This article first appeared in PC Gamer magazine issue 365 in January 2022 as part of our ‘Mod Spotlight’ series. Every month we explore cool new mods that breathe new life—or just inject a bit of chaos—into our favourite games.
Gordon Freeman and Nick Farell have a lot in common. Both work in the field of secret government science: Freeman is a theoretical physicist at Black Mesa, and Farell is a generator technician at Delta Base. Both of their companies are working on teleportation technology in huge, sprawling underground labs in New Mexico. Both are men of few words (no words, to be precise) and despite their nerdy leanings are just as capable with rocket launchers and shotguns as they are with scientific equipment. And both are about to have an extremely bad day.
Half-Life: Delta is a full conversion mod for the original Half-Life, and it takes place at the exact same time. Farrell has come to Delta Base to do his job as a generator technician, while over in Black Mesa Freeman is also arriving for his morning duties of riding a tram for a half-hour and then pushing a cart full of alien science into an anti-mass spectrometer. We all know how that goes. In fact, in Half-Life: Delta, we actually get to see the scene of Freeman pushing the Xen crystal on his little cart, and then skeedaddling when everything suddenly goes boom.
The resonance cascade, in which monsters from Xen pour into our world through dimensional rifts, isn’t localised in Black Mesa. Over in Delta Base, familiar Half-Life creatures like headcrabs and vortigaunts begin popping in. And Farell, like Freeman, doesn’t have anything resembling a weapon. As Delta Base begins getting torn to shreds, all you can do is watch. At first…
Thankfully, Delta Base has its own version of Barney Calhoun. I quickly meet Otis, a security guard, who speaks Russian. In fact, everyone in Delta Base speaks Russian (at the moment, anyway, there are plans for English voices to be added). Luckily, there are subtitles, and there’s not all that much information that needs to be explained out loud. Monsters are trying to kill us, so let’s kill them instead. I follow Otis, who is kind enough to shoot a bunch of zombies, until I find a crowbar. Don’t worry, it’s a completely different crowbar than the one Gordon Freeman is currently picking up for the first time over in Black Mesa. Farrell’s crowbar is yellow, not orange.
With a melee weapon in hand, I do something terrible if not completely unexpected. I promptly beat Otis to death. I know! I know. It sounds like an awful thing to do, but there are a lot of monsters around and I really need a gun of my own. Killing Barneys for their ammo is a common occurrence in Half-Life (I bet Freeman is doing it right now) but as Otis drops dead, my screen goes black. Otis, unlike the many Barneys of Half-Life, is a mission critical character. I find out why when I reload and he unlocks a few doors for me using the retinal scanners. Thanks, Otis. Sorry about the attempted murder!
Delta Base isn’t all that different than Black Mesa, really. It’s a massive network of corridors, offices, labs, and facilities, with a great many air ducts that can be slithered through when need be. It’s filled with scientists and office workers and guards, though many are dead at this point, lying in puddles of blood, crumpled in stairwells, or crushed by heavy security doors they weren’t quite fast enough to escape through. Many of your co-workers die right in front of you in traditional Half-Life fashion, slapped to death by zombies as you watch through plate glass, or plunging to an explosive death after stepping onto a malfunctioning elevator.
The ones who survive are helpful. Several open locked doors for me, and I’ll occasionally come across a technician who has concealed himself in a safe space and can inject me with a dose of healing meds. But mostly, everyone is dead and it’s up to me to escape the facility.
Run and Gun
I’m not usually a fan of shooters that don’t give you a ton of spare ammo. Rationing bullets in a first-person shooter usually seems like a waste. I’ve got guns, let me shoot ’em! But it works well in Half-Life: Delta. Rather than rushing through the base pouring ammo into everything that moves, I take my time, slowly creeping through the darkened corridors and blood-splattered offices. New guns are parcelled out pretty rarely. Get used to that pistol, it’ll be a while before a shotgun appears, and even longer before a machine gun does.
Moving slowly doesn’t just save ammo, it helps me figure out the layout of the base and how I can get from area to area. At first I feel like I’m getting lost and backtracking a lot, but I eventually get a feel for things. The path forward is not quite as signposted as Valve’s Half-Life, but more often than not I have a good idea of where I’ll need to go to escape the current peril and find the upcoming peril. And it’s a bit of a throwback, but there are colour-coded keys needed to unlock doors from time to time, Doom-style. It’s been a long while since games in general gave up on those, but I enjoyed hunting them down in Delta Base. Maybe more games should bring them back these days.
As I make my way through zombie-filled labs, more familiar Half-Life monsters begin showing up. Those annoying sonic dogs (houndeyes), those squid-faced things (bullsquids), those tentacle monsters (just called tentacles, apparently) and of course plenty of environmental hazards like malfunctioning electrical equipment and explosive barrels I never seem to notice until I’m discharging a shotgun a wee bit too close to them.
Eventually, I run into Otis again, who proves even more useful, opening up an armoury, collecting explosive charges, and using them to blast open a sealed door. And then he escorts me to a tram. Unlike Freeman, who used his tram to get to work, I’ll be using mine to get the hell out of here. And I’ve got a bunch of guns, so I can even shoot at monsters on my tram ride. Otis, sadly, won’t be coming with. He waves goodbye and the last I see of him he’s shooting the hell out of a pack of zombies in a security room.
The tram, naturally, doesn’t deliver me to safety, but it does give me some brief hope as I leave the underground complex and actually see the cloudy sky above. It’s always such a relief to make it to the surface in a Half-Life game or mod, even if hope for escape is short lived. Before much longer I’m killing a tentacle with toxic waste so I can once again descend underground to reach another subterranean complex.
Half-Life: Delta follows a lot of the same structure as Half-Life. As you might have guessed, at some point the overworked military arrives and heavily armed soldiers attempt to keep a lid on the resonance cascade by slaughtering everything that moves, human and otherwise.
Luckily, I love fighting the military in Half-Life. Finally, ammo is plentiful, weapons abound, and I’m not counting my grenades, I’m just chucking them. And I’ll say this for the army: they can’t teleport in behind you like those sneaky Xen creatures do. Plus, you get to see a bunch of army guys get killed by monsters just like your co-workers were. At the end of the day, Farell is capable enough to become a one-man army and defeat the actual army. And yes, Farell does make his own trip to Xen, just like Freeman.
But even if the story beats are the same, Half-Life: Delta doesn’t really feel like Half-Life. Black Mesa and Delta Base may mostly be constructed from the same parts and pieces, but they do wind up feeling like very different places. There are hundreds of custom models in the mod, lots of new textures, and many custom sound effects. The soundtrack and look of Delta Base feel refreshingly different and provide a new atmosphere that really doesn’t feel like you’re retreading through Half-Life again, even if so much of it is familiar. In every respect, Half-Life: Delta is a full conversion of Half-Life.
It’s also huge. There are over 30 maps in the mod, and they’re big ones. If you’re looking for a shooter that complements the original Half-Life, and even takes place side-by-side on the timeline, you should definitely check out Half-Life: Delta. If you do, say hi to Otis for me. And remember: don’t kill him. You need him more than you know.