HL: Lost Hallway

by Tom Ingram

Previously…

The great thing about Half-Life is the ingenious little traps you can set for your enemies. Mostly, they’re optional–a little lever out of the way, perhaps, or a valve to be turned. You have to look around a bit to find them, but using tricks to whittle down the enemies before they even get to you is much more satisfying than simply shooting them in the face, and the efficiency of that approach suits a character like Gordon Freeman well.

A pile of alien grunts and vortigaunts are spawning outside the office where I’m holed up, in what looks like a loading dock. For some reason or other, there’s an automated turret mounted to the ceiling of the dock, controlled from inside the office. A military radio set has been left behind here, and a commanding voice makes the surrender official. “We are cutting our losses and pulling out!” it says, shortly before cutting off mid-sentence.

I seize the controls for the turret and clear out the aliens. Out the door and downstairs, the place is covered in some kind of unearthly webbing, obstructing some of the corridors. No doubt these halls and stairs end somewhere just out of sight, but it’s an effective way of conveying the illusion of a large facility while herding me to the only real destination. A pod of some kind, or maybe an egg, is hanging from the ceiling. A beam of sickly green light is shining down into it. As I approach, two bugs drop out of it, like the ones that I carry around as throwables. They come after me and try to bite me–they attack anything nearby that’s not Xenian. I kill them and move on the the water-filled tunnels.

After working my way past underwater machinery and another ichthyosaur, I find myself face-to-face with a couple straggling marines at the bottom of a ladder. I dive back into the water–there’s a high wall between us, and it’s impractical for them to shoot me from there–and use the hive hand, a Xenian weapon that shoots “homing bees”. I can’t see the havoc they’re surely wreaking, but when I finally climb up the soldiers are thoroughly dead. They were sitting on a cache of ammunition for the rocket launcher. I stock up and climb to the surface.

The opening for the ladder has two large rocks in front of it for cover, but there is a small squad of marines waiting with a tank. I finish them off and take out the tank. The tank was blocking a garage door with the sign “Black Mesa Central Complex” above it. A machine inside has exploded and a holding tank has burst, leaving puddles of radioactive green goop oozing across the floor. A dead guard is face down in one of them.

The hallway leads me to a balcony looking down on a garage, where the last remaining marines are fighting it out with a couple of alien grunts. An abandoned tank stands nearby, its hatch open. I climb up on top of it and fire off the main gun, blowing open a heavy door. More aliens run in from behind the marines and overwhelm them. Grabbing the tank’s machine gun, I cut down the aliens and run out into the hall. Two more alien grunts have set up some kind of laser cannon out here. I destroy it with a charged blast from the Tau cannon and run to the end of the hall, where an elevator takes me down to the Lambda Reactor Complex.

First thing I see down here is a dead scientist–apparently shot, because there’s only a small blood puddle and the aliens would be either much messier or much cleaner. This makes me tread carefully, and when I open the door and find myself in a storage room filled with shipping containers–the black ops assassins’ favourite work environment–I start to take precautions. I throw out a couple snarks (the bugs) and set some laser mines. Then I hide in a corner, secure in the knowledge that there are only two ways in. One has a bomb set on it, and I’m watching the other with a shotgun.

Even with this in mind it’s still harrowing. The dreary stillness punctuated occasionally by the too-fast footsteps is suspense embodied. I’m sweating in that edge-of-your-seat way normally reserved for David Lynch movies (see Robert Blake in Lost Highway). This is how you do horror. It’s visceral and suspenseful. The lights are on, but it’s still dark. They’re the kind of fluorescents that make you squint but don’t seem to make the room any brighter, and the containers throw wide shadows. It’s hard to see exactly where the assassins are, and aiming in the dark is tricky. The enemies telegraph their presence with a distinctive noise, giving you time to dread them, and only appear on screen for a few moments before running off. It’s masterful, and the genre transition is handled smoothly. My traps kill a couple assassins, and I finish the rest with the shotgun.

A scientist greets me as I come through an important-looking door, and gives me instructions: flood the core of the lambda reactor and head for the teleportation labs, where the science team is waiting for me. Another scientist gives me the Gluon Gun, which is a bit like the Ghostbusters’ proton packs. It fires a stream of energy that vaporizes enemies, leaving no trace behind.

I turn on the coolant systems, flood the reactor, and begin to climb up. Electricity is arcing between the reactor core and the walls around it. I climb up an elevator shaft at the top and enter the teleportation labs. Through a window, I see the G-Man just as he disappears into a portal. That explains how he could disappear so effectively. I find some more portals around the lab and bounce between them until I find the way out.

This takes me to another part of the reactor. The bottom of the room is filled with radioactive waste. Especially after the crackling of the portals, it’s eerily silent except for the whirring of machinery. I jump across platforms to the portal at the centre of the room and step in. It takes me to the science team’s hideout. One scientist is watching the door with a shotgun, which he brandishes threateningly as I draw close.

When they see it’s me, they let me in and explain the plan: I will stock up on supplies and teleport to Xen, the border-world where the aliens are coming from. A powerful psychic entity is holding the rift between the worlds open, and I have to kill it. They set me up with a long jump module, which will let me get around in Xen.

The teleportation chamber is a cavernous room with a catwalk jutting out of the wall. At the end of it, a scientist is working with the controls. As he begins to generate the portal, Xenian aliens teleport in–new ones that I don’t recognize. They look vaguely foetal, with bulb-shaped heads and skinny bodies, and they fling little balls of orange-ness that hurt much more than they have any right to. But the portal finally opens, and I hop in. Everything goes black, and when I can see again I’m on the border-world of Xen.

Next: Interlude: High-Tech Shuffleboard.


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