Transmissions: Element 120 is a standalone ‘expansion’ to Half Life 2, one that actually does a surprisingly good job emulating Valve’s knack for smart and creative level designs. Note that I wrote ‘expansion’ in quotations. Narrative wise there’s very little to go off of, you wake up in a rail car, find a crowbar, and begin to trek your way throughout the very short but sweet campaign. You’ll find QR codes painted onto walls that you scan to give you cryptic clues on how to progress as well as a few clipboards with hand written notes for you to read. I would have posted a spoiler warning of sorts but there really isn’t a whole lot to spoil. The game is only slightly more narrative heavy than say Doom (1998), where your only true motivation is getting from point A to point B. Even the final moments of the game feature dialogue ripped right from Half Life 2, and the ending is so abrupt I was holding my breath waiting for the next sequence to load before being greeted by credits.
Transmissions is best experienced for its gameplay, not its narrative. And that’s perfectly fine, especially since it does gameplay so well. Levels are properly paced, never holding your hand as you make your way through them but at the same time guiding you with clever geometry and the ever so brilliant ‘Aha!’ moments Half Life is known for. And there truly is no better ‘Aha!’ moment in the game then when you pick up Transmissions’ signature toy: The Zero Point Energy Projector. Is it more or less the Rocket Launcher from Quake III? Yes. Does that make it less fun? Hell no. Transmissions may not feature Half Life 2’s claim to fame, but the ZPEP is a worthy stand in, essentially allowing you to ‘rocket jump’ through the environments to solve puzzles or just dodge enemies. And if you get bored of the vertical mobility you can just shot the ball of energy right at your foes like the aforementioned Rocket Launcher. It’s not limitied by ammunition thankfully, but its charge is connected to your suit’s power, so spamming it is never really a good idea.
Aside from that all the elements and toys of Half Life 2 are more or less identical in use and application, as are the enemies apart from a few standout examples like the turrets and some of the Headcrab Zombies. The only shortcoming of the campaign aside from its narrative is its final battle against several Striders. It’s fun at first, but quickly becomes a slog due to their invulnerability to any weapon other than the actual Rocket Launcher. What began as a clever and intimidating fight became a boring and frustrating scavenger hunt for ammunition.
Narrative and climactic shortcoming aside Transmissions: Element 120 is a game that is absolutely worth the time of fans of clever FPS design and of course Half Life. Besides, it’s really hard to beat the low-low price of free.