E3 2001 Hands-onHalf-Life

We spoke with Gearbox Software president Randy Pitchford about the improvements being made to the PS2 version of Half-Life, and we learned some interesting new details.



We had the opportunity to speak with Gearbox Software president Randy Pitchford on the E3 show floor today to discuss the improvements being made to the PlayStation 2 version of Half-Life and see them for ourselves.

The most noticeable difference in the game is its improved graphics. The textures are much cleaner than before, and the character models and weapons are much more detailed, perhaps even more so than in THQ's recent Red Faction. Pitchford says that the characters are four times more detailed than in the original version of Half-Life, and features such as eyeballs that track movement, facial expressions, and jointed fingers have been added to them. The PS2 version of the game is even better looking than the recent high-definition pack for Half-Life for the PC (Pitchford says that it's twice as detailed). All the objects that your character interacts with within the environment have been rebuilt from the ground up. For instance, the first aid and HEV recharge units now have robot arms that stretch out to aid you as you get closer. New weapons such as the M4 machine gun and SPAZ 12 shotgun have also been added, and they look sharp.

As many already know, the game lacks distinct "levels," instead loading new sections as you progress farther in. The developers of the PS2 version have been able to keep the loading times down to just a few seconds by preloading necessary data into the background. It's a minor but nice change to the game, since the amount of time that you're out of control of your character is much shorter.

Pitchford also provided new details regarding Decay, the PlayStation 2-exclusive episode of Half-Life. The stages are meant to be played in two-player cooperative mode, although you can play by yourself and switch between the characters when needed. The episode takes place during the events of the original Half-Life, and there are even a few times when you cross paths with (or just miss) Gordon Freeman. For example, early into playing as Gordon Freeman in the original episode of Half-Life, you enter a room where HEV suits are stored. Two are missing when you enter. When you play Decay, your characters take those two suits. There's also an instance in the original game where you're knocked unconscious by soldiers, who then begin dragging you somewhere, muttering about how they're going to kill you. You wake up later in a trash compactor wondering what happened. In Decay, you find out that these two scientists are the ones who save you--because you, yourself, have to save Gordon from the soldiers in Decay. The episode is made up of 12 campaign missions, each one larger than a standard Half-Life stage.

A two-player skirmish mode is also available, in which you play alone or against a friend and up to eight computer-controlled bots. Skirmish levels take place in areas such as the alien land of Xen and the Black Mesa administrative offices (which feel reminiscent of the classic Archives level in GoldenEye 007). You can also work to unlock a bonus map where you play as an alien (specifically, an eye-slave), and other unlockable Easter eggs are also available.

Though game is set to have mouse and keyboard support, the developers hope that most players will find that they're happy with the default joystick control. In fact, they've implemented a targeting function similar to the Z-targeting feature first seen in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Once you use it to lock on to an enemy, your view centers around it until it's been dispatched. It looks somewhat like a HUD display on a flight sim, and it's a feature that you can toggle on or off, depending on your preference. Last but not least, the game supports full 16 inch by 9 inch widescreen TVs in both the single- and multiplayer modes.

While other developers seem content to make standard ports of PC games on the console systems, Valve appears to be working to ensure that both those who have and haven't played Half-Life before will be happy with the PlayStation 2 version of this game.

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