This puzzlicious Half-Life 2 mod is causing quite a stir, at least in our swollen inbox. "This year's Minerva", say some. "Mod of the year?" say others. "Has reinforced seams in order to contain dangerous quantities of awesome", said an essay-length endorsement. "Try it... or GO TO HELL", said a shorter, scarier one. Well, we're all going to hell anyway, because of that thing we said about John's mother, but might as well take a look nonetheless...
R&D's hook is that it's essentially non-combative. Yep - you go without guns throughout (bar the ol' Gravity jobbie, but hey, that's more about construction than destruction here). Sure, you can tell an Antlion to claw someone to death or arrange to squash men with falling girders, but you're definitely not Edward Pistolhands. It's an environmental adventure game, taking the irregular physics and logic puzzles seen in HL2 itself and turning them into the game itself. Mazes, gravity, exploding microwaves and fire-retardant antlion carapaces all make an appearance - it's very much a point'n'click adventure in an FPS engine.
Some challenges are clever, some are very clever, some are annoying (especially the ones that involve pushing specific buttons on a keycode lock - the Source engine's Use button lacks the required precision, alas), and some are openly silly (though in fairness the Combine's ridiculous giant power cables were originally Valve's fault), but crucially none of them involve shooting a man in the head until he falls down and doesn't get up again.
The best comparison, oddly, is the original Half-Life - a game whose noble puzzle values its sequel largely abandoned in favour of super-atmospheric action. There is very much that sense of strange tricks and traps born of scientific experimentation, and your largely non-combative persona is in many ways more in keeping with the mind-over-matter character we're often told Gordon Freeman is than the openly, incongruously murderous role he dons in Valve's games.
If you're rolling your eyes because this is more adventures in Combineland, don't. The environment may be oh-so-familiar, but your interactions with it are a seismic (if oddly natural-feeling) shift away from what you're used to. This is as must-play as an HL2 mod gets. So play it, you must.
Turns out it's rather hard to thank the mod's author for his sterling work, however. 'mbortolino' is something of a man of mystery, it seems. Any clues, young bloodhounds?