Gateways is a throwback to simpler times. While most Half Life 2 mods imitate the finely crafted levels of Valve’s masterpiece this one throws all pretense out the window in the hope of creating the most interesting combat scenarios that Half Life 2’s gunplay can deliver.

The mod begins by informing you that as Dr. Freeman, you have been captured by the Combine and must escape. Here’s where things get a little strange; at the start the mod has you running through astoundingly narrow corridors, looking at captured zombies in cages and pressing buttons to make something unpleasant happen to them. There are an awful lot of Source mods which funtion as a sort of electronic zoo, whereby you walk about and the mapper shows off his ability to make something interesting to watch.

That is not Gateways and the mod’s beginning minute is a complete misrepresentation of what this mod is about. It is completely incongruous with the true Gateways and is really quite a turn off compared to the rest of the mod, which is of a much higher quality than the opening few minutes.

Gateways is the antithesis of Half Life 2. Where Valve want the player to be immersed in something believable, Gateways is about presenting you with a visual spectacle of enemies and abstract environments. Each area you enter makes less sense than the last, yet the combat grows more fantastic each time. While some of the scenarios, such as killing combine soldiers arrayed Brady Bunch style along one side of a giant cube, are not terribly interesting, these are far outnumbered by more interesting encounters. In one level, I went from fighting hundreds of Antlions simultaneously to ducking behind stalagmites on a circular staircase, being shot at by combine turrets in a middle tower. Upon ascending to the top, I found a crossbow which I then had to use to knock over every turret on my way down. Outside the opening level the design is always interesting, although it never really moves beyond creative uses of func_brush (primitive blocks).

The mod is above all, extremely cathartic. It feels so good to be let loose with Half Life’s combat system, in a way that Valve never lets you be. Whether fighting hundreds of enemies or playing skittles with them, this mod never lets up with the intensity and the edge to the difficulty makes it quite the workout for your reflexes.  The game’s breakable wall mechanics are a both janky and gratuitous, but you’ll quickly forget about such complains as you suddenly need to test which weapons work underwater.  The game is broken up into four sections which you can tackle in any order, which makes progression feel all the more satisfying as you complete the Antlion level with a weapon you unlocked from the combine level.

Despite feeling janky and poorly made throughout the mod, Gateways is a pretty solid one and a half hour kill fest. The first time you press a button and enemies spawn you’ll feel pretty underwhelmed by the mod’s lack of ambition, but soon the inventive ways in which those enemies spawn will win your heart and the game will be impossible to put down for it’s duration. The visual fidelity even begins to seem charming in how appalling it is and the entire experience feels like a glorious throwback to when Id ruled the shooter roost. 9/10