed to love. A mad, flawed, beautiful thing with systems upon not-quite-compatible systems and a plot that might somehow make sense if you could just get your brain to the right angle.

      • wwarnick says:

        Then it’s a good thing they only said “One of the best games made with the Source Engine”, which isn’t nearly as big a claim. However, I’d say my favorite source engine game (besides the HL/Portal) was Dark Messiah.

    • je says:

      *cough cough* Gmod (garrys mod) *cough cough*

  3. Lord_Mordja says:

    There’s uh, also the fact that they’ve been accused of stealing a bunch of assets from other Source mods and even entirely seperate games.

  4. DefinitelyNotHans says:

    Shouldn’t be a surprise if they thought that title was a good idea.

  5. p00rWhiteGuy says:

    Gabe Newell is a lazy bum with tuna fish stains on his shirt.

    Come on man.. you’ve been resting on your laurels. Get your ass in gear.

    I could hand you a list of successful moves within your company. Your problem is that you forget what your bread and butter is.

    • Spuzzell says:

      Bread and butter?

      Do you have any idea how much Steam is raking in?

      Gabe spends his days rolling around naked on a bed of raw hamburger patties and gold, burning Rembrandts to keep warm.

    • wwarnick says:

      What his bread and butter used to be, that is. He’s making much more money elsewhere now.

  6. dungeoncrawl says:

    Their “bread and butter” is selling other people’s games on Steam. Do you understand what “bread and butter” means?

    • Spacewalk says:

      I don’t think that anyone who substitutes letters in the name with numbers would understand what words mean.

  7. kameradoktorn says:

    Aiming down sights… In these cases I wish games worked more with your movement, maybe having a gun in your hand and your chrosshair moving with your momentum, making the aim follow your movement, or something like that, to get the feel that you´re an badass moving around fast and just shooting stuff :s

  8. Guiscard says:

    I’m inclined to agree with the idea this is indeed the moment – for those of us who haven’t yet – that we need to let Half-Life go and with it Valve go. Valve, as a developer, is dead. They’ve not released a “proper” game since 2011, instead happy to sit on microtransactions off of their multiplayer games and the seemingly unstoppable magic money tree that Steam has become. That’s all Valve is now: the company behind PC gaming’s leading digital storefront.

    If they were going to do a Half-Life 3 (or indeed any major single-player release) I’m sure they would have done so by now. But with this flippant disregard for their own IPs in paid mods such as this, the loss of key creative staff including Mark Laidlaw, and the reports of the trademark Valve office style just leading to a complete lack of team focus, it’s just unlikely that Gabe and co have any interest any more. To quote Bane: Valve, victory has defeated you.

    I think we’re all better off looking elsewhere now, to teams such as CD Project Red and Arkane Studios to try to take up shards of the crown that once made Valve great.

    • bill says:

      I’m not sure this is exactly what you meant, but it’d be interesting to see what happened if Valve just gave the IP and a shed load of money to a good developer and let them loose on it.

      It could be a different style of developer like Arkane or Obsidian, or it could be someone in the same genre such as MachineGames. Or it could even be a really good indie developer.

      Whether such a studio would actually want to take on such a double-edged sword would be another question.

      *imagines a massive budget Half-Life 3 by Arkane….*

      • GernauMorat says:

        Arkane’s Half Life 3 would be amazing; but on the other hand it would be a poisoned chalice – half the audience would complain about every change, and the other half would complain that it’s too similar to a ten year old game!

      • elendil says:

        Yep. But they don’t want to risk a single $ on it. On the other hand, they’re happy to monetize every cent from a terrible HL mod sold on Steam. How can you authorize a crappy game like that using your IP? They care so less about HL?

    • wwarnick says:

      I don’t know if we could paint them as irresponsible or morally bad. Yeah, they got our hopes up about the next Half Life game and they let it die, but they didn’t really owe it to us. What really happened ultimately, is that they started to transform from a game studio into a big business. When your games are no longer your biggest source of income, your priorities change. Dropping Half Life would’ve been devastating to the company early on, but eventually that was no longer the case, and they didn’t need to continue the franchise, from a business point of view. They could’ve handled the change in priorities better from a PR perspective, and I wish they could’ve at least given us one last game to give us closure before they were done with the franchise, but honestly, it’s their company and their franchise, not mine. It obviously didn’t hurt them to do it the way they did, and my life isn’t any worse because of it, so…why not?

  9. Crafter says:

    IIRC Arkane worked on a shelved half life 2 episode.

    I agree with Guiscard though : it is time to let Valve go. In 10 years, they have failed to continue/conclude the Half Life story.

    >Whether such a studio would actually want to take on such a double-edged sword would be another question.

    I would venture that many studios would be very interested by this. Sadly sequels sell more easily than new ideas and here we even have an existing IP with a large fanbase and waiting on a cliffhanger.

  10. Ghostwise says:

    Royal Rudius’ site inspires… limited trust.

    • doglikesparky says:

      Just the description of the game on Steam inspires limited trust. If they can’t even get basic grammar right, how can they be trusted with the IP of one of PC gaming’s most beloved franchises? Urgh.

  11. ResonanceCascade says:

    For some reason I had it in my head that this was a crowdfunded indie title, not just a fan game. And I guess it technically is, since it raised TWELVE bucks on Indiegogo.

    Not twelve thousand. Not twelve hundred. Twelve.

    A single copy of the game costs twice what it raised.

    • poliovaccine says:

      Well, I guess you can’t accuse em of just doing it for the money…

  12. Xipheas says:

    Uninterested. Not disinterested. Sorry.