A lot of Half-Life mods exist that try to add lore to the Gordster and the research done in Black Mesa but I hadn’t played many who offer a story engaging enough to be canon…
… and then I played Poke646
Kind of a strange name, yeah? I suspect it might have come from Pokemon and the Nintendo 64, both being popular when this mod was in development — but I’m just spit balling idea, dude.
Poke646 is the name of a government organized research group that picked up the work of Black Mesa after the original Half-Life. Sometime later, the team freaked out portals from Xen were opening up around their headquarters in Nation City. Damien Reeves was bonked on the head a was unconscious in the lab while the rest of his team evacuated so when he comes to, he must channel his inner Gordon Freeman and lone wolf fight for survival in the center of the action.
Thankfully Damien is still in communication with his boss, Dr. Fuller, who warns him of the Xen aliens who have taken over the city. Dr. Fuller gives the orders to activate four generates scattered around Nation City that were built as backup should a day like today ever come to fruition. Thus, our adventure begins!
It wouldn’t be a real Half-Life mod if there wasn’t an object for bludgeoning so of course a broken pipe is the first weapon I came across. Shortly after, you picked up a nail gun — my favorite weapon in the game! Two shots into a headcrab kills them just like Half-Life’s pistol. This time the bullets aren’t hit scan; they’re a projectile because what nail gun fires rounds as fast as a handgun? If your nail successfully strikes the target, it makes a second ‘ting’ sound and I felt a lot of satisfaction from lining my shots up carefully.
Later on you pick up an automatic nailgun which looks awesome and sounds chunky. It does cause you to run through your nail supply faster though and does considerably less damage. Ammunition never felt scares throughout the campaign but these two reasons were enough to make me stick with the single fire nailgun until late game. You’ll also pick up a double barreled shotgun which output about half as much damage as I would expect, a scoped crossbow found in a hunting enthusiasts apartment and a remote mine useful for taking down alien grunts.
Another brand new weapon is called the Xen Squasher. Basically it’s one of the creatures found on planet Xen that will fire some sort of energy from its mouth for every piece of candy you feed it. Apparently the barnacles have a sweet tooth as well because sometimes when you kill one of those guys, they’ll drop a can of candy. I didn’t actually use this weapon too because the rounds it fires create a mini-explosion on contact, making it a detriment in close quarters combat, and it felt only a little bit more powerful than the nail gun.
Poke646 does an awesome job of pushing your platforming limits but it also relied too heavily on crouch jumping. A few ledges in the original game required you to crouch in midair to I guess pull your legs up? Basically every jump in Poke646 requires this and it left me trying to climb every obstacle at eye level even when it wasn’t possible or mandatory. Maybe it’s just me but I didn’t think the mechanic made sense in Half-Life and I don’t think adding more of it in this game made it better.
After I got used to that puzzle solving quirk, the game started to flow like a stream. Remember how Half-Life was pretty good about its pacing with sporadic skirmishes and puzzle solving? Take the best moments of that campaign and turn it into one seamless campaign. Yes, Poke646 is that good. What helps its pacing the most is that your objective is never not clear. At any given time, your only objective is to activate to the next generator in your list and thanks to well crafted hiccups in exploration, one or two steps away is as far as you ever are from the main path.
You know those books where ever chapter is like two pages so you read half of it in one sitting and don’t even realize? That’s kind of what puzzle solving in Poke646 feels like. One puzzle I remember quite clearly was trying to turn on the power to activate a subway car — sounds like your standard affair, right? Well once the power came on, arcs of electricity blocked my path. How did I get around this? Turns out the microwave in a break room was damaged (a little note left by the last guy told me) so I turned it on and ran away. Boom! An explosion blew a hole in the wall. Trapesing through the crawl space granted me passage to a steam vent in a bathroom right next to the boarding platform. Completing this challenge took just a little bit of time but the level designers gave me enemies to pick off and tight gaps to clear along the way. By the time I was on board, I felt truly accomplished.
Something funny about the world design in Poke646 is that all the magazines and posters lying around definitely show their age. A women on the cover of Entertainment is dressed like she let the dogs out and the movie poster in what’s suppose to be a younger person’s apartment is for Fear and Loathing.
Few modern games capture the engagement of the player as well as Half-Life did back in the day. I’ve read so many best games of all time lists that give it something in the top 3 slot leaving the game with so much praise that they forget to mention its downsides. Yes of course, Half-Life is a masterpiece and given that it came out twenty years ago is insane but missions like Blast Pit, On a Rail and Gonarch’s Lair have been known to kill runs for me. In fact, I’ve only been the final boss once and every other time I start the fight, exit without even trying and know that I’m the real winner for not putting up with its shit.
Aside from the sewer and rooftop section being a little longer than I would have liked, I’d say this mod offers a campaign that deserves not just a play through but also an honorary spot on the Half-Life expansions pack list.
Mindmotor.Studios, the developers of this mod, also released as true sequel called Poke646 Vendetta that officially closes out the Poke646 series — I’ll be reviewing this soon! To cap the duo off, they released just a few year back the definitive Anniversary Edition which enables both mods to run optimally with the Steam version of Half-Life.
Hmm, do you think I should check out Half-Life total conversion mods next or Half-Life 2 mods? If you read this far, tweet at me your opinion or ever a mod for either game you’d like me to check out next. I’m out!