You want to talk about classic Half-Life mod? How about a mod that was packaged with the original release of Counter-Strike? Half-Life: Absolute Redemption was made by a studio known as Maverick Developments and, along with Team Fortress Classic, Opposing Force multiplayer, Firearms and Wanted, came with the Counter-Strike CD and could be played independently of Half-Life.
You reprise your role as the accidental disaster-causer and reluctant hero Gordon Freeman. Presumably some time after the events of Half-Life, you are summoned to a meeting with the G-Man and are blamed for creating "an impending disaster throughout the galaxy, and beyond" and are tasked with saving it once again. This time, sacred beings known as Telnorps have been stolen from the Xen world and without them, they are powerless from an attack by the Zan forces. The shady organisation the G-Man works on behalf of feels they must keep Xen race safe… along with their mineral resources we happen to be exploiting. These sacred beings happen to take the form of butterflies; how butterflies can keep an entire race and world safe is not explained. The Telnorps have found their way into the hands of fanatical collectors who have hidden them in three location across the globe.
Redemption is fairly unique in that there are three (almost four) mini-mods with very different feels all stitched into one cohesive experience. Between each scene, we learn a little more about the people behind the incident and the G-Man's role in it all.
The Himalayan temple
The first location sends the players high into the Himalayan mountains to a temple run by radical religious assassins (yes, assassins). To complicate matters, the mercenary forces of shady entrepreneur Fabio Geussetelli have been tipped-off about this location and are trying to acquire the Telnorps for themselves.
The journey up to the temple is a nice mix of mountaineering and engagements with grunts. Once you reach the temple, things get harder as you are faced with the temple's congregation of assassins who will do anything to keep their new subjects of workship safe. Once you have worked your way through the slew of gravity-defying, silenced-pistol–wielding ninja babes, you must set the Telnorps free and then promptly get the hell out. Baby headcrabs impede your escape and just as you get to the pick-up zone, Geussetelli sends a leaving gift in the form of an attack helicopter. You're certainly left feeling unwelcome.
The next stash of Telnorps takes you to one of the most memorable locations in Half-Life modding history. The Telnorps have been put on display inside a carnival dedicated to Xen attractions. It would seem the public learned about at least some of the events from Black Mesa and the idea of intelligent extraterrestrial life is now merely a novelty, only warranting an amusement park.
The Carnival of Wonders is located "somewhere in the west" yet is entirely manned with Russian or eastern European-sounding Barneys.
There are rides that you can actually go on such as a slide, roller coasters and swan boats. Don't think this is a super-immersive theme park game, it still absolutely feels like Half-Life, but that's part of the charm. There are funny gags in this park too, such as Gib a Geek which spawns a holographic scientist who gets attacked by a snark. There's also a freak show of all the beta alien models cut from Half-Life.
You're not here just for fun, though. Part of you freeing the Telnorps apparently requires that you mess around with one of the new attractions a little too much and cause a resonance cascade-style disaster throughout the whole park. Aliens have spawned everywhere and the rides are in pieces. Good work, Gordon. Eventually you manage to wreck the place enough that the telnorps are freed from their enclosure and can return to their homeland. Not before fighting a gargantua, however. Hope you saved enough explosives!
Finally, we must infiltrate Geussetelli's headquarters, his import–export warehouse in an unspecified location—probably in the United States. The place is a vast storage unit for his collection of military hardware, fine art and spare mercenaries. Mercenaries who will, of course, attack anyone they don't recognise. There's nothing really wrong with this segment of the game; the gameplay is good and the mapping is at least decent. It just exists in the shadow of the carnival scene and is fairly forgettable because of it.
Once you find where the final set of Telnorps are stored (remember to deactivate the trip wires!) you can set them free and be on your way. Except Geussetelli's men aren't so happy with this plan and will try to stop your escape with everything they've got. After some intense rooftop battles you eventually make your way to a garage and escape via car. The cutscene at the end show's a hilariously blocky brush-based Freeman driving away.
The player now finds themselves inside a secure safehouse with Russian Barney. He explains that you have managed to find all the Telnorps and must now meet with "the administrator" for a briefing, ready for your trip to Xen. You exit out of your secure safe house into a disused warehouse and meet with the G-Man once more who sends you off to Xen to free the sacred butterflies once and for all.
A cutscene further revealing the G-Man's involvement with Geussetelli is followed by arriving in a chamber similar to the first one encountered in Half-Life's Xen. You must find your way to where the Telnorps are behing held, fighting off big and small (and gargantuan) Xen fauna along the way. The Xen scene will only last you 5 or 6 minutes all within the same area. Aside from the garg encounter, not much original happens here. A somewhat disappointing end to an otherwise fun and unique mod.
I think Absolute Redemption has to be held to a somewhat higher standard than most other mods, seeing as it came packaged with a retail game (though it was a bonus feature, in a sense, you were paying for it). Despite this higher bar, Redemption is still a fantasic and highly memorable mod that absolutely deserves a play-through if you haven't already played it. Even if you have already played it, play it again.
4.5 chromedomes out of 5