Half-Life Preview

Half-Life hits the Dreamcast with its terrifying tale of an alien invasion and a government cover-up. Now, throw in the Opposing Force expansion, an exclusive adventure featuring a lovable security guard, a couple of training levels, and the possibility of online play, and call it your potluck gaming dinner.


Is it really necessary to rattle off another historical retelling of Half-Life's rise to acclaim, to reiterate its exemplary pedigree? Why would anyone need to, when everyone knows that Half-Life was nigh unanimously the PC game of the year in 1998? A unique title that has won both critical and public praise, Half-Life is a first-person shooter that not only has the distinction of putting upstart developer Valve on the map, but of being one of the few games that has the staying power to maintain a place on many PC gamers' hard drives. It's natural, then, that the time would come when Half-Life would make the jump to the lucrative console scene.

For those of you who've been living the life of a mountain recluse for the past couple of years (yet still find time to buy a Dreamcast and surf the Web), it's time to get briefed. Half-Life thrusts you headfirst in to the role of a high-level scientist named Gordon Freeman. You're a government employee at the highly secretive Black Mesa complex (think Area 51 to the sixth power). In the course of the daily grind, you witness a massive experiment gone awry - the results of which initially seem purely superficial (power outages, structural collapses, etc.). As you wander through the battered complex, however, the situation invariably complicates. Grotesque alien monstrosities have somehow materialized out of thin air and have begun wreaking havoc, massacring your friends and co-workers. Even worse, many of your former scientific colleagues have been horribly mutated into unwilling hosts for the alien invaders.

As Gordon, your first impulse is to escape the ensuing madness - though fleeing isn't as simple as you may have hoped. In the course of the game, friends become enemies, potential escape routes turn into dead ends, and you soon find yourself confronted with an all-out fight for survival. Without revealing some of the juicier moments of the story, it's safe to say that Half-Life weaves a relatively complex and exceptionally paced plot within the confines of a first-person shooter - something that, before its PC release, had never been attempted on such a scale in the genre.

Even better for Dreamcast owners, all of this is but a slice of a bigger pie. Half-Life DC's developer, Captivation Digital Laboratories, intends to include the original title; the well-received Half-Life expansion pack, Opposing Force; a couple of simple but fun training missions; and an entirely new adventure exclusive to the Dreamcast that places you in the role of one of Black Mesa's security guards. Gearbox, well regarded for its work on Opposing Force, was charged with creating the security guard adventure as well as observing Captivation's translation process from the PC to DC - an attempt to ensure that the Dreamcast's version of Half-Life maintains the series' superlative pedigree.

Though many who've actually played Half-Life are ready and willing to extol the virtues of its immersive and captivating gameplay, the title may find it difficult to win new fans because of its now-dated graphics (it runs on a heavily modified Quake II engine). Though the game's environments typically feature inspired architecture and realistic lighting, there's no escaping the low polygon counts of most of its characters. Half-Life's engine isn't being rewritten to allow for higher poly characters, nor will it feature the rounded corners and apertures so prominently displayed in Quake III (which is likely to be seen as Half-Life DC's chief competitor). Graphics, however, may not be gamers' largest concern - despite the age the title shows.

Quite possibly, Half-Life DC's biggest stumbling block will be its control scheme. Sega plans to release a mouse to accompany its keyboard, but the collective price of a game, a keyboard, and a mouse may be prohibitive to many gamers. In that case, most will be stuck with the DC's standard controller. It's practically a fact that the console controller is incapable of replicating the level of direction offered by a keyboard and mouse. Captivation will be forced to combine two separate control mechanisms (keyboard strafing and mouse looking) into a single input capable of being performed on the directional pad. As you may expect, command on the pad will be diminished from the freedom gamers are offered with the keyboard/mouse configuration.

Also of potential concern is the current state of Half-Life's multiplayer. Despite the acclaim won by Half-Life's single-player experience, one of the key ingredients of the title's success has been the popularity of its online game. At this point, however, it's still up in the air as to whether Half-Life DC will even allow for Internet play on SegaNet. Time will tell if Captivation will be able to find a workable solution for online play before the title is due to hit store shelves.

Despite some potential concerns over control and online capabilities, Half-Life for the Dreamcast should be one of Sega's bigger releases this year. Best of all for console gamers is the fact that the title brings three wildly exciting chapters of the Black Mesa saga in one convenient package. Half-Life should arrive in late September or early October.

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