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Video Game Review: ESTRANGED – Act I

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Through the wee hours of midnight, I went scouring through Steam’s store to find a great deal on an unknown horror game that stood out from the crowd. And by stand out, I mean A) not include any kind of zombies and B) not include any kind of zombies. ESTRANGED: ACT I showed some promise upon a very quick glance, grabbing my attention at “shipwrecked” and “mysterious island”. And the most important word: “free”.

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ESTRANGED: ACT I is undeniably a HALF-LIFE 2 mod, relying heavily on a mostly unmodified source engine. With that being said, it’s a very professional HALF-LIFE 2 mod that goes a step above the rest.

Still, the unadulterated source engine is really starting to show its age. I remember when the engine first came out with COUNTER STRIKE: SOURCE and HALF-LIFE 2. I was blown away by it; doing something simple as solving a puzzle using barrels underwater with advanced physics seemed like a big deal. But that was back when I was in high school—a decade ago.

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We’ve come a long ways since then, and even though it can be heavily modified to make great cutting edge games such as PORTAL, Valve really needs to have a new game with a brand new engine (*cough* HALF LIFE 2: EPISODE THREE *cough*). Don’t get me wrong—Source gets the job done well enough. But bumping into objects sends them flying at breakneck speeds across the room, enemies turn into hilarious rag dolls upon death, and even things like melee hit detection and climbing ladders feel odd in comparison to modern games.

Whatever flaws are amassed from the engine, ESTRANGED: ACT I well makes up for in gameplay.

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ESTRANGED: ACT I has hands down some of the best level designs I’ve seen from small games. Were there times when I got confused and didn’t know what to do? Sure. But never was there a point when I got stuck. Simple puzzles, enemy placements, and architecture is to be lauded. Even though it’s linear and not as much of an art-ploratory game like I imagined it might be, I couldn’t give a damn with such varied, entertaining, and well paced levels.

If you’ve played HALF-LIFE 2, the I don’t really need to tell you what the gameplay is like, and despite the fact that it’s starting to age, it’s still tons of fun. If you haven’t played HALF-LIFE 2 then seriously, stop what you’re doing and start playing it right now.

Story-wise, ESTRANGED starts off with a bang and loses traction from there. I remember a sense of wonder after being shipwrecked and wandering along the island. Is this going to be a mystery? A thriller? As a man called me to his house, warning me of dangers and handing me a gun, the mystery got exciting… until I heard groans, at which point I groaned myself.

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ESTRANGED: ACT I is basically HALF-LIFE 2 with Captain Kirk zombies. And if you’re expecting a WALKING DEAD quality storyline, you can forget about it.

However, unlike most zombie games, ESTRANGED: ACT I gives a sense of suspense and thrill with every encounter (until I got the machine gun, when it turned into mow down everything in sight). I remember a great sense of panic as I raced around a station trying to find a switch for the tracks, shooting off waves of zombies with what little ammo I had, finally finding the switch and racing back to the train before I ran out of ammo and met my grisly demise.

With great level designs, a sharp soundtrack, and a solid production, ESTRANGED: ACT I encompasses the feel of HALF-LIFE 2 without it being just another mod. It will be interesting to see what direction the team will go with in ESTRANGED: ACT II and where they’ll go next with new sights and hopefully larger resources.

RELEASE DATE: January 6th, 2014
PUBLISHER: Alan Edwardes
DEVELOPER: Alan Edwardes
RATING: NR (M (MATURE)

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