Oh boy, this one is a strange case people. Half-Life: Peaces like Us is one of those mods that has a unique premise, but in my humble opinion, doesn't really flesh out its true potential. The unique aspect of this mod is simple. Xen aliens are now your allies! Yep, that’s about it. Nothing really more to report in terms of different mechanics. Well, there has to be more to it than that! So let's dive into Half-Life: Peaces like Us, and see what would have happened in Half-Life if the Xen aliens WERN'T total assholes to humanity.
JUST TO SAY, THERE ARE SPOILERS BELOW! IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO BE SPOILED, SKIP THIS PART OF THE REVIEW
Half-Life: Peaces like Us is a Half-Life mod that actually takes place in an alternate universe that is outside of the main Half-Life story. In this alternate universe, at some point when the scientists at Black Mesa started to make inter-dimensional trips to the borderworld known as Xen, the alien beings there and the visiting humans must have had some sort of first contact, and resulting from this contact was some sort of mutual understanding, or peace treaty. Regardless, from that point forward, all Xen creatures are now allies of you, and everybody at Black Mesa. Note that the backstory that I just described is never directly stated, though it is hinted at through the mod. Mostly through text. Also, due to the outdoor environments and some specific scenery the mod has, it seems that the scientists built a sister facility to Black Mesa on Xen, possibly with the help of their new friends. Now that that is set up, let's talk about the main plot to this mod. Things begin with opening text that gives a summary that basically says that the Xen aliens and the scientists of Black Mesa have formed an alliance and are your allies. You are then thrust into the role of Gordon Freeman once again, waking up at 4:00am in the morning for work. You jump down from your "high-rise" bedroom, grab your trusty HEV suit, and go on your way. On the way you encounter a few Xen aliens, doing everything from making sure equipment works, to helping with experiments, to just goofing off. You eventually come to a security checkpoint, where a scientist and a security guard say generic lines from Half-Life that just happen to fit the situation at hand. Then, all of a sudden everyone hears an explosion from outside a window nearby. From the window the player sees the intimidating sight of an HECU helicopter which appears out of nowhere. It blasts a hole in a nearby wall of the facility, and drops off HECU soldiers before departing. From this point on, HECU soldiers begin invading the facility, killing humans and Xen aliens alike. Finding a crowbar not too long after, the player must take action, and drive the HECU from the facility. Not long after the initial attack, the player, while crawling in a vent, looks through a room in which they find a scientist, some HECU soldiers and the G-Man. It appears that the G-Man is working with the HECU, as the scientist is killed by the HECU soldiers at the G-Man's command after telling the scientist that it "Looks like we won't be working together.". After moving through some complex machinery and having a Gargantua help them get to a higher platform, the player chases the G-Man through a "Pushpod Train", only to get to the end of the ride with no G-Man present. The player then gets trapped by the HECU and the G-Man in a room full of explosive crates. After the room explodes, the floor underneath the player is destroyed, revealing the Xenian infrastructure underneath. From there the player moves through the "underside" of the facility, dodging HECU forces and traps all the way. After finding a way back into the facility, and rescuing a pair of Houndeyes, the player sees a strange unknown aircraft in the sky above teleport away. Following that, the player pushes through some more HECU held territory, and encounters a group of Black Ops female assassins, before requiring the aide of a Gonarch to help them progress. Unfortunately though, as the player tries to make their way across a walkway, it breaks and they fall into a teleportation beam projected by a malfunctioning device below them. Then things turn for the worst as the player enters a bizarre dimension where floating platforms provide a path, and strange, transparent versions of Xen aliens pose a threat. After travelling in this very odd place for a time, the player is then rescued by a Vortigaunt and a security guard who suddenly teleport in front of them. They have brought a ship as well, and teleport the player back to the facility. After acquiring more powerful weapons, the player takes the fight to the HECU invaders, as well as freeing some more captured Xen creatures. One Vortigaunt opens a door for the player, revealing a room that contains the "Xen Teleport System", a massive device that the player saw through a window at the start of the mod. After battling some more Black Ops female assassins, and leaving the room containing the device, the player is trapped in the dark, and caught by the HECU. The player is then brought before the G-Man in a cage, in a room sitting right in front of the "Xen Teleport System" device. With the player disarmed, the G-Man tells Gordon that it is "Time to choose...". Unbeknownst to the G-man or the HECU soldiers guarding him, the Vortigaunt that opened the door to the "Xen Teleport System" enters the room with the device, and activates it. Pointing the projection dish right at the room the player and the G-Man is in, the Vortigaunt blows a hole through the room overlooking the device, killing all of the HECU soldiers, and supposedly the G-Man in the resulting explosion. It appears to have been a grim victory however, as Gordon Freeman seems to have been killed by the explosion as well. We then see the Nihilanth, floating in its chamber, as it looks down on a lone Vortigaunt, and Freeman's corpse. The Vortigaunt bows to the Nihilanth, and the giant alien overlord begins a ritual. It extends its hands, and summons multiple spectral-looking Alien Controllers, before creating a huge ball of colorful energy. Sending bolts of lightning out from this energy ball, they surround Freeman's body, before bringing him back to life. Back in control, the player looks around, the Vortigaunt beckoning them to follow it. The Vortigaunt activates a teleporter, to which the player steps into, and then the credits roll.
Alright, now that that’s over with, let’s get into gameplay/aesthetics. In terms of how well this mod uses its assets, it gets the job done. Not alot of new content is added, just cleverly mish-mashing old assets to appear new. I like this, it shows creativity and a "we improvise" attitude. This is another mod that uses the Half-Life HD Pack as a base, and I could take it or leave it, as I have stated before that graphics to me don't matter unless they are so awful it breaks the experience for me. The design of the facility on Xen is pretty standard. It just kinda looks like what would happen if the Black Mesa Research Facility merged with Xen completely. It does score a bit higher due to the fact that the facility itself does have some neat ideas. The "Pushpod Train" being one of them. Of course, the main gimmick of the mod is the fact that all Xen creatures are now your allies. What’s does this do in terms of gameplay benefits? Well, let's just say it pretty much amounts to a few neat things, and a reason to keep the plot going. I mean, the fact that a few Xen creatures help the player along their journey is neat, but the mod really doesn't expand on that concept more than that. Why not have a Vortigaunt follow you around like a security guard and fight HECU soldiers? Or a pack of Houndeyes? Heck even an Alien Grunt? To say that the concept of having Xen creatures as your allies is underwhelming is an understatement. Regardless, it's still a neat idea, and this mod seems to be the only one to have this concept and run with it.
Alright, it's time for pros and cons once again! Starting with the cons!
#1: WHY IS EVERYONE ON MY SIDE AGAIN? One of the things that perplexes me about this mod is the fact that EVERY Xen creature is allied with you and the rest of the Black Mesa team. I mean I understand the Vortigaunts, the Alien Grunts, the Alien Controllers, and the Nihilanth being on the player's side, because they show signs of sentient intelligence. Though, why are the non-sentient Bullsquids, Headcrabs, Ichthyosaurs, Gargantuas, and Houndeyes allied with you? I mean, in the context of this universe, these things are basically just animals. Driven by hunger and the need to survive. I mean you could use the argument that maybe all of the aforementioned creatures could have been domesticated, or maybe the Nihilanth has some sort of control over them to make them friendly to the Black Mesa crew. That’s fine, but those are still weaksauce arguments because it's never stated in the mod if one of those explanations is the case. Though, despite all of that, seeing Houndeyes do random things around the facility in the beginning of the mod is still cute.
#2: ANIME? IN MY HALF-LIFE? Now this one is a tricky issue to discuss. Like walking on a mine field really. I love good anime. I love talking about it, and it's an art form that i'm gaining more and more of an appreciation for every single day. The reason this is a con is because this mod seems to have a compulsion to include anime related imagery in it. What am I talking about? The very second you acquire the HEV Suit in this mod, near the center of the screen on your HUD, you can see an image of an anime girl looking at you with a stern expression. What is this exactly? Never explained. Though, if the player's health drops below the double digits, the girl changes her expression to a more frightened one. Maybe this was done as an homage to the DOOM series, where Doomguy's face is in the HUD, showing more and more signs of getting fucked up as the player takes damage. In terms of gameplay, this girl is frustratingly distracting, and in my opinion, should have been left out. Also anime related imagery can be found in the weird dimension the player eventually slips into, and even on the title screen for the mod. Again, I personally do not dislike anime, but anybody who does, either ignore the imagery, or just don't play this mod.
#3: XEN CREATURES ARE NOW FRIENDLY? OH THAT’S NEAT I GUESS... Like I stated earlier, the concept of Xen creatures being your allies is not fleshed out very well, at least gameplay wise. Sure, there is a Vortigaunt who, if you help it, opens a door for you that has a healing shower and extra ammo. Yay. All of the other instances of Xen creatures helping you are just there to help the player move the plot along. A wasted opportunity in my opinion.
#4: WHY IS THE G-MAN WORKING WITH THE HECU? This is something that is a problem in a lot of mods with their own story, but here I think it's the worst. The G-Man, for some reason that is never revealed to us in the story, is working with the HECU to capture Xen creatures and basically fuck up the probably very strained relationship between the Xen creatures and the Black Mesa personnel. Why is he doing this? Why does the G-Man even care about this? Now, the problem I mentioned at the start of this con is the fact that most mods with their own story cast the G-Man as some titular bad guy. They all have their own stupid reasons, but Half-Life: Peaces like Us literally has no reason to give. Why are the HECU even taking orders from the G-Man anyway? I mean, it's usually a common place fact that you can get a bunch of insane people to follow your agenda based on the fact they're crazy, but when you're talking about a military force with coordinated intelligence and resources they're usually gonna want something in return for their loyalty and manpower. What did the G-Man promise the HECU in return for all of their troops and support? Simple money? The direction to the fountain of youth? A planet made of solid gold? A Klondike Bar? Stock options? How about a copy of Half-Life 3? Guess what, it's never explained in the mod. The G-Man is the villain because the mod said so.
#5: THE ENGRISH. Okay so this is a weird case of engrish. The only real instances of engrish in this mod are in the level titles, and the opening text. Half-Life: Peaces like Us contains such level titles as "I don't forgive!", "What is a purpose...?", and my personal favorite, "Another World". I'm going to state this again. Spellcheck exists for a reason. Use it people. Use it so I don't have to keep listing the engrish as a con. Please.
Okay, now it's pro time. It's about time the pros got here, I mean jeez, just look at the time. Time, time timey time.
#1: CLEVER USE OF ASSETS. As I said earlier, the way the mod reuses assets is both creative and neat. Especially in the area with the giant generators that have fans on them. Aside from a couple of areas that really scream "We ran out of ideas", this mod certainly knows how to teach old dogs new tricks, if ya know what I mean.
#2: THE DIMENSION OF SENTIENT GEOMETRY. I call the dimension the player falls in that because the blocks, squares, rectangles, and sometimes the very rooms of that place move at their own will. This place to me is the mod's best part. It's so strange, abstract and complex. Everything from the music, to the way you progress through the level is just so weird, I have to give the mod points for this section.
#3: FINALLY THESE ALIEN BASTARDS AREN'T TRYING TO KILL ME. Though I have given the concept of Xen creatures being your friends a lot of flak, I actually like the fact that I can call a giant blue fatty with flamethrowers for arms my buddy. Even if they never fight the enemy with me.
Okay, so Half-Life: Peaces like Us may not be the best mod out there, but it does have an interesting concept laid out. It's a shame that the mod doesn't even try to fully flesh out its concept. It does however have neat visuals, especially in the dimension of sentient geometry, and standard Half-Life gameplay that we all know and love.
Half-Life: Peaces like Us gets the final rating of 3/5. Thanks for reading everybody, and stay classy!
Here is a couple of links to the mod's ModDB page, for those who want to play the mod themselves! Also, you do need to install those two files in order to play the mod. Just saying.
Link #1: http://www.moddb.com/mods/half-life-peaces-like-us/downloads/half-life-peaces-like-us-v20-beta-1
And Link #2: http://www.moddb.com/mods/half-life-peaces-like-us/downloads/half-life-peaces-like-us-v20-beta-1-texture
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