Rock, Paper, Shotgun - email@example.com (Graham Smith)
The road not traveled is uninteresting to me when the road we are> travelling is winding, densely populated and has no speed limit. (The road I’m talking about is videogames.) That didn’t stop me being intrigued to find out more about Prospero via the latest episode of Valve Time Database. Prospero was one of two game’s Valve were working on when the company was founded in 1996, and Valve Time Database is a series of short YouTube videos detailing elements of Valve’s universe of games.
Episode 3 contains previously unreleased screenshots of the never released game, along with quotes from Half-Life writer Marc Laidlaw. I think> the information is new, but either way it’s entertaining and embedded below.
Jul 7, 2014
Every week, we publish a classic PC Gamer review from the '90s or early 2000s. This week, Ben Griffin provides context and commentary followed by the full, original text of our Half-Life 2 review, published in the November 2004 issue of PC Gamer UK. More classic reviews here.
What more can be said about Half-Life 2? Jim Rossignol's words below still do a fine job of summing up just why the world got worked up over a singleplayer shooter. November 2004 was a standout month for PC gaming, and indeed PC Gamer: a 96% for Valve's opus, 95% for Rome: Total War to a 95%, an 89% FIFA 2005, and Shade: Wrath of Angels with a, er, 59%.
But the game we called 'messianic' was all that mattered that month, and indeed, that year. Not only did it kick off Valve's (eventually) world-conquering Steam service, but it courted criminals too. After FBI involvement and a concerted effort from Valve's community, the stolen Half-Life 2 code was returned several anxious months later, but not after a making dear old Gabe sweat through a heavily delayed development schedule. Could this be the official birth of Valve time?
And Half-Life 2 still matters. Just shy of a decade on, memories linger in the collective conscious. The gravity gun. The hoverboat. Striders. Dog. Ravenholm, to which we definitely do not go. The game left an indelible mark on its landscape, and not only in terms of those iconic moments. Underneath it all, the Source engine gave modders and developers a good platform on which to base their game. It's still being used today albeit in a heavily modified form in Respawn's multiplayer shooter, Titanfall.
So there it is, one of the greatest PC games in history. Here's our original review in full.
Half-Life 2 review
It was all in that moment when I just sat back and laughed. I couldn t believe it was quite this good. I chuckled in muddled disbelief, expectations utterly defied. My nervous fingers reloaded the level, knowing that I had to see that breathtaking sequence one more time. It was then that I knew for certain: Valve had surpassed not only themselves, but everyone else too. Half-Life 2 is an astounding accomplishment. It is the definitive statement of the last five years of first-person shooters. Everything else was just a stopgap.
Half-Life 2 is a near perfect sequel. It takes almost everything that worked from Half-Life and either improves on it, or keeps it much the same. But that simple summation undersells how the Valve team have approached this task. Half-Life 2 is a linear shooter with most of the refinements one would expect from years of work, but it is also a game of a higher order of magnitude than any of the previous pretenders to the throne. The polish and the stratospheric height of the production values mean that Half-Life 2 is a magnificent, dramatic experience that has few peers.
It would be madness for me to spoil this game by talking about the specific turn of events, so spoilers are going to be kept to a minimum. We re going to talk about general processes and the elements of style and design that make Half-Life 2 such an energising experience. Key to this is the way in which Gordon s tale is told. Once again we never leave his perspective. There are no cutscenes, no moment in which you are anything but utterly embedded in Gordon s view of the world. Everything is told through his eyes. And what a story it is. Gordon arrives at the central station at City 17 a disruptive and chilling dystopia. And from there? Well, that would be telling. This is not the contemporary America that Gordon seemed to be living in during the original Half-Life. The events of Black Mesa have affected the whole world. The crossover with Xen has meant that things have altered radically, with hyper-technology existing alongside eastern bloc dereliction.
The world is infested with head-crab zombies and the aliens that were once your enemies now co exist amongst the oppressed masses. This very European city is populated by frightened and desperate American immigrants, and sits under the shadow of a vast, brutalist skyscraper that is consuming the urban sprawl with crawling walls of blue steel. It s a powerful fiction. City 17 is one of the most inventive and evocative game worlds we ve ever seen. The autocratic and vicious behaviour of the masked Overwatch soldiers immediately places you in a high-pressure environment. People look at you with desperate eyes, just waiting for the end to their pain, an end to the power of the mysterious Combine. Who are they? Why are you here? Who are the masterminds behind this tyranny? The questions pile up alongside the bodies.
Half-Life 2 isn t big on exposition, but the clues are there. You re thrust into this frightening near-future reality and just have to deal with it. Your allies are numerous, but they have their own problems. Your only way forward is to help them. And so you do, battling your way along in this relentless, compelling current of violence and action, gradually building up a picture of what has happened since Black Mesa. The Combine, the military government that controls the city in a boot-stamping-face kind of way, are a clear threat, but quite how they came to be and what their purposes are become aching problems. Once again Gordon remains silent, listening to what he is told so that you can find those answers for yourself.
But even with Gordon s vaguely sinister silence (something that is transformed into a subtle joke by the game s characters) there are reams of dialogue in Half-Life 2. It is spoken by bewilderingly talented actors and animated with almost magical precision. Alyx, Eli, Barney and Dr Kleiner are delightful to behold, but they only tell part of the story. There are dozens of other characters, each with their own role to play. And each one is a wondrous creature. They might be blemished, even scarred, with baggy eyes and greasy hair, but you can t tear your eyes away. People, aliens and even crows, have never seemed quite so convincing in a videogame. Doom 3 s lavish monsters are more impressive, but Half-Life 2 s denizens are imbued with life. More importantly, they offer respite. Half-Life 2 s world is a high-bandwidth assault on the senses that seldom lets up. That moment when you see a friendly face is a palpable relief. A moment of safe harbour in a world of ultraviolence. As Gordon travels he is aided by the citizens of City 17 and the underground organisation that aims to fight the oppressors. Their hidden bases are, like the characters who inhabit them, hugely varied an abandoned farm, a lighthouse, a canyon scrapyard and an underground laboratory each superbly realised.
It is this all-encompassing commitment to flawless design that makes Half-Life 2 so appealing. Even without the cascade of inventiveness that makes up the action side of events, the environments become a breathtaking visual menagerie. Cracked slabs and peeling paint, future-graffiti and mossy slate, tufts of wild grass and flaking barrels, shattered concrete and impenetrable tungsten surfaces City 17 and its surrounding landscape make you want to keep exploring, just to see what might be past the next decaying generator or mangled corpse. Whether you find yourself in open, temperate coastline or mired in terrifying technological hellholes, Half-Life 2 presents a perfect face. The first time you see ribbed glass blurring the ominous shape of a soldier on the other side, or any time that you happen to be moving through water, you will see next-generation visuals implemented in a casual, capable manner. Half-Life 2 doesn t have Doom 3 s groundbreaking lighting effects, but objects and characters still have their own real-time shadows and the level design creates a play of light and dark that diminishes anything we ve seen in other games. The very idea that people have actually created this world by hand seems impossible, ludicrous. The detritus in the back of a van, the rubbish that lies in a stairwell it all seems too natural to have come about artificially. Add to this the split-second perfection of the illustrative music, as well as the luscious general soundscape, and you have genuinely mind-boggling beauty.
But these virtual environments are little more than a stage on which the action will play out. And what jaw-dropping, mind-slamming action that is. What s tough to convey in words, or even screenshots, is just how much impact the events of combat confer. This is a joyous, kinetic, action game. The concussive sound effects, combined with the physical solidity of weapons, objects, enemies and environment, make this a shocking experience. Each encounter is lit up with abrupt and impressively brutal effects. Explosions spray shrapnel and sparks, bullets whack and slam with devastating energy. The exploding barrel has never been such a delight. You think that you ve seen exploding barrels before, but no: these impromptu bombs, like everything else in the game, are transformed by the implementation of revelatory object physics. Unlike previous games, the object physics in Half-Life 2 are no longer a visual gimmick they are integral to the action and, indeed, the very plot.
Gordon can pick up anything that isn t bolted down and place, drop or hurl it anywhere you choose. Initially this consists of little more than shifting boxes so that you can climb out of a window, but gradually tasks increase in complexity. Puzzles, ever intuitive, are well signposted and entertaining. If they re tougher than before they re still just another rung up on what you ve already learned. This is immaculate game design. There are a couple of moments in these twenty hours where something isn t perfect in its pace or placing, but these are minor, only memorable in stark contrast to the consistent brilliance of surrounding events. There is always something happening, something new. You find yourself plunging into it with relish. Just throwing things about is immediately appealing. You find yourself restraining the impulse to just pick up and hurl anything you encounter. (Free at last, I can interact!) Black Mesa veteran Dr Kleiner is remarkably relaxed about you trashing half his lab, just to see what can be grabbed or broken. Combine police take less kindly to having tin cans lobbed at their shiny gasmasks.
But the core process of this new physics, the key to the success of the game, is to be found in the Gravity Gun. Once you ve experienced vehicular action and got to grips with combat, Half-Life 2 introduces a new concept the idea of violently manipulating objects with this essential tool. The gun has two modes, one drags things toward you and can be used to hold, carry or drop them. The other projects them away and can either be used to smash and punch or, if you re already holding something, hurl it with tremendous force. A filing cabinet becomes a flying battering ram, dragged towards you and then fired into enemies, only to be dragged back and launched again to hammer your foe repeatedly, or until the cabinet is smashed into metal shards. Pick these up and you can blast them through the soft flesh of your enemies.
Killing the badguys with nearby furniture becomes habitual, instinctive. Or perhaps you need cover from a sniper picking up a crate will give you a makeshift shield with which to absorb some incoming fire. Likewise, you immediately find yourself using the gravity gun to clear a path through debris-blocked passages, or to pick up ammo and health packs, or to grab and hurl exploding barrels at encroaching zombies, setting them ablaze and screaming. You can even use it to grab hovering Combine attack-drones and batter them into tiny fragments on concrete surfaces. Soon the gravity gun is proving useful in solving puzzles, or knocking your up-turned buggy back onto its wheels. Yes, a buggy. I ll come back to that. The gravity gun isn t just another a weapon, it s the soul of Half-Life 2. Do you try to bodge the jump over that toxic sludge, or take the time to use the level s physics objects to build an elaborate bridge? Do you waste ammo on these monsters or pull that disc-saw out of where it s embedded in the wall? Of course, you always know what to do. When there s a saw floating in front of your gravity gun and two zombies shamble round the corner, one behind the other, well, you laugh at the horrible brilliance of it. Yeah, I think that was the moment that I sat back and laughed. It s just too much.
Sometime after these experiments in viscera comes Gordon s glorious road trip. Simplicity incarnate, the little buggy is practically indestructible, but also an essential tool for making a journey that Gordon can t make on foot. Dark tunnels, treacherous beaches and bright, trap-littered clifftops become the new battleground. Like the rest of the game there are oddities and surprises thrown in all the way through. The bridge section of this journey would make up an entire level in lesser shooters. And yet here it is, just another part of the seamless tapestry of tasks that Gordon performs. Also illustrative of the game as a whole is the way in which the coast is strewn with non-essential asides. OK, so you re zooming from setpiece to setpiece, but do you also want to explore every nook and cranny, every little shack that lies crumbling by the roadside? Of course you do. This is a game where every hidden cellar or obscure air-duct should be investigated; you never know what you might find.
Investigating means using the torch that, oddly, is linked to a minor criticism of the game. Both sprinting and flashlight use are linked to a recharging energy bank. It s clear why this restriction was imposed, but it s nevertheless a little peculiar. The quality of the game meant that I was searching, rather desperately, for similar complaints. Smugly I assumed that my allies in a battle were non-human because that way Valve dodged the lack of realism and other problems created by fighting alongside human allies. Of course my lack of faith was exposed a few levels later, when I found myself in the midst of the war-torn city fighting alongside numerous human allies who patched me up, shouted at me to reload, apologised when they got in the way and fought valiantly against a vastly superior force. What a battle that was. I want to go back, right now. The striders, so impressive to behold, are the most fearsome of foes. Fighting both these behemoths and a constant flow of Combine troops creates what is without a doubt the most intense and exhilarating conflict ever undertaken in a videogame. The laser-pointer rocket launcher is back and even more satisfying than ever before. Rocket-crates give you a seemingly infinite resupply to battle these monsters but it s never straightforward. Striders will seek you out, forcing you under cover, while the whale-like flying gunships will shoot down your rockets, inducing you to resort to imaginative manoeuvring to perform that killing blow. Even dying becomes a pleasure you want to see these beasts smash through walls and butcher the rebels, again and again. Oh Christ, what will happen next?
I could talk about how those battles with the striders almost made me cry, or about the events that Alyx guides you through so cleverly, so elegantly. I could talk about the twitchy fear instilled by your journey through an abandoned town, or the way that the skirmishes with Overwatch soldiers echoes the battles against the marines in the original Half-Life. I want to rant and exult over this and that detail or event, this reference or that joke. I want to bemoan the fact that it had to end at all (no matter the excellence of that ending). And I m distraught that we ll have to wait so long for an expansion pack or sequel. I even had this whole paragraph about how CS Source will be joined by an army of user-fashioned mods as the multiplayer offering for this definitively singleplayer game. But we re running out of space, out of time. There s so much here to talk about, but in truth I don t want to talk, I just want to get back to it: more, more, more... You have to experience it for yourself. This is the one unmissable game. It s time to get that cutting-edge PC system. Sell your grandmother, remortgage the cat, do whatever you have to do. Just don t miss out. By Jim Rossignol.
With another E3 come and gone and nary an official word from Valve about another Half-Life game, it's probably time to get some new content the old-fashioned way: with mods. Enter Hopelessness: The Afterlife, which gives Half-Life-hungry gamers about forty minutes of new-yet-retro action split between careful puzzle-solving and frenetic gunplay. Grab your crowbar: we're going back to Black Mesa.
So, yeah, another year, another E3, and another big "no comment" on Half-Life 3 from Valve. Frankly, I think it would be cool if, after all this time, they just announced Half-Life 2: Episode 3. That's right, after six longs years of waiting, here's two more hours of gameplay in the same engine, with the same assets. Kill a couple hundred more antlions, knock down a strider, and drive that damn car around while stopping every thirty seconds to look for a weapons cache. Oh, and there's a seesaw puzzle! You like those, right?
Can you imagine? We'd be both grateful and enraged at the same time.
For a scientist, Freeman did a lot of smashing. Here, we'll do a bit more fiddling.
Anyway. In the sequel to the original Hopelessness mod from 2013 (also worth your time), you are once again an unnamed scientist struggling to find your way out of the Black Mesa complex after the poop hits the paddles. Before you are darkened corridors, dead labcoats and barneys, and a bunch of locked doors. The first half of the mod will leave you wandering, weaponless, listening to the facility go to hell (or hell come to the facility, I suppose) while you navigate your way through the blood-splattered halls.
Back in the day when men were men and keys were absolutely enormous.
This isn't just a collection of new environmental puzzles built out of the same old parts, either. The first clue that you've got a bit more agency than Gordon Freeman, who basically just smashed his way through the joint like a rhinoceros, is upon spying a key through a grate. Can't smash the grate you've got no crowbar or weapons of any kind at that point but you could hook the key if you had something hook-like. Like a hook! Other puzzles involve fixing broken mechanisms with spare wiring and pliers, and finding keys to open doors instead of just smashing windows like a looter. Even opening vents requires something more subtle than a crowbar: a screwdriver. And how do you use a retinal scanner if your eyes don't have the proper clearance? Use someone else's, maybe?
Something tells me this is gonna get grisly.
Of course, this is still Half-Life, so not every puzzle is something new. I hope you remember how to crouch-jump. I hope you like awkwardly pushing/dragging those crates around and watching them slide forty feet past where you're trying to place them. I hope you like trying to climb ladders er, wait, ladder-climbing has basically never advanced beyond 1998, has it? It's still awkward as hell in every game. We should probably stop putting ladders in games altogether. How often, in real life, do you find yourself climbing a ladder, anyway? Never? For me, it's never.
When you find this guy before you find a gun? Time to run for it.
There are some nice additions to the atmosphere, too. Sounds, like distant screams, not-nearly-distant-enough screams, and at one point, someone sobbing softly behind a closed door made the Black Mesa complex spookier than its felt in years. Add in some well-timed lighting cues and it's genuinely pretty distressing to be trapped in there again. Half-Life has become so familiar over the years, it's nice to see a mod making it feel truly menacing and creepy again, especially when so much time is spent walking around with nothing to defend yourself.
Please wipe your feet. You've got scientist all over them.
Don't worry, it's not all creeping around, pushing crates, and unlocking doors. After a half-hour of holding nothing more dangerous than a pair of pliers, you'll suddenly be picking up guns left and right and finding the opportunity to empty them into aliens and soldiers alike. They're pretty much all here: headcrabs, zombies, bullsquids, and vortigaunts, not to mention the army that was sent to kill you and the army that was sent in to kill the army that was sent to kill you.
Remember these spec-ops jerks? They're back.
The end is, well, rather abrupt, as if the modder reached the end of the last map and said "Welp, I'm done," but then again, we're Half-Life fans. We're used playing to the end, wondering what's next, and not getting a satisfying answer. Right?
Installation: It's as easy as smashing a crate with a crowbar. Download the mod file, and extract it to your Half-Life directory. Then double-click the hopelessness2.bat file, and voila.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - firstname.lastname@example.org (Graham Smith)
Total Converts is a new weekly column about mods, maps, models, and anything player-created which you can use to amend or append your games.>
Modding used to suck.
Back in 1999, I became hooked on Half-Life. Hooked in the way only 14-year-olds can, with a pure, uncritical love. The problem I had – familiar to many today – was that Half-Life was finite and I had no idea if more would ever be made.
So in between rounds of laggy, 56k deathmatch with a friend, I turned to mods, custom maps, and anything else I could find which would allow me to wring more from my investment in Black Mesa. I hung out in IRC rooms, read map review sites and slowly downloaded files from Fileplanet. It felt like I was crawling through obscure corners of the internet, at a time when the internet seemed to inhabit a strange corner of the real world.
Imagine my surprise when I walked into a gift ship while on holiday in an English seaside town and found the CD pictured above. A collection of Half-Life add-ons for sale in the most ordinary place.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - email@example.com (Graham Smith)
Like any form of competition, speedrunning generates arguments over authenticity. Does a speedrun count if it relies on a bunny-hopping mod, in-game glitches and different runners tackling different parts of the game in short segments? I’m not sure I care either way. No matter the methods, Half-Life 1 being completed in 20 minutes and 41 seconds is an accomplishment of endurance, skill and effort. More importantly it’s a beautifully entertaining video, full of ingenuity and grace and physical comedy. The new record time is embedded below. You must watch it.
Apr 14, 2014
You know that first level of Mirror's Edge? I'm quite good at that. Pretty quick. Adequate. Such limited achievement at being fast in games is a small comfort when faced with this: a new world-record segmented speedrun of Half-Life. The speedrunning team of quadrazid, CRASH FORT, coolkid, pineapple, YaLTeR, Spider-Waffle and FELip have completely demolished Valve's 1998 FPS, beating the previous record by nine minutes. If you've got a spare 20 minutes (and 41 seconds), it's well worth a watch. Gordon's balletic flight through the halls of Black Mesa is almost mesmerising in its fluidity.
According to the team, the run took "almost four years of painstaking planning, theorycrafting and execution". It's a segmented run, which means the game's been divided into repeatable (and perfectible) chunks. In fact, the video's description reveals that over 317 segments were used, over 200 of which were under five seconds in length.
Additionally, the run makes heavy use of custom scripts. As the runner explain, "the most widely used scripts are jump spam, duck spam, 180 turn for gauss boost and precise use-key actions."
For comparison, the best single-segment run is 36:58, by Max 'coolkid' Lundberg, who was also part of the segmented team. You can see that slightly less acrobatic achievement over at Speed Demos Archive.
Jan 24, 2014
Shacknews - Steve Watts
The source code for the popular Half-Life mod Natural Selection has been released for public use. Unknown Worlds' Hugh Jeremy says this will let fans and coders make their own variations, patch any remaining problems, or just dive into the code to learn a new trick or two.
Dec 13, 2013
It's taken me a while to realise this, but the Half-Life games must be set in a fictional universe where everyone's a complete badass. I'd always thought Gordon Freeman was the exception, but now I'm not so sure. What about Barney? A security guard for scientists. Not a lot of action in that job, but he still made it through the Blue Shift expansion and then later infiltrated an alien police force. Now look at the protagonist of Half-Life mod The Core. A mild-mannered engineer? Nope. As you can see from this new trailer, he's jumping between crates and gunning down aliens with the best of them.
Despite having been in production since 2008, there's still no release date for this return to Black Mesa. In the trailer reveal post, the mod's creators talk about their desire to match the anticipation that's built up in the community over the years. "As the mod has grown in popularity," they write, "so too has the realisation that this mod has to be the best we can possibly make it. Expectations are running high and we are trying our absolute hardest to create the gameplay experience you folks deserve for supporting us."
For more on The Core, keep an eye on the ModDB page, or the official site.
Dec 12, 2013
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - firstname.lastname@example.org (Cara Ellison)
Readers. I crawled to the end. You warned me. After part one of the diary, you really did warn me.
At the beginning, I thought Half-Life was the best game I’d ever played. There were so many finely crafted moments; so many things I learned. I avoided reading the slightest thing on it. I wanted it unsullied. As time went on in Half-Life, I gradually realised that each level is a discrete little chocolate box of incidents, scripted events, little puzzles and touches. There is so much attention to detail in the way that everything is centred on the player’s experience, how to psyche you out, how to spook you, how to mess with you. And then, as each new level drags on, you begin to wonder what it is you’re aiming for. By the time you reach Xen, you’re done. By the time you get to gonad beast, you’re completely, oh so really, done. But wasn’t it something? But wasn’t it really something>? (more…)
Nov 20, 2013
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - email@example.com (Nathan Grayson)
Halfy birthday, Hap-Life! Well, I guess it’s technically the day after your birthday now, but an upgraded version of Source-powered Half-Life tribute Black Mesa still counts as a gift, I think. You might remember that the free labor of time, love, and more time was greenlit a while back, but now it’s finally taking the Lab Facility Train Ride of Ultimate Auspiciousness over to Steam. Better still, Gabe and the knights of the Valve table have given it their blessing, allowing the Black Mesa team to earn some especially pretty pennies for their hard work. The Steam version will include new features too, but not Xen. That’s apparently still “a ways off,” sadly.