Sven Co-op is a Co-operative mod for the original Half-Life. It’s a simple premise: it’s Half-Life, but with your buddies. No competitive gameplay. No score streaks. Nothing fancy. Just play Half-Life with your friends. Now available as a standalone game on Steam, it’s the perfect time to get involved.
You can share ammo with your co-op buddies, you can “boost” players up to secret areas or hard to reach areas by crouching down and letting them jump on you (a “quirk” of the Half-Life engine gleefully exploited by map designers). You can also heal your team mates with a medic kit that you all spawn with. You can gradually heal your team mates’ lost health, or sacrifice half of the med kit to revive dead team members. It’s a secret hidden treasure trove of untapped level design talent in the Half-Life community.
Sven Co-op was my introduction to mapping, to level design. As a mod design, the developers of the mod heavily encouraged mappers to pick up their tools and get to work, because with the release of each version, of the mod brought with it the possibility that your map will be incorporated as an official map of the mod. My skill was far off some of the other custom efforts, but I had an absolute blast throwing my attempts in there. In fact, if you search hard enough, they’re still hosted somewhere online.
Regardless, I spent many long, lazy teenage summers playing Sven Co-op, a game which extended my favourite game of all time well beyond its shelf life, and I was making maps for it way into 2007 at which point I pretty much left it alone. I’ve dipped my toes back into Sven Co-op a few times over the years, but now is a great time to do so. Bringing Sven Co-op as a standalone game to Steam will boost the player count to immense levels for the first time in years. And even though there’s always been a hardcore fanbase playing the game, I’m incredibly excited to play it again with brand new people. The great thing about Sven is it comes bundled with hundreds of maps.
Connecting to some servers last week was like nothing had changed. I was thrown into a chaotic blur of sound and colour with other humans. My team mates were dying at a comically fast rate, bullets were covering the screen and grenades, explosions, arcs of electricity were spraying across the screen in front of me. Anachronistically placed enemies in mildly amateurish levels – Yes, I was back in Sven Co-op. And with that, you are letting yourself into a largely hit or miss situation. I love this mod, but if you’re a newcomer, all of this seems like an insane rollercoaster with screaming, bright colours and general anarchy, and sometimes you’ll be dumped on to a server with unhelpful team mates (although, gladly, Sven Co-op has enjoyed one of the most positive gaming communities ever in my experience, so this is rare) or perhaps you’ll end up on a map that was only intended for a small handful of players, yet there you are with 16 other Sven Co-op fiends trying to make sense of a literal labyrinth. You might scratch your head at all the features, how they work, why they are included, and exactly which key binding does what. You’ll be baffled as to why a USMC marine ripped right out of Aliens is fighting alongside a huge walking mushroom and the Beta version of Gordon Freeman and other assorted Half-Life/pop culture figures. You’ll be mildly bewildered by all of these tiny little things but when it really comes down to it, it’s a mod that leans so heavily on level design, it’s hard not to get involved in it.
The official maps bundled with this release are of a wide array of crazy, from your very standard Half-Life rip off maps, to the more serious Afrika Corps maps (a kind of Co-op Day of Defeat) or the bonkers yet impeccably well made Toonrun maps. There’s even a set of maps set inside Tetris. However, it’s not all bright and shiny. To the newcomer, Sven Co-op is a confusing tangled web of spaghetti and confused design. It also doesn’t inform the player at any point in any of its finer details. There have been huge changes to NPCs and the like that are simply not documented well mid-game, and you’ll usually rely on the kindness of Public Server strangers to inform you, but that’s part of the charm. In my experience, Sven Co-op has always been an incredibly social experience, and I’ve found myself befriending total strangers on servers just because we had a complete blast on a maze map. You’ll find yourself opening up way more in-game than you would in Counter Strike where you’re more likely to receive racist abuse than anything constructive.
All in all, it’s absolutely fantastic – still. Download Sven Co-op now. You’ll barely know what’s happening, but somehow, someway, you’ll be swept up with your team mates in a crazy barrage of yelling, explosions, colour and sound. Sven Co-op is a welcome and beloved addition to the vast chapter in PC gaming known as the immortal Half-Life and I’m happy its received the boost in player count that this latest version will bring.