Half-Life: C.A.G.E.D. Review

Note: Going forward, Metrocop is going to have more Half-Life-related content besides comics, predominantly articles relating to the Half-Life universe. We’re starting off this expanded direction with a look at the latest Goldsource mod released officially on Steam, Half-Life: C.A.G.E.D.

Menu background of Half-Life: C.A.G.E.D.

Half-Life: C.A.G.E.D. is a standalone modification of the original 1998 Half-Life created by Cayle George, a former Valve employee, and Future Games Select, with a soundtrack by Lazerhawk, and released on Steam on September 21, 2017. Despite the name, however, the mod doesn’t really tie into the overarching Half-Life plot, at least as far as I could tell, serving only as its own short slice of story.

You play as an unknown prisoner of the titular “Correctional & Automatic Guardhouse Electronic Detention” facility, which gets points for effort in the backronym department. Your goal is simply to escape this prison; don’t expect much in the way of a plotline, although, in the spirit of Half-Life, you’ll find clues in the environment as to the backstory, as well as a few cheeky jokes.

Screenshot from Half-Life: C.A.G.E.D.

The real star of C.A.G.E.D., then, is the gameplay. In this regard, the mod sticks very close to the original Half-Life, presenting a selection of the more grounded guns and enemies from the original game – you won’t find any headcrabs, bullsquids or Tau cannons here, although you do get a brand-new plunger – as well as the physics and momentum of the original. Where it shines, however, is how the clever level design pushes you to experiment and think in a much different way compared to its source material.

For example, while I mostly used grenades in the original Half-Life with restraint or as a last measure, particularly given how unwieldy their throwing arcs are, here I found myself using them liberally because the level design gives you ample opportunities where grenades are the best course of action. That’s helped in large part by the fact that ammo is much scarcer than you’d usually find in any Half-Life game, forcing you to think carefully on what weapon best serves the situation, particularly in the early moments of the game.

Screenshot from Half-Life: C.A.G.E.D.

With few weapons, less ammo, tight areas and plenty of Half-Life grunts in your way, Half-Life: C.A.G.E.D. also becomes surprisingly harder than the original. I played on “Medium” first and, while I was never stuck for more than a minute or two, I also felt it was more of a struggle than what I’m used to from Half-Life and I was nearly always at low HP, without the difficulty ever getting cheap. Mods often feel harder than the base game simply because they’re less balanced or due to faults in the game design, but here, it’s a side-effect of a more thoughtful, considered experience.

Graphics-wise, being a mod for the original Half-Life – which, bear in mind, is nearly 20 years old by now -, it doesn’t particularly impress. Many assets are reused from the original game, such as the grunts playing the part of the guards trying to stop you, but they are used in such a way that they don’t seem out of place. In fact, another key stroke of this mod is how it cleverly uses its assets to build a particular atmosphere. Everything fits together nicely and builds a sense of place, different enough that it feels like its own thing rather than some hidden extension of the Black Mesa research facility or, worse, a Frankenstein’s monster of parts from other maps that mods can sometimes become.

Of course, I can’t mention the atmosphere without tipping my hat to the soundtrack, which uses synth liberally to give the game a very ’80s feel, at least to me. And, in a cool touch, if you get tired of the soundtrack, you can usually find the old-school radio player it’s coming from and smash it to bits to silence the music! Little touches of interactivity like that are peppered throughout C.A.G.E.D., and it’s honestly something that, while minor, elevates a game immensely. Even some triple-A games could learn a thing or two from it!

Clocking in at just under one hour for my first playthrough, C.A.G.E.D. has great pacing, some really clever design and a few surprises that make it different from most mods I’ve played. While not exactly groundbreaking, it’s still very much worthy of your attention and good for a few playthroughs – especially since it’s got a makeshift achievement system that seems to be hiding some extra content! I only got a total of one achievement in my playthrough and, while I usually refrain from achievement hunting, it teased my interest enough to make me want to go back for a few more playthroughs and get my ass kicked on Hard, as well as listen to the developer commentary included in the game.

Overall, I highly recommend playing Half-Life: C.A.G.E.D., which serves as both a breath of fresh air as well as a throwback to a classic style of gameplay that’s coming back in popularity these days. While it would easily be worth $10 or more, you can get it for free on Steam and, if you’re a modder yourself, even download the source files and learn a few things yourself!

 

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