Earlier today, Valve started teasing what appeared to be a Half-Life 2 multiplayer deathmatch mode on its official Web site for its Steam download service. One enticing screenshot and a single word, "SOON," suggested that Half-Life 2 would actually gain an original multiplayer mode at some point in the near future. Well, it rolled around "SOONer" than anyone expected, because Half-Life 2: Deathmatch is here. After wrangling the 32MB file out of the Steam service, we proceeded to play it in a quick burst, and we're here to bring you a basic overview of what it's all about.
Half-Life 2: Deathmatch is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. This seems to be a pretty straightforward mode, which, if nothing else, showcases the potential of the simultaneously released Source engine software development kit (SDK). The mode includes two maps: dm_lockdown, which takes place in a ruined prison, and dm_overwatch, which is set in the streets and dilapidated buildings of City 17. Each map is fairly big, apparently supporting up to 32 players, and each is based on content from Half-Life 2's campaign. The same goes for the available selection of player models, which let you choose from a good-sized selection of friendly looking resistance fighters, as well as the creepy, uniformed Combine troopers.
In traditional deathmatch fashion, the maps are littered with weapons and health and armor power-ups. Additionally, the maps let you instantly respawn back into action if you're killed. Much like in Counter-Strike: Source, as players constantly kill one another, little weapon icons appear in the upper right-hand corner of the screen to reveal who wasted whom with what. The most amusing icon is that of a flying toilet, which is used to indicate when someone manages to kill someone else by using the gravity gun to blast him or her with some sort of mundane object. As you might have experienced in Half-Life 2's campaign, the gravity gun lets you "grab" objects and float them in front of you, as well as propel them forward with massive force. So, since the gravity gun is the default weapon, and since the maps are littered with crates, exploding barrels, sinks, tires, and other such junk, you can expect to see a lot of stuff flying around and into people. And in turn, you'll see people actually getting flung around like rag dolls. So the game's impressive use of physics is put on full display here.
The maps are of a good size and feature a nice mix of indoor and outdoor stretches, some of which are well lit and others of which let players effectively skulk around in the darkness. The pacing, as with most deathmatch modes, is very quick. Unfortunately, as of now, most of the servers running Half-Life 2: Deathmatch are severely lagged, apparently save for some private servers that register low pings. Nevertheless, we were able to get into a few matches to try to get a feel for the action, and through all the lag, the action seemed like it could be fun. Half-Life 2's other weapons, like the submachine gun, shotgun, crossbow, and rocket launcher, still seem like they're plenty effective, even with every player running around strapped with a grav gun. Since the grav gun's "ammunition" consists of big, floating objects that might potentially obscure your view, it doesn't really come across as an overpowered weapon. Still, being able to toss around exploding barrels is nice. Just make sure to toss them before someone blows them up in your face. Also, using the grav gun to throw your enemies' junk right back at them seems like it'll lead to some satisfying kills.
We also quickly set up a server to get both a sense of the available options and a better look at each map. A team deathmatch variant is available, pitting resistance forces against the Combine, and some other basic server-side options can be toggled, such as whether to make stray weapons stay or temporarily disappear upon pickup.
The sudden appearance of Half-Life 2: Deathmatch right on the heels of Half-Life 2 begs the question of why this wasn't included with the original release. The answer seems to be: It probably wasn't ready. Half-Life 2: Deathmatch seems pretty fun, from what we managed to play, but it also mostly seems like a starting point for what could be a much more interesting multiplayer mode with the dedication and support of the game's mod community. To that end, Valve has already announced a mapmaking contest for the game, with thousands of dollars in prizes waiting for those who produce the best results. Likewise, the simultaneous release of the Half-Life 2 SDK, which includes a helpful "wizard" for laying the groundwork for either single-player or multiplayer mods, as well as a nifty 3D model viewer, probably means that the Half-Life 2 maps and mods will start pouring in rather soon.
Community support for the original Half-Life begat Counter-Strike, the now-legendary mod that outlasted Valve's own multiplayer modes by orders of magnitude, in addition to some other very popular mods, like Day of Defeat. As such, the long-awaited release of the Half-Life 2 SDK is an event filled with great promise, and the release of Half-Life 2: Deathmatch is a pleasant surprise that ought to give mod makers some bright ideas.