Created as a direct sequel to Half-Life: Opposing Force, and sanctioned by Valve, Prospekt is a fan-made Half-Life title that takes core mechanics from Half-Life 2 and attempts to deliver more of the intense combat and puzzle solving that's synonymous with the rest of the series. As fans of past games, we were curious to see how true this game would stay to the source material, but at the same time, we were wary of what the developer would add to it in order to make it his own. Unfortunately, we were left underwhelmed in both respects and for numerous reasons.
One aspect that didn't fail to impress was how well both the visual style and atmosphere were executed. It takes place in the prison, Nova Prospekt, which has recently come under attack by the Xen and is on a high security alert. The corridors are shadowy and sparse, and Xen corpses and dead security staff are strewn around every corner, seamlessly setting up the inexplicable sense of dread the franchise has come to be known for. The techniques used are akin to some of the most frightening and iconic survival horror titles released over the last 20 years. The main issue we had with the visuals whilst playing was that it can become too dark at times, and this can unnecessarily hinder gameplay. Turn the brightness up a bit, and the foreboding ambience can still be enjoyed.
The objective is scarcely different from any other Half-Life title, with players having to battle through hordes of enemies as well as the security staff at the prison, whilst also having to solve numerous puzzles in order to advance through each segment and reach the end. Finer points concerning the gameplay involve adequate weapon variety, with players having access to a selection of firearms at a surprisingly early stage, ranging from handguns, shotguns, automatic rifles, and eventually the gravity gun. A way in which Prospekt falls short of the standard set by the rest of the series is that the puzzles are much less elaborate and infinitely more self-explanatory. Over the years, Valve has become known for demanding that players think outside the box; especially with the advent of Portal. This pedigree made the considerably weaker puzzle-solving element in Prospekt seem all the more disappointing.
The most disappointing thing about Prospekt is that it can only be made to last just shy of an hour and a half, meaning it falls well short of your typical FPS experience. There is scope for a second play-through for those who are curious enough to listen to the developer commentary whilst playing, but even so, Prospekt doesn't last long enough to stand out among some of the more iconic first-person shooting titles released over the years, and certainly none of its Half-Life cousins.
The story of Prospekt continues where the events of Half-Life: Opposing Force left off, with US marine Adrian Shepherd finding himself in the prison of Nova Prospekt in a one-man fight for survival; presumably sent there by the G-Man in order to assist Gordon Freeman in his fight against the Combine.
The majority of the story is told through the frequent hallucinations Shepherd endures, and the narrative upholds many of the traditions of the series, such as the silent protagonist and relying on general atmosphere and building up tension to keep things as interesting and as suspenseful as possible. The story doesn't have the same sort of quality as you'd want from a game bearing the Half-Life name, as there is much less of an air of mystery than we've seen in previous games; most notably, in the portrayal of the G-Man. In Half-Life 1 and 2, as well as their sequels and expansions, the G-Man provides much more in the way of story, spoon-feeding players small portions of information at a time, making them hungry for more in the process. In Prospekt, he is unfortunately confined to a much smaller role, with only two appearances and minimal dialogue.
Following a vast majority of the same tropes utilised and introduced with Half-Life 2, there also isn't a great deal here that makes Prospekt unique apart from certain aspects of the game's visuals (although the particle effects weren't the best). The moment to moment gameplay experience is limited, and whilst combat was handled in the same vein as any other Half-Life title, the puzzle-solving element falls way short. As such, it's hard to find anything that makes this stand out from the crowd of other shooters gunning for your attention.
Overall, Prospekt is a nice-looking, yet ultimately deficient game in terms of content, lifespan and story, which is what differentiates it from all of the official Half-Life games. The bar is always high with a series like this, and at the end of the day, this one falls short of its source material, and as such it's hard to recommend.