Half-Life: Uplink

SUBJECT: GORDON FREEMAN, PhD.
CURRENT LOCATION: LAMBDA REACTOR COMPLEX, BLACK MESA RESEARCH FACILITY
TIME: CONTAINMENT FAILURE + 48.00 HRS
STATUS: EVALUATION IN PROGRESS

Spoiler Warning: There are some spoilers for Half-Life: Uplink as well as the other games in the series.

I know I’m not alone in my love of Valve’s Half-Life universe. It’s not just they’re seminal games in their own right, and it’s also not only that they all form part of a brilliantly told sci-fi epic. It’s in the way each game drops you in at some point during a larger story, and suddenly pulls you out at the end. You know there’s a wider context, but you have to put it together by the clues laid out in each individual game, rather like looking at a room through a keyhole and inferring from that sliver of a view.

Uh oh! This doesn't look good.

There’s also a lot of content within the series. The first Half-Life game and their add-on packs, Half-Life 2 with its two extra chapters and Portals 1 & 2, all set in the same universe and adding their own narratives to the wider Half-Life canon.

For players familiar with the main game, this scenario is supposed to take place just before you reach Lambda Complex. Here's the door you need to get through, but first you'll have to complete some other tasks…

These parts all come together to narrate a world under siege from hostile and technologically advanced inter-dimensional cultures (the Xen aliens, the Combine and the mysterious and omnipotent G-Man), as well as humanity’s own attempts to resist and develop technology which can counter the incursions.

This scene screams 'Ambush'!

The first Half-Life game in particular had a lot of content to expand the world with three add-ons: Half-Life: Opposing Force, Half-Life: Blue Shift and Half-Life: Decay. But there’s one perhaps you might not know about, and it fills a small narrative gap in the first game. It’s called Half-Life Uplink.

Under attack from a mysterious miltary force.

Around the time Half-Life was released, there were two available demos of the game. The first known as Half-Life: Day One provided the first few chapters of the game, enough to get you hooked. The more interesting, Half-Life: Uplink, is a complete standalone chapter not found in the main game. If you’re a Half-Life completist, Uplink is essential playing.

In the distance, that dome is where you need to get to.

This chapter is a self contained mini game in itself, and takes place towards the end of the main Half-Life story, although the chapter does not appear in the full game.

It introduces the player to all the aspects of the main game, but in a short period of time. You crawl through venting pipes and explore sewers full of radioactive sludge. You’re attacked by powerful alien beings and have to strategically fight an organised military force.

Inside the dome you now need to reach the top.

One moment you witness the horrors of zombified humans dragging dead bodies around in the dark, their tortured cries and screams making you hesitate to explore the shadows. A moment later you break into the middle of a gun-fight between aliens and the military.

It’s a lone chapter trying to give you the flavour of all the moods of an entire game.

A zombified scientist.

The chapter ends in a staged sequence where a giant alien destroys everything and everyone in a lab and slowly descends towards you as the screen fades to black.

At the end you may pause to wonder: Just what’s going on? How did my character end up here? Who is my character, this “Gordon Freeman”, a man with a PhD and such counterinsurgency skills? Who are these hostile alien species and where did they come from? What kind of research was happening in this giant complex in the desert? Why are the military trying to kill me and the scientists in the facility?

It makes you want to learn more, to witness the story from the beginning and make sense of the wider context, and so encourages you to go on and play the full game.

Crawling through a venting duct, a staple of the Half-Life series.

If you’re already a Half-Life fan, you owe it to yourself to check out this short chapter. If you’ve never played the original Half-Life before and are curious but didn’t want to commit to a full game, Uplink will give you a breakneck introduction to the franchise.

Cue 'Fade to Black'.

Resources

There are many different ways you can play Uplink today, for example:

  • Download the original demo and play it using WINE on Linux or Crossover.
  • Use your existing Half-Life installation to play the demo
  • Integrate Uplink directly into the full Half-Life game as a proper chapter!

All these options and more are covered over at www.halflifeuplink.com including a selection of download links.

We’ll be back soon to look at another lesser known entry in the cannon, Half-Life 2: Lost Coast.