Created by one man, Richard Seabrook, Prospekt is a kind of Half-Life 2 fan fiction. It’s not a mod as such—you don’t need to own Half-Life 2 or its episodes to play it—but it’s set in Valve’s world, and uses its enemies, weapons and assets. Presented as a follow-up to Half-Life: Opposing Force, you play as Adrian Shephard—recently rescued from the G-Man’s stasis by the Vortigaunts, and dumped into Nova Prospekt to help Freeman.Half-Life 2 is one of the best shooters ever made, making it a strong launching point for another game. But, from Prospekt’s first combat encounter, it felt to me like something was off. The breaking point came during a battle at the start of chapter five, when, in a fit of frustration, I quit out, loaded up Half-Life 2, and used the command console to check out a hunch. Sure enough, the Combine Overwatch Soldier and Elite—the two enemy types you fight throughout the majority of Prospekt—have been given significantly more health.Unfortunately, more health doesn’t just mean a greater challenge. It’s bad enough that the enemies are so bullet-spongy, but it also upsets the flow of combat. Where, in Half-Life 2, you could reliably pump both barrels into a soldier and instantly move on, here that same act might not do the job. Prospekt was constantly nudging me off a rhythm I’d spent 11 years perfecting, but not in a way that felt interesting or subversive.It’s been 11 years and four months since the release of Half-Life 2, and eight years and fivemonths since Valve left Gordon Freeman’s tale agonisingly unfinished in Episode 2. Not that I’m counting the days or anything. Just the months. And years. But it’s fair to say that, by this point, fans of what is frequently regarded as the greatest FPS ever made are fairly keen to see its story finished. You can glimpse this in how every few weeks the vaguest outline of a lambda sign leads to ringing ululations of “HL3 CONFIRMED?!?!111” rebounding across the Internet.
For years Valve has been happy to let those voices scream into the void, to, in an amusing irony, let the pressure build. It’s into this Freeman-parched climate that 25 year old Richard Seabrook has released Prospekt, an add-on for Half-Life 2 which possibly wouldn’t have garnered much more attention than any other Half-Life 2 mod, were it not for the fact that it has been approved by Valve as a continuation of the storyline from Half Life: Opposing Force.There are lots of exciting yet dangerous words in that above paragraph, words that will almost certainly lead to stratospheric hopes and impossible expectations. So let’s temper those right now. Prospekt does not elaborate on the Half-Life 2 storyline in any significant fashion. It isn’t Episode 3. Neither is it, truly, a sequel to Opposing Force, which was a huge and lavish expansion pack, basically a game in its own right, created by an incredibly talented team of developers.Instead, Prospekt is best described as the equivalent of a Star Wars expanded universe novel; a pseudo-official alternative story that offers a few extra hours of Half-Life 2’s Manhack-sharp combat. It’s an impressive showcase from a first-time designer, demonstrating creativity and imagination within a restricted framework. But there are also inevitable limitations and a few rookie errors.For Prospekt players reprise the role of Adrian Shephard, who was last seen stranded in inter-dimensional limbo by the G-Man after the events of Black Mesa. Now, finally, Shephard is released from his detention and delivered unto the bowels of Nova Prospekt, the Combine’s foremost incarceration facility. His task; to aid Gordon Freeman as he struggles against the overwhelming Combine forces descending upon the prison.Or at least, that’s what I read on the game’s Steam page after completing it. I assumed this was the motivation while playing, but aside from a couple of sentences at the very beginning, hastily added just before launch, this isn’t really communicated verbally. Indeed, the vast majority of Prospekt’s narrated story is delivered through aural flashbacks that describe the lead-up to Shephard’s mission in Opposing Force. These are well written and acted, albeit flecked with sweary macho Marine discourse that seems weirdly out of place in the Half-Life universe. This isn’t to say that it’s bad. But it is noticeably divergent from Valve’s scriptwriting style.Nevertheless, Prospekt’s narrative isn’t particularly related to the events transpiring in the moment, and I would have liked more clarification about what exactly Shephard was trying to achieve and why. There are occasional glimpses offered by the environment and the Combine’s radio-chatter, which Prospekt does a convincing imitation of. But even by Half Life’s standards these cues are sparse to say the least.There isn’t much of a story, either. While Shephard is ostensibly set loose to assist Freeman, that plot thread is dropped pretty quickly. Instead, most of the story is told through flashback audio of Shephard’s deployment to Black Mesa. Except, we already know the upshot of that: he goes to Black Mesa. The voice acting is, at least, competently done, even if little of what’s heard is revelatory. The soundtrack, too, works well—setting up action and suspense that the design rarely capitalises on.I went into Prospekt hoping for a fun, inconsequential trip through the Half-Life universe, interspersed with some twists to make it really stand out. That’s what the best Half-Life 2 mods offer—campaigns like Minerva, Research and Development, or Mission Improbable. Even judged by that standard, Prospekt doesn’t deliver. There are a few entertaining moments and neat ideas, but I’d grown dissatisfied and, worse, frustrated with it long before the end of its three hour running time. And if it doesn’t impress on that level, it definitely doesn’t work as a £8/$10 standalone game.