Gaming classics are often remembered fondly, but rarely played. The advance of computer technology can make a game that’s just five or ten years old feel almost unplayable. Graphics that were once stunning become intolerably ugly, interfaces that felt responsive seem archaic and complex, and gameplay mechanics that were fresh begin to feel worn out.
Most gamers give up and move on, but some re-invent older titles, adding new features and graphics. Let’s look at four titles that have been given a new lease on life thanks to ambitious mods.
You probably forgot about Homeworld 2. The original was one of the most inventive strategy games released for the PC, and the sequel simply couldn’t live up to the expectations of fans. It wasn’t a bad game – in fact, the core engine was good – but the story felt stale and the gameplay made no great leap forward.
Not everyone gave up on the game easily, however. Graphically it was stunning, retaining the style of the original while upping detail. There was also heavier use of capital ships with multiple and more complex weapons. These ideas have been heavily revised and expanded and then released as the Homeworld 2 Complex Mod.
As the name implies, Homeworld 2 Complex is…complex. There’s a ton of ships, new rules for ship crews and officers, an expanded resource model and much, much more. You may have some trouble getting into the game, but it’s all worthwhile when you engage in combat and enjoy the spectacle of watching two flotillas engage in combat. The developers of the mod are obviously huge nerds – the attention to detail is staggering. Even if you lose (and in your first few games, you probably will) the fireworks are worth your time.
Fallout 3 is a game that, in my opinion, hasn’t aged well despite being just few years old. I enjoyed it when I first played it, but even back then it felt a bit hollow, as if Bethesda had simply modded Fallout 3 into Oblivion. There was none of the intensity and desperation of the first two games.
The Wanderer’s Edition mod helps to change that. It is far from the only survivalist mode developed for Fallout 3, but it’s the best out of the buffet of options. The pace of leveling has been changed, overall skill points have been reduced and balance adjustments have been made to tone-down some overpowered skills. Combat has been heavily revised to offer a more FPS-like experience.
My favorite additions, however, are those directly relating to survival. Ammo is less common and has weight, so you can’t turn yourself into a mobile arms depot. Taking heavy damage now has long-term effects, giving combat more consequence. There are new survival needs like food, and radiation is far deadlier.
All of this does make the game more difficult, but it’s not unapproachable. Instead, the main effect is to give the game a slower and more dreadful feel. Installing the Wanderer’s Edition forces players to give the Wasteland the respect it deserves.
Often times a mod that heavily or fully converts a game does so because of issues with the original. It’s rare for a mod to not only build on an already excellent game but also manage to (arguably) improve on it.
That’s what Fall From Heaven manages to do with Civilization 4. This is a conversion of that already excellent title into a fantasy-based strategy game. Think Disciples or Heros of Might And Magic with a focus on macro-management.
Everything has been thought of. There’s a full complement of new civilizations, units, building and scenarios. But it doesn’t stop there. Gameplay mechanics have also been revised to fit the setting. The game revolves around an “Armageddon Counter” which is raised by negative events (warfare, evil wonders) and lowered by good events (meeting certain goals, good wonders). Each step up the chain towards Armageddon causes the land to become darker and more corrupt.
The developers attempted to make Fall From Heaven a stand-alone game, but the project never gained firm financial footing. But don’t worry. The mod is in healthy state and essentially “finished.” There’s a word not often used to describe a mod!
Freespace 2 Source Code Project [No Longer Available]
Freespace 2 is one of my favorite games of all time. I spent many a night in front of my computer, Sidewinder joystick in hand, headphones at maximum volume. The game managed a sense of immersion that few games have ever provided.
Unfortunately it wasn’t a sales hit, so the series was left at two games despite a cult following. The developer, Volition, wasn’t deaf to its fans. Since the developer couldn’t fund another title in the franchise they instead released the source code. It was a surprising development – the game had been on store shelves for only three years.
This means you can play Freespace 2 for free. But wait, there’s more! Downloading the game from the Source Code Project grants you access to a slew of graphical enhancements as well as a host of mods with additional campaign missions, most of them based of popular sci-fi shows like Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek.
Space combat games aren’t exactly common these days. Despite its age, Freespace 2 is still the best title in the genre that runs on a modern computer. If you haven’t played it, you should – and if you did play it back in 1999, you should give it another go.
Obviously, all of the great mods that have given games a second life can’t be condensed into a single article. There are a lot of them out there. Others that come to mind are Balanced Annihilation (now based off the Spring game engine, so arguably no longer a mod), Desert Combat and Multi Theft Auto.
What about you? Was one of your old favorites revitalized thanks to a mod that updated, improved or completely changed the gameplay? Sound off in the comments!