Trying to track down a list of “five game mods you must download right now” is a lot like trying to choose your five top games of all time. Sure, your list might be impressive—maybe even awesome—but you’re still going to get a heap of contenders sobbing in the corner at your refusal to acknowledge their almost-noteworthy existences. And nobody likes bawling boxed titles.
So let that be a warning to you, fun-loving gamer who continues to read this article. I’m covering freeware game modifications this time around—freeware, obviously, because I doubt your average enthusiast is going to risk the wrath of a developer’s fury because he or she is selling blood, sweat, and tears in the form of a $5 game add-on. As well, I’m not just looking at maps, or other whip-dip little tweaks. I’m talking about huge transformations that range from, “making this game playable in the modern era” to “wow, I want to go back and revisit this title because it is now sweet.”
I’m paraphrasing, of course. But you get the idea.
But as I mentioned, narrowing down to a list of five is near-impossible. So if you don’t have an affinity for the Infinity Engine (including Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment), Sins of a Solar Empire, Fallout 3, TIE Fighter/X-Wing Alliance, or Half-Life 2… you might want to sit this one out. Otherwise, let’s get real.
I’m just going to focus on my all-time favorite game, Planescape: Torment, but know that other such tweaks (in the same spirit of those I’m about to mention) exist for other games based on Bioware’s Infinity Engine.
So, where were we? Yes. Planescape: Torment, one of the greatest video games of all time, is practically unplayable on modern gaming systems. If you have the old, disc-based version of the title, you’re pretty much out of luck. And even if you’ve grabbed the latest GoG-based version of the game/installer, you’ll be able to play Planescape… but you’ll hate the low-resolution experience you’ll be forced to endure on your souped-up gaming PC.
So, to fix that, a group of modders have released various tweaks that—for starters—build support for any and all monitor resolutions right into the title. Throw in a litany of tweaks, hacks, and unlocks for buried content within the game’s data files, and you have the makings of a perfect community drive to keep One Of The Greatest Games Ever Produced (capitalization intentional) alive in our hearts, minds, and astral dimensions.
No, I’m not covering two games at once—even though they’re technically the same games or, at least, the same spirit of games. It’s widely understood that Lucasarts’ TIE Fighter is one of the greatest games, if not the greatest game, ever created. It’s an excellent space combat title that puts you in the role of a lowly pilot for the Empire, working your way up through the ranks to harder and crazier missions including, yes, flying alongside Darth Vader himself. Cool, eh?
Unfortunately, this title is old enough to make it damned near impossible to play on a modern system without some wacky kind of virtualization setup in place. And even then, you’re not really getting the best-in-class experience: Your default resolution will look downright ugly on your snazzy big monitor and the game’s graphics… well. They’re a bit dated.
So what do you do? Instead, use your TIE Fighter disc alongside your X-Wing Alliance disc (you did buy both, right?) to essentially perform a total conversation of X-Wing Alliance with TIE Fighter material. Using the newer game’s better engine, you’ll be able to play all your favorite old flights in updated, pretty-looking glory.
If flying around in space isn’t your thing, how about sending other ships around in space and letting your digital pilots sop up the mess that your larger orders create? That’s right. Sins of a Solar Empire is a real-time strategy title that’s a whole heap of fun to play. However, it’s even more fun if you take the requisite steps to geek out your game to maximum levels.
If you’re a Star Wars fan (who isn’t?), be sure to check out the total modification “Star Wars – Requium,” which adds the Alliance and the Empire as playable races within your game. That includes a whole arsenal of new ships (no Death Star, sadly), new elements within the game’s research tree and, yes, even customized music.
But if you’re not a Star Wars fan, that’s ok too. You might want to then check out the conversion package called “Star Trek: Sacrifice of Angels 2.” It goes without saying what kinds of ships, races, and technologies you might experience in this one. Don’t forget about the Borg!
I confess, I never quite got into Fallout 3 myself—my counterpart, Nathan Edwards, thinks that makes me the worst gamer of all time. But if you’re like me, perhaps the total conversion “Cube Experimental” might give you a reason to click that install button one more time. And if you’re a super-fan of the game, well, you’ve already clicked on the “download” button for this extensive mod by now.
So what is Cube Experimental? In short, one of the most talked-about mods for Fallout 3. The general theme of the mod is that you’re stuck in the center of a giant puzzle—a cube, obviously. The goal? Find your way out. And then the real fun starts!
With more than 500 different scripts, brand-new voice acting, and brand-new music, this isn’t just a little series of tweaks and hacks overtop a new map. Cube Experimental is a brand-new experience in itself, and it’s worth your while to check out. I would definitely say that this mod rivals the quality of a typical DLC pack.
Fresh on the heels of my “what the heck is this” recommendation of Cube Experimental for Fallout 3, I bring you Half-Life 2 fans a taste of lunacy all your own. In this case, the total conversion is called, “Dear Esther,” and it’s a complete mind-trip for those used to playing the game all normal, pew-pew-the-bad-guys style.
It’s difficult to really summarize this modification in words—you’ll understand once you install it for yourself. Dear Esther is more of an interactive narrative than anything else, and this modification’s excellent combination of voiceover storytelling and ingenious level design does much to weave a player through your character’s tragic tale. Many consider this mod to be one of the more unique transformations of a game ever created, and it’s frequently found at near the top of many “must-download” mod lists. Give it an install and you’ll soon see why.