While Valve Software are unable to continue Half-Life in a way they like, some former employees seem drawn back to HL after leaving. Former Half-Life writer Marc Laidlaw recently leaked a Half-Life 2: Episode 3 plot idea and now Cayle George has released a new Half-Life mod. Available now free through Steam, C.A.G.E.D. [official site] is a short singleplayer episode set in a prison. I found parts frustrating but if you've missed the Half-Life look, feel, and weapons, this is a pretty flashy reason to return.
Cayle George mapped in the Half-Life mod scene yonks ago, worked professionally through several studios including Monolith, into Valve to work on Team Fortress 2 and Portal 2 as a game and level designer, then back out again to Guerrilla Games. (He's also a serious pinball player, ranked second in the world.)
C.A.G.E.D. is fun enough. Scuttling around inside the walls of the prison was pretty neat and George uses some neat tricks to make Half-Life feel newer than it is. One puzzle feeling out the edges of the security system was good fun. It has some neat in-game cutscenes, though also one confusingly out-of-place one. It bops along nicely to music from Lazerhawk. And after years away, I did quite enjoy leaping around with Half-Life's unique movement feel.
The mod's flaw is: Half-Life has so many rubbish guns. The shotgun is a pale shadow of what video game shotguns can be, the SMG struggles to hit a man from ten metres, grenade physics are terrible, and the pistol ends up far more important than it should be. C.A.G.E.D. does let us briefly play with some of HL's better weapons but mostly it's the trash. Coupled with enemies doing loads of damage, the mod isn't challenging as much as frustrating.
But I am glad I played it last night, and did return to check out a bit again this morning. My first playthrough took 35 minutes so it's not a big commitment either.
George has also included an audio commentary mode, activated in certain points by touching big yellow speech bubbles in that classic Valve way. It's pretty neat for hearing some of his inspirations and Half-Life technical tricks, like faking buoyant crates using lasers and trains.
C.A.G.E.D. is based upon a level George made for Project: Quantum Leap, a 2002 singleplayer episode which brought together 20 disparate maps from 15 different mappers. It's remade and reimagined here, and far fancier.
Hit Steam to download C.A.G.E.D. free. You will need Half-Life to play it, mind.