The Dark Steam Hunt Volume four: Hunt Down the Freeman
Updated: Mar 29
Hello boys and girls, it is time to talk about Fan Fiction. At its core, I have no real problem with Fan Fiction. Granted it has produced some of the worst literature and tropes (Mary Sues and also, My Immortal to name a few). But it has also been a great training ground for upcoming creatives.
For many people, Fan Fiction is an entry into artistic narrative. I know it personally, I used to write Fan Fiction way back in the day, before I was even a modestly competent writer (oh sweet god I hope I am competent).
But I never charged 79 Rand (5,27$ at time of writing) nor did I place my rubbish Fan Fiction onto a once prestigious storefront for all to see. Royal Rudius Entertainment however posted their broken Half Life Fan Fiction onto Valve’s storefront, with complete unspoken endorsement (on Valve’s part). This is what happens, Valve when you never finish your series, Valve. You let in the terrible Fan Fiction to fix what you should have finished, Valve.
You are sergeant Mitchell, an edgy teen’s interpretation of a solider (seriously, he has the ‘badass’ scars and the gravelly voice). After getting charged with killing the scientists of Black Mesa. Mitchell is battered up with crowbar (by someone that the game assures me to be Freeman, more on that later). Mitchell for some reason swears revenge on the person who he thinks is Freeman.
Then he promptly forgets about it when the Combine invades. There is so much to unpack that I can only hope to examine parts of it in detail. But I will say that Mitchell’s motivation is weak to nonexistent.
There is no reason for Mitchell to hold a grudge as his personality is so generic. To him, Freeman is just a no name scientist not wanting to get murdered. Plus it barely motivates him as the game simply tosses Mitchell into a series of locations, he never chases Freeman. After the incident it barely comes up again (until the reveal, more on that later).
Mitchell is such a cardboard non entity of a character that something as traumatic as blunt object assault seems to have little to any impact on him. He just goes from location to location, as blandly edgy as an emo edge lord from middle school. The rest of the cast is just as bland and forgettable as Mitchell.
Gorden Freeman, despite his face being on the thumb nail and shown in screenshots on the storefront. He is in reality no where to be seen. The blunt object assault is committed by a helmeted figure. It turns out that it is not even Gordon Freeman but rather someone (whose name I do not recognise) else in a suit. Gordon Freeman is completely absent outside one ending. Hunt Down the Freeman has nothing to do with Gordon Freeman. It is blatant false advertising that ruins the tiniest amount of motivation our edgy protagonist has.
That is not even to say anything about the pointless appearance of the G- Man, who pressures Mitchell to hunt down Freeman. Not only is this completely out of character for the G-Man (who spends most Half-Life 1 trying to recruit Gordon Freeman).
But as a story point, it is completely illogical as the Freeman assault was not committed by Freeman. There is no point to the G-Man, asides from the Fan Fiction problem. That all story rules and in universe rules can be broken as long as it makes the protagonist look cool. A G-Man visit is a cool idea so Royal Rudius Entertainment tossed him in, with no concern for his character or the story plot.
The gall of it all
One could just brush off HDTF as a meaningless fan game, terrible but never the less harmless to the series. However this game has the utter gall of trying to link itself to the games. It tries to depict the seven hour war against the Combine (it fails badly). It has cameos from the G-Man and Gordon Freeman, Hunt Down the Freeman wants to be seen as an part of the series.
Because no other game actively depicts the war, HDTF hopes to become part of the Half Life lore. This further shows the need for Fan Fiction to push itself into some sort of relevancy, the bloated arrogance a first time writer (or a terrible one) has towards the world they worship. Bastardising well written lore with rubbish depictions.
The difference between parody and reference
When I first started up the tutorial, I was subjected to a cringe inducing ‘parody’ of Full Metal Jacket. At least I suspect it was meant to be a parody. However instead of a parody: (according to Cambridge Dictionary ) Writing, music, art speech etc that intentionally copies the style of something/someone famous making features or qualities more noticeable in a way that is otherwise hilarious. We instead get a reference: Something that copies a situation almost to a tee while carrying the air of comedy (think Young Frankenstein for the former and Disaster Movie for the latter).
A reference is a problem committed by the writer when they do not understand how to make something comical. That scene from Full Metal Jacket is copied entirely except without the great acting, dialog or reactions. The drill sergeant shouts tame variations of his movie counterpart and the dummies masquerading as living soldiers say absolutely nothing. It is a reference that should have been scrapped at the second draft (doubt there was another draft mind you) . A reference that has all the impact of reminding you of the better time you could be having watching Full Metal Jacket.
Fan voice acting
I cannot be too harsh on the voice actors here. Sure, they emote with all the emotion of a paper plate with three strategic chips . They all sound as if their first take was their only take. I cannot expect professional voice acting from people who have recorded their dialogue in their bedrooms. The voice acting is terrible but to be expected of Fan Projects.
At the most basic possible level, the gunplay works perfectly fine. Granted it is pretty hard to fail at generic FPS (Half Life: once pioneer in games as an art form has been devolved into a run of the mill FPS by a group who, supposedly love the original series). You point at the head crabs zombies (because that is what they are now) and shoot until they fall over. This is as positive as I get sadly. There is no much to
Level design by blender
The core component of level design is to guide the player through the game without directly telling them where to go. They must feel like they have naturally figured their way out. A bad game normally fails to signpost objectives and directions successfully.
From experience (Agony Unrated, Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness and now HDTEF) a game that leaves you lost and frustrated is not very enjoyable. HDTF has all the hallmarks of bad level design. As a result, obvious signposting (lighting for example ) is ignored.
One such example is a office complex with loads of explorable rooms. However you will not find anything in them. The complex might as well be a linear corridor. But it is dotted with useless rooms, taking up development time. Invisible walls further discourage exploration.
Where am I supposed to go?
Which is ironic considering the game does not tell you were to go half the time. One such example would be in the Albuquerque level. You end up fighting an endless stream of alien invaders with a endless stream of soldiers. You are expected to fight until the game decides (without telling you) that you can move forward.
You then just wonder into enemy lines (pure guess work again), where a loading transition might start. Another place you have to get past a barrier, the only problem is that you have to shoot your own AI allies (who barely work by the way) to toss a grenade (that might bounce and kill your allies thus breaking the game) and hopefully blow up the barrier, results are not guaranteed, and if not perfectly satisfied, your wasted time will not be refunded.
After the invisible wall switches off. You then have to wonder into a open garage (not signposted in any way). After that, you have to go into a random garage rather than towards the alien turret (which would make sense as the level is laid out to push the player towards the turret).
Cheating as a requirement
HDTF marks the first time I have had to cheat in order to progress, when reviewing a game. Not even the worst games I have played previously, forced me to cheat until now. When your game is so broken that the player is forced to cheat in order to keep playing, you have failed. You have failed as a game designer; you have failed as a creator.
I had to no clip about six times during my time with HDTF, all times were due to important stuff breaking or invisible walls blocking my way. The barrier I mentioned in my Level Design by Blender section is a great example of that. When the barrier simply would not break I had to no clip through.
Later in an industrial complex, a road barrier would not go down (the switch didn’t work) so I was forced to no clip again. I have to ask if there was any beta testing before release. Or if any of the devs played the game before release. The quality is simply unacceptable, almost comical in the same way Russian history is a dark comedy.
Most of the sound design is tortuous. At the Albuquerque level, gunfire blurs together into a grating mishmash, totally indistinguishable from the enemy gunfire. Not only does it hurt the ears but it confuses the player.
You don’t know how much damage you are doing or where the enemy fire is coming from. The knife gives the same sound as the crowbar. Made all the more laughable when you are slashing boxes (cardboard does make a load clang after all).
In the dark
The game has a bad habit of not effectively telling you what is happening. One such example would be that train level. What happens is that you have to travel to the far end of the train (on the roof for some reason) to get a gun. Space ships will start attacking you. You have to shoot them down (quite easy and boring). But regardless of your actions, the train breaks apart. There is no warning sound effect or visual.
It is just there, then it is not there anymore. This results in a instant game over. What you have to do is walk to the engine room roof top and shoot the space ships. Once all the train carriages have broken off, you have climb back into the engine room to end the level (no indication given, mind you).
HDTF fails to convey even the most basic information to the player. I cannot stress how frustrating HDTF is to play. Just traversing the world is a tedious mission of guess work. There is no guarantee that anything will work, why should I keep going?
Art style and graphics:
The game looks cheap and hideous. A CS GO mod, created with store brought assists and thrown together with all the grace of a car crash. Sometimes textures would not load properly or clash violently with the light. But asides from that it looks gray and lifeless. As visually appealing as a early 2000s shooter with a quarter of the budget. How the hell did this thing take up 27 GIGs?
Everything went wrong, from frame rate slowdowns to just game breaking bugs (Important NPCs/cut scenes/ or mechanics breaking, failing to load or simply stopped working. Everything that could fail HDTF has caused the thing to fail. Please watch the following videos to catch an insight into things failing.
I knew what I was getting into when I brought this game. I knew from the moment that reference to Full Metal Jacket happened that this would be on the Hall of Infamy. Hunt Down the Freeman deserves all the hate it has ever gotten. As of today I have never been forced to cheat. When a game forces you to cheat it has reached a new depth of terrible. HDTF is a total failure.
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03/29/2020-Edit: Fixing gramma errors and misreads.