A History Lesson

In the late 90s, a small company based in Washington called Valve Software were working on a game based on a modified Quake engine that, unbeknownst to them, would show the world the future of storytelling in gaming. A game that was gonna revolutionize the industry and make Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington, founders of Valve Software, filthy rich. This is the story of a game named Half-Life. A game where you play as a guy named Gordon Freeman, a scientist with a degree in science and P.H.D and math and science or something, I don't know. You go into work as if it's a regular Tuesday, but when getting into the test chamber, a giant disaster occurs, and all hell breaks loose. Now, in the year 2022, a game like this coming out nowadays wouldn't be that big of a deal, but remember, this was in 1998. The games back then were things like Quake 2 and Blood, and don't get me wrong, these games are amazing, I mean one of them has one of the greatest old FPS engines of all time and the other one is Blood, but none of them changed the way people look at gaming like Half-Life did. I'm telling you all this because it's required to show you where Valve was at the time, before developing Half-Life 2. Valve was at the top, they were the kings. ID Software was falling off a bit at this point, apart from the launch of Quake 2. So what did Valve do next? Well, they waited 4 years, hired Randy Pitchford and his groupies to make some expansions for Half-Life, started making a brand new physics engine called Source, got the entire beta leaked by like, one person or something, and then remade the entire game, released it, and it became one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time. ???

Half-Life 2's Beta

I'm gonna take a quick second and mention the leaked beta I barely talked about in the history lesson. The leaked beta, which is also just called "the Leak", was an early version of Half-Life 2 that was leaked by someone named Axel Gembe, a german black-hat...from...Germany... The guy later contacted Gabe Newell, they chatted for a bit, and Gabe later convinced Axel Gembe that they would be offered a job at Valve. They even gave Gembe a flight to America, where he was arrested by the FBI on arrival. Oopsies! Anyways, before he got arrested, he distributed the beta online to some forums and stuff like that. These betas later resurfaced and were put onto many, MANY forums. Valve, luckily, has taken no legal action to get these websites down. When asked by an e-mail, Valve states that as long as it's being used for free, they don't mind having the beta up. The leak differs a lot from the base game of Half-Life 2, in story and gameplay. Not much is known about the story, apart from knowing that Gordon would have to travel through a lot of different and diverse places, and that the story would be much darker than Half-Life 2, stuff about child labor, the draining of oceans, stuff like that. Honestly, it would've been pretty cool to see a more gritty approach to Half-Life 2. Well, minus the child labor stuff, I guess... The gameplay featured a lot of new changes, like new weapons and creatues. Anyways...

Concept art from the HL2 Beta (Source: HL2 Wiki)

Chapter 1: Point Insertion and "A Red Letter Day"

The beginning of Half-Life 2 starts in a dark void. Suddenly, a mysterious figure appears in front of you, dressed in a suit and tie, and handling a briefcase. This is the G-Man, a figure that appears in the first Half-Life. He normally appears as a secret, hidden in many of the levels as a background character, until the end of the game, where he offers you a job, working for him and his employers. If you accept the job, he puts in in stasis until you're needed again. Half-Life 2 picks up from that ending, putting you back in the shoes of Gordon Freeman. The G-Man talks to you in an odd and slow manner, while transparent scenes from the original Half-Life show up in front of him. After he's done talking, he puts you in a train, before leaving you on your own. The train scene is reminiscent of the original Half-Life's opening sequence, where you're put on a tram in Freeman's workplace, Black Mesa Research Facility. The train scene in Half-Life 2 is much shorter, however.

"Wake up, Mr. Freeman. Wake up and smell the ashes..." (Source: hl-inside.ru)

When exiting the train, you are greeted with a giant screen with a person's face on it. This is Dr. Wallace Breen, the former administrator at Black Mesa Research Facility. After everything went to hell in Black Mesa, and Gordon got put into stasis by the G-Man, a bunch of portals appear due to the unstable nature of Xen, a dimension that Gordon kinda destroyed by killing the big boss of it, a Nihilanth. This leads to an alien race called the Combine, invading Earth for it's resources. Due to the insane technology that the Combine possessed, Earth was quickly overwhelmed. This is where Breen comes in. Breen found out a way to communicate with the Combine, and with the recommendation of the United Nations, he negotiated peace with the aliens. Wallace Breen saved humanity, at the cost of their freedom and stuff like that. Oh yeah, the game. He just appears sometimes on screens. Anyways, after you get off the train, you start to see how grim things got compared to the fairly normal beginning of Half-Life 1. In the first Half-Life, you normally go about your daily routine at work, talking to coworkers, grabbing a snack at vending machines, getting suited up for an experiment, the works. It doesn't seem like anything is wrong off the bat, everyone is acting regularly. Half-Life 2's beginning is completely different. Right as you walk out of the train, everything feels hostile and desolate. Mechanical drones snapping photos of people walking out of the train, armed Combine Metropolice searching people and taking their stuff, even the Vortigaunt, the powerful aliens from the first game are reduced to slaves by the Combine, putting them in shackles and making them mop the floors of the trainstation. This area is an amazing representation of the game as a whole, both in gameplay and plot. The gameplay and engine is being shown off with all of the new physics props being scattered about in the trainstation and being used by the environment to give the world depth and life, while the plot is being shown off too, showing the Combine and Dr. Breen as the immediate dangers, with the Combine shouting at innocent civilians and commanding them around, and Dr. Breen showing himself as an authority over you through the big screens. It creates an atmosphere in the first 5 seconds of stepping out of the train.

A hostile Combine Metrocop pushing a civilian over the only things he has left during the opening credits. (Source: Bolloxed)

You follow a path and eventually end up at an area with a train to Nova Prospekt, a prison that you later explore in the game. You almost end up boarding the train to the prison, but the gate closes, and you get blocked into a small area by a Metrocop. A door in front of you opens, and another Metrocop comes out and tells you to come with him. On the way to the room he's leading you to, you pass by a door with a civilan tied to a chair, with blood splattered around the room. The civilan is arguing with another Metrocop in the same room, but before the situation escalates, the Metrocop closes the little peeky slot that lets you see what's going on in the room, preventing you from seeing what's going on in there. When you arrive to your room, you see a chair similar to the other room. At this point, you think you know EXACTLY what's gonna happen to you. You're about to get beat to a fleshy pulp by the Metrocop that's bringing you to the room. The Metrocop walks in and leads you to the room, closes and locks the door, and then turns off all of the cameras, stating that he's "gonna need some privacy for this". He turns around, and out of NOWHERE, takes off his mask and reveals that he's not an alien cop or anything like that, he's actually an security guard at the Black Mesa Research Facilty you used to work at, Barney Calhoun.

"About that beer I owed you!", referencing a line that he says in HL1, "Catch me later, I'll buy you a beer". (Source: Bolloxed)

He ends up being super friendly and calls up another one of your old friends from Black Mesa, Dr. Issac Kleiner, or better known nowadays as "The funny guy that sings 'In The End' by Linkin Park". Turns out he has a lab and he wants you to get the hell over there right now for a teleport STRAIGHT to another one of your friends at Black Mesa! The video call ends and right as it does, Combine soldiers start knocking on the door due to the suspicious activity. Barney ends up sending you on your merry way through the back door and leaves you by yourself until you get to Kleiner's lab. You end up stacking boxes to jump through a window down to a bottom floor. Once down, you go through a hallway and encounter a guard near a trashcan. On the trash can is a soda can placed conveniently on the edge of the bin. The guard spots you, then spots the can, and then knocks the can down to the ground with his stunstick, demanding that you pick it up. This showcases the new triggers and physics and something or whatever. You have two options here. You can either pick up the can and throw it in the bin, giving you the "Submissive" achievement, or you can pick up the can and throw it at the cop, giving you the "Defiant" achievement. He also gets mad at you and starts chasing you with the stunstick. It's a really cool sequence and, when playing for the first time, really makes it feel like a lived in world.

"Pick up that can. Then put it in the trash can." (Source: Unknown)

After that encounter, you end up leaving the train station and entering City 17. You're immediately greeted by a drone that snaps a big ol' photo of your pretty face and another one of those big screens with the old man on it.


I want to say SO MUCH MORE of this game, but I can't really say a lot without spoiling the entire thing for people who haven't played it! It's an AMAZING game full of content. It's got a whole 2 acts (each containing three, 4 level chapters) and a 4 level long prologue that takes place before the main acts, plus an endless mode, PLUS secret levels, PLUS a sandbox mode. The game is a masterpiece in the boomer-shooter category. There's a reason that it's one of the highest rated games on Steam EVER. Seriously! The game is an amazing experience for people who are new to the boomer-shooter category and for long-time veterans of the scene, and it's a great time for people who are a fan of FPS games in general. If you don't have 20 dollars (just rechecked, the price went up because of the release of the new act, oopies), play the demo at devilmayquake.com and if you like the game, support the devs by buying the game, because it is 100% worth it. Do it!! Do it!!!!!!