It’s been almost two years since Valve officially launched MODs on their digital distribution and community platform, Steam. Since that launch, we’ve seen a slew of new, massively popular Valve games running on their Source engine (Team Fortress 2, Portal, Left 4 Dead), a massive redesign of the Steam client, and the global launch of Steam for Mac. Valve has a reputation for being a “It’s done when it’s done” developer (case in point: Half Life 2: Episode 3), taking their sweet time on games but releasing quality products that they support for eons. They’re also well known for supporting the modding communities that have sprung up around their games. After all, Counterstrike was originally a MOD that ended up being a wildly popular retail title.
There are a handful of these Source MODs that can be downloaded and installed straight from your Steam client. You need to own at least one Source engine game to be able to install these otherwise completely free games, and some of them specifically require that you own Half Life 2, but we’ve noted the requirements of each of the games in their descriptions. Since Portal was recently given away for freein celebration of Steam for Mac, and you did get it – right? – there’s no reason not to check out these excellent games. We picked five of our favorites to tell you about, and can honestly say that they’re worth your time and hard drive space. Check them all out after the break!
5. D.I.P.R.I.P.Warm Up (die in pain rest in peace)
With a name like DIPRIP, you’d expect over-the-top action and combat, and that’s exactly what this Half Life 2 total conversion MOD delivers. Developed by a Polish team that recently published a whole new game called , DIPRIP is a post-apocalyptic car combat game with deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag modes. Unfortunately, there is no controller support for the game at this time, so the controls are a bit clunky (as is the case with any racing game when using a keyboard), but now that Zombie Driver is finished, the team has promised to return to work on DIPRIP. Which is good news, considering it can be incredibly tough to find anyone else online to play with. The game offers 24 achievements, and requires that you own any Source game to install it, including Portal.
4. Eternal Silence
Eternal Silence is a sci-fi total conversion MOD that has two teams – each based on a giant capital ship – pitted against each other both in standard FPS infantry combat, as well as the more interesting space flight combat. Unfortunately, ES is not the best of both worlds, nor is the best of either world, yet it delivers an interesting and surprisingly dramatic gaming experience that simply works, regardless of how well and polished it all comes off. Regardless of our hesitant praise for the game, it’s definitely worth installing and checking out for yourself. As long as you have any Source game (again, including Portal), ES is free to download and play, and has a fairly active community of players around it. The game’s official site even recently announced an upcoming cash prize tournament, so now is the perfect time to start practicing both your strafe-shooting and your dogfighting.
3. Zombie Panic! Source
Just like Pirates, Vikings and Knight II, Zombie Panic! Source is a sequel to a popular Half Life 1 MOD. ZPS is a cooperative multiplayer game that takes a darker, more “realistic” approach to the zombie apocalypse. With survival-horror tones, the game places you either in the shoes of a zombie or a survivor, where you’re either tasked with annihilating the remaining survivors or, simply, surviving as long as possible. At the start of a round, there’s only one zombie with a limited number of “reinforcements” (lives). But as the zombie, who has regenerating health, takes out survivors, they’re converted to zombies and the tables gradually turn. Winning a round as survivors isn’t impossible, but it is challenging. Thankfully, this highly polished and fun game has a large following, so getting into a match is as simple as waiting for the game to install, so long as you have any Source game in your library already. Protip: use a microphone and don’t go easy on the voice chat. Communication is key in this game.
2. Insurgency: Modern Infantry Combat
If you’re looking for a casual, military themed twitch-shooter, this isn’t it. Insurgency is a realistic squad-based multiplayer shooter, letting you choose sides between the organized military or the guerrilla insurgents. Realistic tactics and teamwork are the best way to play, and communication should be considered required, not to mention a whole lot of practice. The game takes place during the present war in Iraq, but the team behind Insurgency plans on releasing other “theatres” of play, including an all new war and army in Eastern Europe. The game is available for free on Steam so long as you already have a Source game, and although there’s no unlockable achievements right now, there is a lone “Test” achievement listed on the game’s profile, likely signifying a big update to the game in the very near future.
1. Pirates, Vikings and Knights II
PVK2 takes the number one spot on our list for a bevy of reasons, not the least of which is that you can play as pirates, vikings, and knights. I mean honestly, what more can you ask for from a game? Aside from the obvious cool factor, the game is supported by a large and talented team who are constantly hard at work improving and adding on to their free project. PVK2 is a first person online-only team-based game with impressive and highly polished graphics, six addicting game modes, and unparalleled level design for a MOD. It was originally released in November of 1999, making it nearly ten years old; however, it still has a large community surrounding it, meaning you probably won’t ever have trouble finding some people to play with. Oh, and this one has achievements, too. Currently 103 of them. So go install it – all it takes is any Source game – and start racking them up.