Reflection: A Swiss Cheese Halloween Pt. 1Written on the 31st of October 2022, edited on 25th of Feburary 2023
Author: Swiss_Cheese9797 and friends
Date: October, 2001
Long ago, when modding was still kind of a novelty, when the Half-Life community was much younger and we were all still awaiting Half-Life 2, a very crude yet charming and memorable mod came out. You see, there had been holiday models and other themed sprays or levels, but this mod was probably the first full fledged Halloween single player experience (at least in Half-Life), making it rather unique for its time.
Swiss Cheese Halloween arrived to terrify us all over 21 years ago back in 2001. It originally started off as a standalone map with a few models, but the following year a couple new and improved versions of the mod were released that included a custom full singleplayer campaign and many more sounds and models. It was renamed to, Swiss Cheese Halloween 2002 with versions going up to 2.1.0 and there being a "multiplayer" release. Why the name Swiss Cheese Halloween? Well it was named after its creator swiss_cheese9797, who is still active today.
So what was my own experience with the mod? Swiss Cheese Halloween was another mod my father grabbed when it was still pretty fresh from the net or a PC Gamer disc. I remember us playing quite a bit and that we liked it so much we were anticipating the sequel that would come out on the Source (Half-Life 2) engine! Even had the official wallpaper on Desktop. More on that when we get to Pumpkin Night, but with the introduction out of the way, let’s get on to the mod!
Story & Gameplay
The story is this: You and your friend (who are presumably in their late teens) are getting ready to go Trick or Treating. You start off your adventure by gawking at the pinup in your room with your friend (like any typical Halloween) and talk about your silly little fantasy with the pinup model. "When hell freezes over", says your friend. Anyways, you go "Trick or Treating" which ends up with you visiting an abandoned home in the block. You enter the basement to find an eerie book that illuminates the room, and your life changes forever...
Our hero, an adult man who still Trick and Treats.
How does it play? After a quick camera flyby and some text banter between your friend, you are given control and are supposed to "Trick or Treat" as stated above which basically translates to "explore the level". You can visit every house in the neighborhood, with most being decorated and even having interactive garage doors, which is actually really cool for the era. Sadly the houses are pretty lacking, being mostly empty and low detail, though some have the TV active with a cute reference to some classic movies like Halloween, Scream, etc. Your friend mentions you need to visit his place, which I highly recommend you do, as his father apparently has a (probably illegal) arsenal which includes AR2 grenades and a crossbow gun. Like any responsible gun owner, your friend’s father leaves all of his weapons neatly laid out in his room on the floor of his unlocked house. You might miss the guns as they’re upstairs and the baseball bat, your first weapon, is downstairs.
This is one of the first problems with the mod, a clear lack of direction (aka where to go), as finding the house is time consuming since it doesn’t stick out. And on top of it we have some weird choices, such as sampling the legendary South Park Halloween episode and making it play everytime you fire the crossbow. It’s funny at first, but gets old rather quick. It should’ve played after a successful kill every now and then imho. At least there is another sample from the same episode that plays at more appropriate instances. The weapon models also mismatch, not a huge deal breaker, but still pretty strange and off putting.
After this, you go around and interact with the "trick or treaters" who also happen to be adult men, which I guess means in this town there is no age limit on who can get candy. You also can grab "candy" for your armor from house patios, a neat and clever reskin. Eventually you’ll find the abandoned house as it stands out. Using your bat, you break in and find in the basement an evil book that unleashes horror. The game never really explains what is in the book, why it happens, or even what the monsters (demons?) are. Things just happen, you accept it, kill them, and uh, get sucked into a giant worm hole in the neighborhood. Yeah, not really sure what happens after this point...
There goes the neighborhood...
You essentially go on a tour de force of classic horror and Halloween set-pieces, from corn fields to haunted castles with labs. You also fight an equally cliched but amusing army that includes ghosts, vampires, etc. To tell you every place you visit and enemy you fight would spoil the fun. Though do be warned, the corn fields (the level after the neighborhood) is one of the hardest and probably least fun levels of the whole mod. After that it does get better, but the mod is very old and janky, so no one will get upset if you cheat a little to beat it.
A haunted castle, oooooo spooky!
If you want the ending spoiled keep reading, otherwise skip this section:
You eventually make your way to "Hell", yeah, that "Hell". It was just a simple blood river boat ride away, who knew? In Hell after some tricky platforming, you end up in a pretty memorable and creepy arena in which you fight, uh, Satan? Not really sure, but it’s some kind of final boss. Instead of defeating him, you need to destroy Hell’s lava flow conviently placed in this arena. Doing this causes Hell to become blue, apparently "freezing". Dash to the portal and you win. Your character is rewarded by being on a private island with the woman of his dreams, the very one you gawked in the beginning. Hell really did freeze over after all. The game rolls credits and thanks you for playing but you are free to roam around in this perpetual limbo until you quit. With no food or way of survival, one has to wonder, was any of it real? Did the player die and they are witnessing a NDE? Who knows! Well except Swiss_cheese himself.
Dreams do come true!
Let's wrap it all up
And that’s Swiss Cheese Halloween! It’s not an epic generation defining grandiose mod, but it definitely has cemented its place in history and left most of us with fun memories. This mod’s legacy still lives on today as it and the sequel were both played by some popular streamers such as Vinny from Vinesauce. We at Frag-Net have also done a lot over the years from finding lost builds to re-sharing documents and pictures from Web-Archive and our backups into a big archive for all to easily download (see the above links). We also like to give a shoutout to Phillip from PlanetPhillip for giving us his mod collection, as it contained the missing 1.0 build archive.
Would I recommend it even today though? Yeah, I say why not. It’s pretty janky and difficult in some spots, so cheating might be required, but as long as you don’t take it too seriously and remember the age of the mod, it’s funny, cute, and a classic.
Some parts look fairly nice.
One more thing, I mentioned there was a mutliplayer version. It seems at some point it was split off from the main mod, perhaps due to networking optimizations lacking from Spirit of Half-Life. Regardless it includes a custom level or two straight from the mod and is practically a reskin of standard Half-Life Deathmatch. If there are some differences I’m hard pressed to find them, though it does include a custom game logic library. This version of the mod I would not recommend except as a curiosity. Keep in mind, if you play version 2.0, you have both Singleplayer and Multiplayer, it was split off in the last release.
What happened afterwords? Well Swiss_Cheese was moving onto the Source engine, even making promotional material. Now being quite frank, a lot of modders that switched engines couldn’t quite make the graphical leap, resulting in pretty crummy and amateurish levels, models, etc. However, Swiss_Cheese was ready to flip the script.
Bet you weren’t expecting this.
Image curtsy of Swiss_Cheese via ModDB.
Part 2 coming October 2023...
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