HL: Bland Shift

by Tom Ingram


I catch the soldiers in the middle of setting up a barricade. They begin to fire at me, and there’s something humbling about the way we’re fighting. They despised Freeman, but he got at least that much recognition. They spraypainted messages to him on the walls. No one will spray paint anything for me. They can’t even tell me apart from the others. This anonymity is another element of Calhoun’s character that’s squandered.

An abandoned Black Mesa SUV is sitting in a nearby tunnel. A scientist is slumped over the dashboard, and one of my fellow security guards is dead on the ground outside the open driver’s door. I take his armour—one of the few mechanical differences between this game and Half-Life is the lack of powered armour, meaning you have to find new bulletproof vests, which are much rarer than charge packs. An ambitious designer could work with this to create an interesting and novel experience, but one obviously hasn’t—the difference is barely noticeable. Down the tunnel, I sneak up on two soldiers hanging around outside a little office. Without a second thought, I kill them. In the office, a dying scientist tells me to look for Dr. Rosenberg, the man who developed the teleporters, for a way out of here.

The tunnel leads me to the Black Mesa shipping yard, an environment not seen anywhere in the original Half-Life. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Counter-strike, especially the stairwell.

This makes me think of The Matrix, too, and I know simply from the layout of the stairs and a good grounding in popular culture that there’s going to be someone coming for me at the top. I shoot the marines and duck into a storage room, which leads me out into an open lot. A squad of marines are huddled around a couple of decommissioned trucks. I pick a few of them off and hole up in the storage room, waiting for them to come to me. When they’re finished, I go out into the lot, which is sealed on all sides. The only way out is to climb up the side of the building and go through a window.

It leads to a security armoury. While I’m stocking up on weapons and armour, a couple marines appear in ambush. There are about a dozen more waiting behind them in the shipping warehouse. When the dust settles and I go through some of the containers, I find frozen vortigaunts.

The warehouse exits onto a trainyard. Through one of the train tunnels I find a tank, but the rocket launcher is conveniently stowed in the back of a nearby truck. I blow up the tank and proceed—

Hold it right there. None of this sounds very interesting, does it. Imagine how it is for me—I was playing it. It’s not that the game is bad, although it is at times. It’s just uninspired. This chapter is a huge fraction of the game, and there’s really nothing about it that stands out in the least. That’s why this writeup took so long to get finished: there’s simply nothing to write about. I keep trying to think of things beyond “a guy showed up, and I shot him”, but I can’t because that’s pretty much all that’s happened.

Anyway, I find Dr. Rosenberg at one of those rotating train intersection things. We find a door leading back into the warehouse and backtrack from there. Back in the original stairwell, another door opens and we take an elevator down to meet the rest of his teleportation team.

I’m afraid that’s it. That’s where this chapter ends, after a couple of unremarkable fights and backtracking. If you wanted some great insight, I’m afraid you will have to turn to someone with more critic points.

Next: Redeeming Features