More noise than signal

Mac Half-Life (Very Beta)

Towards the tail end of January, alert Mac-based Steam users may have noticed a surprising addition to the Library section, depending on what they’d bought from the formidable PC selection. Above the Half-Life 2 entry, which surely any self-respecting gamer has obtained, there now lurks a Half-Life (Beta).

This is, just as it says, a (very, apparently) beta version of the original Half-Life game using the original Half-Life engine, the pride of 1998. This is not to be confused with the more-recent-although-hardly-new release of Half-Life: Source, a recreation of the original game with the Half-Life 2 Source engine. That engine being the pride of 2004. God, I’m so old.

Nope, this release is aims to be true to the original to a fault, replete with the blocky models, sparse voice acting and quite astonishingly low resolution textures we’ve come to know and love. Quite why this has come to pass is something that no-one seems to have the low down on. Perhaps it was simply a coding exercise to port this to OSX and Linux given to the interns at Valve that co-incidentally marks the 15th anniversary. At any rate, on an otherwise miserable weekend that saw me unfit for anything more worthwhile, it appealed enough to my nostalgia centres to give it a bash.

Now, to be clear, this was more of a stroll down memory lane thing than me looking for a serious challenge. I was more interested in seeing if I remembered the game rather than giving it a serious playthrough, although the initial office sections seemed just as I recalled. Mechanically, it’s just the same, so I decided to hammer through the rest of the game with all speed, primarily by cheating.

I mention this in case it has any bearing on the bugs uncovered, although perhaps the first bug I found is that most of the standard console cheat codes aren’t hooked up to anything. Sure, you can type ‘god’ in as often as you want, but it’s not getting you any closer to being a deity. Likewise, ‘give’ stubbornly refuses to give you anything, however ‘no target’ works quite well against anything other than a few boss roadblocks and gun emplacements.

With the game’s enemies reduced to standing still and staring blankly at you, the game’s rather quicker to get through. Turns out I didn’t remember the game quite as well as I thought, having completely forgotten the ‘Blast Pit’ section, although the rest of it up until ‘Surface Tension’ was broadly familiar.

However the game proceeded to rather fall apart at this point. After getting past the Apache hovering around the dam, we reach a section where we crawl through some of the game’s many pipes (seriously, around 96% of this game takes place in an air duct, inside a pipe or crawling on top of a pipe) to reach a minefield guarding a storm drain. My first, route one attempt at crossing the minefield did not work so well. Ka-boom.

Anyway, clicking to reload puts you back in the pipes, near to the exit and just before an area loading trigger. Unfortunately now going through this load point causes the game to crash, and I’m dammed if I can find a work-around. You could skip ahead and load the next area with a console command, but you arrive there naked and itemless, and with no way to ‘give’ yourself anything (including your iconic HEV suit ‘n’ crowbar combo) it’s not much of a fun experience.

In desperation, I figured I’d reload a save from a while back and see if the same fault occurred. Firstly, it did, but secondly and rather more bizarrely, the save file had developed a kind or precognition. By which I mean that even though I was starting back near the start of the ‘Residue Processing’ chapter, it had handily pre-killed all of the enemies and pre-collected all of the power-ups I’d picked up in the previous run-though. Travelling without moving, wheels within wheels, plans within plans.

So, yes, what I’m getting at is that the Beta label is quite well deserved in this instance, and perhaps it’s best to leave this until the rest of the kinks have been worked out. Admittedly, I didn’t spend too long looking for a fix, in the main because I was getting dangerously close to the rubbish Xen sections, and I have better things to be doing with my time. Well, by which I mean Kingdoms of Amalur, which I at least hope is a better thing to be doing with my time.