Half-Life is my most favorite game of all time. How I got to experience it for the first time is a story for another time, but one thing that really caught my eye was the mod scene for Half-Life. Much like Quake and Doom before it, people were messing around in WorldCraft making maps for the internet masses. Some were interesting, others were bizarre, then there’s the classics. The mods that did really interesting stuff for Half-Life, and end up being the must-play mods for the game. Such as today’s entry. Since Halloween is around the corner, let’s look at the zombified single player mod They Hunger.

They Hunger was originally released in 1999 as a PC Gamer demo disc freebie, followed by two additional episodes in 2000 and 2001. Neil Manke, who had made the Half-Life mod USS Darkstar for PC Gamer earlier in 1999, was already familiar with game modding for promotional purposes such as Coconut Monkey Adventures for Quake II and Soldier of Fortune for Quake. (Not to be confused with Soldier of Fortune by Raven Software, this SOF was based off a TV show.) Naturally, They Hunger looked to do something most Half-Life mods didn’t do at the time, and it definitely succeeded.

You play as a struggling writer. After given a small house in the middle of the country, you overhear about a zombie outbreak that’s taken over the town, with a mad scientist and his sheriff buddy filling the town with their experiments. It’s up to you to stop them in any way you can.

If you haven’t guessed, you’ll be fighting zombies. Lots of them. You will not have enough ammo to take them all down. It doesn’t help that the game is a bit harder by removing armor from the game, making you super-weak to stuff like bullets and zombie swings. Expect to abuse the quick-save button often.

There are some new features to the mod, like a bunch of new weapons like sniper rifles, a TEC-9, even a fancy PT145 handgun, in addition to simple model replacements for the default Half-Life models. Interestingly, the TEC-9 and PT145 pistol were modeled by Minh Le, who by this time was putting the finishing touches on Counter-Strike with Valve. Le has done stuff like this before, such as assisting in Special Forces Quake back in the day. You can read more about that mod here. The rest of the mod only barely resembles Half-Life, there’s no laboratories or space planets here, it’s a pure horror mod.

What made They Hunger interesting was there was only a few people working on the game. Nowadays very small development teams for mods are an anomaly, unless you’re The Stanley Parable. Seeing a small team make a high-quality mod like this is the reason why this constantly gets mentioned as one of the best Half-Life single player mods next to Sweet Half-Life and Poke646. Granted, it hasn’t aged especially well, but it’s still worth playing.

There was going to be a follow-up for the Source engine called They Hunger: Lost Souls, but there hasn’t been anything new about the project since 2007. I’ve heard conflicting reports why this is the case, but most of them were that Manke was too sick to develop for it, or had passed away, permanently halting development. It’s a shame, because I would’ve loved to see another quality zombie game in the day before zombie games became passe, especially from one of the best of the Half-Life mod scene.

Alas, Manke’s old website was hosted on Planet Half-Life, which was part of Gamespy. As a result, the sites hosted on the “Planet” webpages got removed by IGN a while back. Thank god for places like Planetphillip, where you can still download the mod so it’s not lost to time, so check it out here. This is surely a mod that must be played, just in time for Halloween.

Speaking of Half-Life, we’re nearly approaching its 15th anniversary. I hope Valve has something in store. Maybe they’ll finally announce Half-Life 3