A Lever and a Place to Stand: A Half-Life Replay

It really is amazing how fast this last decade flew by. It’s been almost thirteen years since Half-Life came out. Even more amazing, Half-Life 2: Episode 2, which seems like it came out yesterday, is actually four years old. Yes, gamers are getting older. The first generation is already done university and out in the real world, and the N64 generation is either partway through university or just finishing high school. Especially given video games’ connection to the fast-moving world of computers and the Internet, whole eras of gaming are now passing by in what seems like a blink of an eye.

In short, games that don’t feel particularly old are actually ancient history at this point. They’ve formed the bedrock for two generations already, and a third one soon to come. Half-Life is a kind of historical artifact and a foundational entry in the gaming canon, and it’s time it was analyzed as such. When I dusted off Steam and started up the game, I had only a fuzzy idea of what to say about it. What can you say? Should it be analyzed as a story? As a piece of technology? A work of art?

Half-Life is all those things, and it would be unfair to neglect any one aspect in favour of another. But how would you structure such a thing? It would take mountains of effort to keep it from sprawling out into a flabby monstrosity. Either I would constantly change the subject, intrigued by new thoughts, which would leave the piece as an unfollowable mess, or else separate everything neatly, taking away sense of connection, without explaining how the story, the design, and the art interact with each other.

The simplest solution seemed to be to use the subjective experience of playing through the game as an anchor. The whole thing is written in the first person, and events are responded to as they happen. There is no jumping around between chapters. This approach has its limitations, but I like the balance of it.

Purely for a sense of atmosphere, and to break up the walls of text that are so ugly onscreen, every post has been accompanied by a series of screenshots. These are listed in a gallery format at the bottom. I am greatly indebted to the game script transcribed by wel at GameFAQs, as well as the Combine Overwiki, for reference material.

The series’s table of contents is listed below, or you can start with part 1.

  1. A Lever and a Place to Stand
  2. What We Were Doing Down Here
  3. Schoolyard Revenge
  4. The Right Button at the Right Time
  5. Decay Constants
  6. The Hand of God
  7. Claustrophobia
  8. Industrial Disease
  9. Reckoning
  10. Lost Hallway
  11. Interlude: High-Tech Shuffleboard
  12. Interview
  13. Barney’s Version
  14. Bland Shift
  15. Redeeming Features
  16. All the Difference
  17. Face Value
  18. Emergence