Staff Editorials

The Best in free PC games and mods: February 2013
Posted: 06.03.2013 11:13 by Simonkey75 Comments: 3
February is always an odd little month in the gaming calendar, and this months mods uploads have been no different. Little of note seems to be released while everyone waits with baited breath for the avalanche of games all delayed to March to avoid releasing at the same time as last yearís Call of Duty. The only exceptions seem to be when publishers know they have a turkey on their hands and think they can quietly dump them on to the market without anyone noticing (more on that later).

So February is always a good time to do a bit of hard drive spring cleaning, and if youíre like me and you download a lot of gaming odds and ends youíll rapidly confront two truths: one, that there is no such thing as too much disk space and two, that even in 2013 it is still entirely possible for things to install themselves in Windows without leaving any way of getting the damn thing back off again. As such, my hard drive is now littered with more pointless pieces of broken code than Aliens: Colonial Marines.

Topical gaming gaggery aside, and having freed up a huge chunk of storage by the simple act of uninstalling Max Payne 3, letís see if we canít start filling it up to the brim again with the pick of this monthís modding uploads on Strategy Informer.


SimMars

You may have seen in the news that stupendously rich and possibly lacking in marbles millionaire Dennis Tito has announced a plan to send two human passengers on a flyby of Mars in 2018. Strangely enough, despite having paid the Russians $20 million in 2001 for a trip up to the International Space Station, Tito hasnít volunteered himself for the jaunt. Which Iím sure has nothing to do with the massive doses of cosmic radiation the astronauts will be subjected to.

Instead, he suggests the two seats should be taken by a husband and wife, which leaves you wondering why they donít just crowbar in enough space for a younger brother and a gruff pilot and go the whole hog on trying to recreate the origin of the Fantastic Four.

All debates on the necessity of manned space flight aside, this does seem like a spectacularly pointless suicide mission, not least because we can find out far more about Mars from the comfort of our own PC screens. Hell, we can shape the entire planet surface to our will over the course of a 1000 years with some judicious right-clicking thanks to SimMars, a mod for SimCity 4 that chucks out most of Maxis own game content and moves the whole thing over to the red planet.

Itís a couple of years old now, but a.) it allows me to write a topical intro paragraph and b.) itís very, very good. You can grab the mod itself here, and donít forget to also download the region pack and for good measure the Terraform 1000 add-on.


S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl L.E.G.E.N.D.A.R.Y.

I must admit, I never got on with any of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. titles. Despite them being the very definition of "a PC game" in their ambition, scope and rough edges, I always found them to be about as much fun as being set upon by a pack of mutant time-warping canines while rapidly dying of radiation poisoning. Possibly because thatís what seemed to happen to me on every playthrough.

However, probably because of those aforementioned rough edges, the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series is like catnip to the modding community, having received more full-scale facelifts than Joan Rivers. The latest in a long line of huge mega-mods for Shadow of Chernobyl is L.E.G.E.N.D.A.R.Y. (thank God for copy and paste), which bundles together enhanced shaders, stunning texture packs, more weapons and suits than you can shake a stick at and the venerable Oblivion Lost system, making the game into one pretty-as-hell free-roaming enormo-world RPG-esque thing. Itís even tempted me into giving it another crack, despite the whole canine/radiation/death issue.

Fully told it will take up 5 GB of that hard drive space we were discussing earlier, and as such the download is separated up into parts one, two, three, four, five and six. Grab them all before extracting and then take another spin through the glorious nuclear wastelands of the Ukraine.


Torchlight II SynergiesMOD

The PC community seems to have a lot of love for Torchlight II, mainly because itís not Diablo III. But comparisons with Blizzardís long-awaited disappointment tend to overshadow just how much Runic Gamesí effort gets right in the ARPG genre, and with no little charm along the way.

Not least of those things is the fact that you can mod the living daylights out of it, with total conversion SynergiesMOD being a shiny example. Itís like an all-you-can-eat buffet of loot Ďem up fun, adding in new elite and hero monsters in their hundreds, along with more dungeons, more dragons, more weapons and armour, more quests and even a new Necromancer class.

Basically if you like Torchlight II and you want more of it, then SynergiesMOD has that moreness covered, and thatís even before the huge amount of content still to be added in the future. You can grab the mod itself here on Strategy Informer, and a low population version is also on hand.

The ďgood luck fixing thatĒ modding award for 2013

If you read any of the gaming press - and since youíre perusing a column devoted to PC mods Iím guessing you probably do - youíll have been hard pressed to miss the flaming train wreck that was Aliens: Colonial Marines.

With terrible review scores (it garnered a miserable 4.0 in Chris Capelís review for Strategy Informer), unrepresentative demos, accusations of dodgy working and financial practices and general recriminations all round, whatís clear is that the poor souls who bought it and helped it be the number one selling title in the UK the other week have been served a stinker of a game.

Although the PC version is generally held to be the best version, which is a bit like saying if youíre going to drown it might as well be on the Titanic, this sort of botched mess is a red rag to the modding community (see S.T.A.L.K.E.R. above).

And already weíre seeing attempts to rectify some parts of Aliens: CM, with THX555 providing us with mods in both DX10 and DX11 (with ďsweet FXĒ no less) versions. These promise to improve the lighting, weapon reflections and muzzle flash, as well as enabling bloom, MSAA and other behind the scenes tweaks.


I suspect these will be the first in a long line of efforts from the modding community to salvage something from the game, although I canít help thinking thereís a hefty element of lipstick to pig application to it all.

Thatís all from me for this month, a smaller selection than usual but hopefully some interesting modding morsels to tide you over. Next month I fully expect to be swamped by a tidal wave of Crysis 3 visual mods because if there is one rule in PC modding, itís that no game is ever pretty enough. Until then, keep your eye on the Strategy Informer Downloads section for more free games, mods, patches, maps and more.
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Comments

By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Mar 06, 2013
SirRoderick
Excellent roundup! I am definitely grabbing that Mars mod
By nocutius (SI Elite) on Mar 06, 2013
nocutius
That Stalker mod looks interesting I'll try to remember it the next time I replay the game.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Mar 08, 2013
herodotus
I agree Noc, the "STALKER" Mod does look good. I've only ever really used the "Complete 2009" mod for both the orignal and "Call of Pripyat" before.

Interesting to note many mods on the way for "A:CM", as so far the only way to improve the visuals is through the Nvidia and AMD 3D Display controls (basically maxing everything out. Unfortunately I don't think any mod yet will improve it to the point of looking close to the PC demo, but with time that may come.

As for SimMars - might have to re-install "Sim City 4" and investigate it, if I can drag myself away from the "Fall of Kobol" mod for "SoaSE:Rebellion".
Going through a real "BSG" phase at the moment, as I do periodically. I think "Dune" is next on the list though, as I've just started reading "Sisterhood of Dune", along with Antony Beevor's "Berlin" to satisfy my "Achtung Panzer" thirst.