Source-based mods have made quite a bit of headway recently. It wasn’t too long ago that we were treated to the wickedly experimental Stanley Parable, while the ever-popular Black Mesa is slated for a commercial release soon, much to the delight of our resident news reporter Chris Kemp. With this in mind, we present you with another Source mod worthy of your attention: Underhell. In all honesty, I feel a little guilty referring to Underhell as a “mod”, because it’s loaded with so much character and content that it is, for all intents and purposes, a game in its own right. And considering the fact that it was recently greenlit on Steam, a lot of other gamers feel the same way.
Underhell places you squarely in the shoes of a bald young man named Jake Hawkfield. Jake’s life hasn’t exactly been unicorns and rainbows, as he is a recent a widower tormented by his past. Working as a member of a S.W.A.T. team, things go awry during a routine mission and he is inexplicably the sole survivor; terrorists, hostages and even his teammates are all slaughtered, and Jake is without an alibi. For this, Jake gets sent to an underground maximum security prison where all is not as it seems.
Currently, only the prologue and the first chapter are available (out of a planned four in total, plus an epilogue), but don’t be fooled: there is a ton of stuff to see and do here and there’s already a good few hours of gameplay to be had, even more than some AAA titles. In the course of play, you’ll be rescuing hostages, sniping terrorists, entering bullet-time, driving a truck recklessly through an underground parking lot, facing off against vengeful inmates in jail, killing zombies with axes, solving puzzles, coordinating members of your squad, backtracking, playing out nightmares and living through memories and hallucinations… and that’s all just in the first chapter. It’s pretty much every recent FPS, horror and narrative game cliché, all fused together in a brain-melting smorgasbord of Source engine goodness. And it’s all free.
This mod’s influences are varied. It almost goes without saying that Half-Life is the main contributor, but Counter-Strike, F.E.A.R., Call Of Duty, Rainbow Six and a whole slew of others all have a hand in creating the distinct world of Underhell. Shooters aren’t the only point of reference, as even the exploratory and introspective gameplay of Gone Home makes an appearance, complete with a desolate house containing memories and clues.
The house in question is your home and serves as the game’s main hub and focal point of the underlying plot. It’s not overtly scary, but there’s definitely something very wrong within its confines. Exploration will uncover artefacts from your former life, such as the pages from your deceased wife’s diary. The house cycles between day and night, and once the sun sets, it’s not uncommon for unexplained events to occur: a piano will begin playing by itself, doors will open and shut of their own accord and ghostly apparitions may make an appearance for a brief moment. It’s all wonderfully unnerving and does a superb job of sustaining a foreboding atmosphere without resorting to gore-drenching tactics. While any sane person would pack their bags immediately and run out the front door without looking back, you are required to return to the house time and again, and occasionally a task must be undertaken in order for the game to progress further.
Underhell is apt at seamlessly switching between the three extremes of exploration, survival horror and all-out fragfest. You’ll go from gleefully splattering enemies with your vehicle to outrunning rampaging zombies because your weapon got knocked out your hand and you have nothing to fight with. Even health and vision need to approached tactfully: an injury can cause you to bleed to death, so you always need to have bandages and other medical supplies handy in addition to other health items such as food. You’ll also have to make use of batteries to power your flashlight and night-vision goggles, or you may opt for less effective but energy-saving glowsticks and flares to illuminate your view. Keeping your inventory stocked with tools and supplies will be paramount to your success.
There’s also lots of plot with plenty of dialogue. Though it occasionally gets too long-winded for its own good, it keeps you involved in the story and the voice acting is actually quite well done. While the Source engine is certainly showing its age, the attention to detail is exquisite and the musical score is second to none. The game makes extensive use of musical cues to enhance the atmosphere and gameplay, such as playing a rock loop whenever an enemy spots you. As for Jake, the silent protagonist that he is, he’s the ideal mixture between Gordon Freeman and Max Payne, and he might just become our new favorite antihero.
If I’ve perked your interest, your next question will likely be “how do I install it?” You’ll need Steam for this baby, as well as the Source SDK 2007. Once Steam is opened, look on the top left, next to “Store” and you’ll see “Library”. Click that and select “Tools” from the drop-down menu. Scroll down until you see the Source SDK Base 2007 and double click to install. Don’t worry, it’s all free.
Once that’s done, you need to grab the mod itself. Download it from here and then extract it into your Sourcemods folder, which should be something like C:\Program Files\Steam\steamapps\Sourcemods. Look in Program Files (x86) if you’re running a 64-bit version of Windows. Restart Steam and Underhell should appear in your library.