LOS ANGELES--Valve Software has been talking about Lost Coast, its pending single-level add-on for Half-Life 2, for some time now. The secretive developer even went as far as to show a non-interactive demo of the relatively brief level at this year's E3, but today's G-Phoria awards show taping marked the first time we've gotten to hunker down and blast our way through Lost Coast, which offers high-dynamic-range lighting and much higher-quality art assets to make things look real pretty. And now, of course, we offer our impressions of the experience.
If you've played through Half-Life 2, the gameplay in Lost Coast isn't going to set the world on fire. You fight your way up a sheer cliff face, trading fire with those pesky Combine soldiers every step of the way. You'll occasionally have to deal with some of the more vicious sorts of headcrabs, and at the end you'll have to bring down a Combine gunship with Gordon Freeman's trusty rocket launcher. You'll have to solve a couple of light physics puzzles as well, which we won't detail for the sake of preserving at least a little of the surprise. You'll even get to talk to an old man at the beginning of the level, who provides you with the impetus to head up into the hills and engage the Combine in the first place.
The gameplay in Lost Coast may be old hat, but the graphics certainly are not. The map is based on a level that was cut from the original game, though Valve says this new revision gave them the opportunity to recreate a piece of Half-Life 2 without paying any attention to system requirements. Consequently, you'll purportedly need a 2 GHz CPU, 1 GB of RAM, and a GeForce 6800 or Radeon X800 video card to smoothly run the level at max detail. From what we saw, we'd believe it. For one thing, the textures in Lost Coast are noticeably more detailed and numerous than in the retail game, and in addition to the immediate benefit of making this new level look especially neat, the release will also put these higher-quality assets into the game's SDK so modders can work with them.
Lost Coast also makes use of high-dynamic-range lighting, which allows the engine to render lighting of exceedingly high and low intensities. This effect comes into play in a few areas of the level, most noticeably as a result of direct sunlight. Looking toward the sun while climbing the cliff face, for instance, produces a harsh glare and makes it more difficult to see surrounding areas. You can also get this effect inside the occupied chapel atop the hill, where sunlight streams attractively through the windows that are conveniently broken out when the Combine chopper starts firing on the building. The HDR lighting in Lost Coast is certainly the most obvious new feature, in a whiz-bang sort of way, and we hope Valve harnesses its potential fully in future Source engine games.
Alas, details were sparse on Valve's other current Half-Life 2 project, the anticipated expansion pack Aftermath. The developer says the add-on should be ready in the November timeframe, but was loathe to reveal any other information, so we'll have to wait a while longer to find out about the continuing adventures of Gordon Freeman and friends. In the meantime, you can look for Lost Coast to hit a Steam downloader near you in the near future.