In a dark mountain pass Gordon explores a graveyard and gravekeeper's abandoned hut while escaping both Combine and zombie Headcrab forces. Boneshaker is a Half-Life 2: Episode 2 mod exploring this adventure.
Boneshaker is designed as a tense encounter taking place both in and outdoors, exploring some unique enemy encounter combinations. Players start out with only a crowbar and slowly amass more guns throughout.
The theme of this level is that Gordon is fighting through zombie forces until they stumble upon an abandoned hut. The hut is an old wooden gravekeeper's hut that has been ransacked and repurposed by the Combine to do experiments on zombies. After the hut, they start to see dynamic combinations of Combine and zombies.
For this level many of the encounters are ones not seen in Half-Life 2 or the episodes. I had to customize the behaviors and factions of most enemies in order to get them to behave appropriately to the player and each other. In several areas Combine and Headcrab forces will fight a three-way battle with you and each other. The number of enemies at times also scales depending on your equipment.
One important goal of this level was to set it apart from the graveyard area of Ravenholm in Half-Life 2. In Raveholm you fight alongside Father Grigori and against solely Headcrab zombies, with a strong emphasis on the Gravity Gun. Boneshaker is an isolated experience with tension built upon guns being given to you over time.
The layout of Boneshaker consists of generally wide outdoor areas with dim lighting that forces players to either shoot from lit safety, or explore more of the darkness and find valuables. Indoors, the encounters shift to more tight, cover based shooting. Paths snake around in an S pattern so you see your direct goal easily and early.
When players first enter Boneshaker they see a few things. The only path forward is lined with cobblestone and the zombies are idly walking by at a safe enough distance to see them but not alert them. They start the level with only a crowbar.
Rounding the first corner to the hill players have the opportunity to find a few useful weapons such as the pistol or grenades early by exploring the shrubs and darker corners of the level.
Before reaching the house players are forced to pick up a pistol and some ammo before a fight outside the shack. Once up the hill they see a path leading to the shack and Combine enemies confront the player. A fast zombie and some headcrabs will also join the fight.
These gravestones outside the shack entrance can be used by players to duck under cover from the Combine soldiers. The lamp in the read hides ammo behind it which can be used if the player needs to fall back even further. The fast zombie jumping through this fight necessitates moving around between multiple gravestones to change vantage points.
After the skirmish players can find some rest in the first room of the shack. They see a door they must get to, but it is blocked by computer equipment which leads them to just one path. In this area ammo and health can be found and the players can find an SMG hidden in boxes.
The next few rooms in the shack have tight spaces with one or two Combine to fight off. Cover is plentiful but breakable and these encounters are used to train against the Combine with the SMG and to sprinkle light action into each area.
A slightly bigger encounter is in this next room and players find the shotgun lying in their path. The shotgun can be used to break some of the cover the Combine uses in this area. There is hidden loot in the darker corners of this room.
Players emerge back on the other side of the starting room and can access a Shield station if they are low on health, as well as find some pickups in the boxes. They can find an SMG in this room right on a desk if they missed finding the one earlier.
The last room in the shack is the most gruesome, with many Combine experimenting on the zombies in a makeshift laboratory. As you enter, the Combine turn and attack you and in turn the zombies wake up, making this encounter chaotic. Cover is found all over as is a health station.
Back outside the shack the player starts the escape outside of the graveyard. This area opens up and becomes much less linear than the starting area, allowing players to hop down or around walls and fight or escape enemies from many angles.
In this open area the player starts seeing all the different types of zombies and the gunplay changes from the cover shooting it was before to more run-and-gun through the graveyard and past the looming zombie forces. New combinations of the same enemies are thrown at players.
The path starts to funnel into one as players near the final boss encounter. At this point they start to see the Zombine which chase them relentlessly, and their previously plentiful ammo count starts to diminish to focus on a tense encounter.
Before dropping down the path into the final encounter the player gets one final refill area where they get more ammo and health packs.
In this last area the player has to fend off both Combine and zombie forces with some of the most powerful of each type. The poison zombies, while slow and high of health, throw smaller poison Headcrabs at the player to keep them moving, while the Combine will gun down players and Headcrabs to try and break their flow. After this larger scale fight in an open area with cover the level ends and players can escape at last.