Living in a Shade of Itself: Review of Half-Life 2 Mod “Grey”

A crowded bar bustling with the sounds of clinking glasses, and the murmur of a sea of voices. A jukebox blares out some nameless rock song no one is listening to. All sounds are muffled and muted through the thin walls of the bathroom where you’re washing your hands, when suddenly: silence. Absolute, screaming silence. Where did everyone go? Were you blacked out in the stall when they closed the bar? This is where Grey, the eponymous protagonist of the Half-Life 2: Episode 2 horror mod Grey begins.

Released in 2012, the mod took an ambitious route of using many new models, animations, and textures than the standard Half-Life 2 library, and that much alone is worthy of some mention. It’s pretty well-polished, and the developers “Deppresick Team” certainly put good effort into their game. Unfortunately, it doesn’t all work.

It’s certainly a short game, so it’s not too much of a commitment to try and beat. The endgame stats told me I beat it in just over an hour, not including deaths or reloads, so if you have anywhere from 1-3 hours to kill one evening, you’re in luck.

The Positives:
The team did a pretty good job building the world. It’s a pretty standard urban sprawl dotted with the standard checklist of horror game staples- hospital, crumbling building, pitch-black forest, apartment complex. Check check check. All are depicted pretty well. The animations are what really give the game a particular individuality, though. Weapons all have a pronounced shake when aiming, as if you really were both terrified and terrible at guns. Reloading is the same, where Grey will fumble awkwardly with a new magazine as he reloads, instead of being like some flawless competition shooter. If you find an item, Grey’s arm swipes out to pick it up (not precisely, but the impression is there, instead of the telekinetic abilities of so many other game protagonists). It’s not perfect, but it’s a nice touch. Many of the enemies are uniquely animated as well, crawling or skittering towards you in different ways, instead of the easy approach of using pre-existing animations from the Half-Life 2 resources. There are a couple of puzzles that weren’t the average approach to progressing, where the only path forward were doorways hidden in the environment, like a wall was built over it, or a hole was perfectly covered by tiling. The only way to find where it is is by seeing a memo left around, or an old construction map showing where doors originally were. It leads to a little bit more thinking at times, as the indicators for the hidden spots can blend right into the rest of the scenery until you find the hint.

The Negatives:
In short, it’s short. Really short. There is a problem with the pacing, where things start getting really interesting, and the tension really starts ramping up, then it ends. The game plods in some areas, then really connects in others – all leading to the anticlimactic ending where you really expect the story to continue. For Grey himself, his character model is kind of silly. He’s just some average guy, and that’s fine, but one of his sleeves is pushed up, revealing a tattoo that I was never able to read, nor does there seem to be any real reason for the one sleeve being hiked up. Cry of Fear uses higher sleeves to show the self-abuse of the main character, which fits into the narrative, but in this case, I can only kind of make a guess about Grey’s troubled past with drugs, but it’s never really demonstrated in a manner that suits the silly sleeve. As for the story, it’s nice enough, but if you do ever play it, never read the chapter notes on the loading screens. They effectively tell you exactly what you will do, and what you will find, instead of you actually discovering it yourself in-game. It tries to tease, but it’s like someone that can’t help but spoil a movie when they try to tell you about it.

Additionally, there is one enemy that is just the embodiment of aggravation. It’s a small, doll-like critter that scampers around and lunges at you for small amounts of damage, and dies in one hit. That’s fine. The problem is, it doesn’t have any delay on its attack cycle, so it will lunge, hit/miss, then immediately lunge again if you are within range (which is a fairly considerable range). It won’t pause to turn towards you or take a moment to jump again, it just jumps. And jumps. And jumps. It’s not strictly a fault against the Deppresick Team, as it may just be the headcrab animations from Half-Life 2, but cheap animation/attack cycles from characters are one of my biggest pet peeves.

The Meh’s:
The mod, I’m sorry to say, is kind of bland. It’s well-done, has has a few great moments, but it seems to follow a strict formula for modern horror modifications. The locations are the same in almost every other mod, many of the scares can be seen a mile off, just by the way the levels are designed, almost like there was a checklist with all of the mandatory scares/locations that needed ticking. With some of the high points, there was so much more potential, but there seems to have been a loss of creativity or a lack of ability when it came to the narrative or environments. Also by virtue of its short length, there’s a sense of being rushed to all of the locations by an impatient tour guide. Nothing is given time to grow into itself, but perhaps if they were longer, but stayed with the same pace as they are now, it’s far better that they stayed rushed.

Either way, Grey is definitely worth a try for any fan of horror games. It’s short, it has some great moments, it just suffers from an excess of conformity. It accomplishes enough that I’d say it passes. To be formal, perhaps 6.5/10.

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