Frozen, alone, and afraid, the immersion of Black Snow will keep you wondering what lurks in the shadows.
Are you afraid of the dark? If there is one thing to be learned from Black Snow, it’s that you should be. Enter John Matsuda: IT technician trapped in a research facility in the desolate tundra snow-scape of Greenland. Bringing the horror genre back to its roots, Black Snow is a merciless horror Half Life 2 Episode 2 mod, however not without spooky charm. The fact that it’s a mod makes it only that much more impressive, and with trademark Half Life 2 sounds we know and love, it’s hard to tell that it is even a mod.
After a short opening sequence detailing your arrival, the game thrusts you straight into the intrigue of the icy wasteland. The game doesn‘t tell you where to go; instead you are given subtle clues to figure where to go from there. The first clue is found in a new feature added with this mod: books. Walking into the first room of the game (a laboratory of some sorts), the first thing you notice is a book and a small icon indicating that you can read it. It’s a science textbook opened up to a page about thermite, and a general description of what it does - a metal mixture that burns hot enough to melt the door for an escape. Although a bug prevented me from leaving the book interface (luckily with a solution from the mod’s website), I was able to fix it.
Another innovative feature is actually the lack of something basic: weapons. Black Snow uses clues and puzzles to get you from point A to point B, and not always in an obvious way. With this the wandering feels a bit lackluster; the game seems to have little sense of direction. After finding your way through, there is a little bit of backtracking to areas that aren’t always the same as when you left them.
The only enemy in the game is a form of fungus that thrives in the dark. You may notice a cloud of spores “running” at you when you don’t stick to the light, which can only be destroyed by tricking them into coming in the light. The spores can damage you, as well as your character taking damage after prolonged exposure to the outdoors area. One of the few jump scares in the game is the spore cloud‘s attack, sounding like a piano hitting warp speed. When you’re hurt, you must makes use of heating vents throughout the compound to warm you up and get your senses back. The distortion caused by the heat waves in contrast to the howling wind makes these reprieves extremely comforting. Nevertheless, the atmosphere of Black Snow exudes an air of unease, even in the most well lit areas. Reading computer logs and visiting the housing area definitely draws you into the surroundings, between the spooky paintings or unsettling computer backgrounds. The game ended a bit abruptly to what I would have preferred, and I can only hope the next mod by Chromatic Developments is a sequel to this.
Cold and ominous, Black Snow stands out among Half Life mods for me.For an immersive experience, turn up the air conditioner, shut off the lights, and crank up those headphones. Fear and isolation guide your hand as you trudge through the snow and unlock the mystery that hides in the darkness. In the frozen hills of Greenland, is it the ever-present cold, the isolation, or just the pure power of fear that keeps your hair standing on end?
The tense atmosphere is felt throughout the game, but can be assessed in the "story" of no more than 6 - we almost did not know what happened in the lab, and we're waiting for an unexpected end. I expected a different denouement game.