Mod Name: Afraid of Monsters – Director’s Cut
Requirements: Half Life 1 (Installed)
Afraid of Monsters is one of those old classics that really seems to stick in the back of everyone’s mind and yet has alluded me for the longest time. Indeed, this was my first time playing. Drugs are an unusual plot device to use when it comes to the realm of supernatural or horrific story archs, but believe me, not only does it work here it excels with flying… erm, “colors”. I was astonished to find out that Mr. Rumpel was 12-14 years old when he made this mod. After you play it, wrap your mind around that for a second. You still alive? Alright, let’s talk about Afraid of Monsters and why its on my list of some of the best horror mods ever.
It starts off with you, one David Leatherhoff, sitting in a bathroom in a shady and abandoned (how friendly) hospital titled Markland. You start to lose your nerve as you notice an (enormous) bottle of pills on the counter, and that’s when the mod kids off, going from conventional weirdness to downright insanity in a way that Cronenberg only can. The first game play sequence has you following red pills through pitch darkness, as straying off course kills you or scares the living daylights out of you. In pitch darkness you follow this abstract and symbolic path of red pills and dots, like Pacman if he lived in Hell, to reach and unconventional and un named goal. Along the way there are little dots and visions of the past, future, and some pitfalls and long winding hallways filled with blood, no down a nod to The Shining–a nod from a freaking twelve year old.
After you escape Pacman’s own limbo you find yourself back in Markland and it is here where the game either excels, or falls to pieces, depending on how you like to play your horror games. It is much like the Silent Hill series in that 95% of the doors are “Locked. How strange.”, and that the last 5% will lead you to either where you’ll go later or where you need to go now. A door is locked, find another one that isn’t, get a key, unlock the locked door, get a flashlight inside, now both doors are locked and its time to move on to the next hallway. Rinse, repeat. I think this method of unusual level design provides tension and plays at your nerves (There is NO where to hide, every room has a small purpose then closes down permanently.)
Can’t see much–But they can see you.
I like horror that builds tension through a story. Making you doubt the narrator, the antagonist, your “friends”, and even the main goal in and of itself. This is why games like Silent Hill 2 or Dark Corners of the Earth completely drive home for me, and why I enjoyed Afraid of Monsters so much. AoM has a narration that is rather sparce on story (Indeed, one can even say that a “story” is not here at all. Its merely an abstraction of guilt, fear, addiction and panic blended into one 3D media) but nonetheless AoM succeeds in scaring you witless through brilliant methods. Mind games, visual tricks, wonderful art work and symbolism and a great use of lighting on such an ancient engine. You’ll very rarely encounter the roller coaster-esque silliness of jump scares of on rails moments here. In fact, AoM even one ups Silent Hill in this regard. That series spams monsters and fog for fear, AoM sticks you in a bright white hallway but even makes you doubt its genuineness. Behind the glaze of drugs and metaphor could be the walls of Hell itself. The answers are all there in the “story”, just depends on how close you look.
That is not to say that AoM is perfect. It is far from perfect in the game play department, often mimicing my own juvenile mistakes in my early modding scene. There are some key platforming moments in this game that drove me to nearly tear my hair out. Planks that would give way, dropping you on another plank that was 1 inch away from a pitfall. Level design can also be woefully unclear, myself requiring a FAQ in order to pass most of the game not due to answers, but merely a finger pointing me in the right direction to figure it out myself. This is due in part to the dark visuals, HL1 lighting issues, lack of a narration and unclear and often abstract level design.
AoM is a pretty short mod and will set you back 4-5 hours if you get stuck like I did, but it is truly worth playing. Rarely will you ever play something as unique as this. The atmosphere, immersion, premise and direction is phenomenally spooky but the lack of a coherent narrative will turn more conventional horror/mystery fans off. I put Experimental up there for a reason. AoM is difficult, it is abstract, it is Cronenberg-esque in its weirdness and buried symbolism but it is also truly rewarding and creepy. Its on my top ten horror mod list for sure, but in the lower part of it due to the above frustrations and constraints. Should you play it? Yes. But you should go in prepared, have a FAQ, and keep an open mind. If you don’t do good with symbolism or unconventional, bigger-picture cut stories, I recommend you stay away just to save yourself from the migraine you might get. But if you’re good with this kind of horror like me, its worth the playthrough without doubt–bugs and all.