Spoiler Warning: There are some spoilers for Half-Life 2 as well as the other games in the series.
Recently, we took a look at the lesser known demo for the original Half-Life game, Half-Life: Uplink. But this wasn’t the only lost level made by the original development team at Valve.
Lost Coast was originally intended to be part of the main Half-Life 2 in the “Highway 17” chapter, but was dropped for reasons unknown. However, Valve decided to resurrect this as a tech demo for their high dynamic range (HDR) renderer.
The chapter is short, but features some unique architecture not seen in the main game. Gordon Freeman has to work his way up the side of a cliff in order to disable a Combine artillery launcher which is shelling a nearby village.
Similar to Uplink, the player fades into a narrative already underway, and when the mission is completed they fade away once again. In this sense, we have that keyhole view into a larger story, although since Lost Coast was released after Half-Life 2, the player in this instance is aware of the wider context (unlike in Uplink). The entire scenario can be completed in under 15 minutes, and forms a self-contained narrative independent of the main game.
You begin next to a sheer cliff facing a body of water on the opposite side. A fisherman greets you, identifying himself as a local of the nearby village and asks for your help to disable a canon on top of the cliffs. The canon is shelling the village with head-crabs, a particularly egregious Combine tactic we’ve seen before, used to punish resisters by not only destroying their town but seeding the ruins with deadly biohazards (see: Ravenholm).
The first part of the scenario involves scaling the aforementioned cliffs. Combine forces do their best to prevent your ascent, and as you press forwards you’ll find forces also scaling the cliffs behind you. At one point they blow out a short bridge, forcing you to retrace your steps and find an alternate route to the top.
As you make your way up, you can witness the shells being fired from the top, and parts of the nearby village being razed. This adds to the sense of tension as your character is the only one who can stop the attack before the town is destroyed.
When you make it to the summit, you’re rewarded with architecture not seen in the main game as you arrive the courtyard belonging to the monastery. Clearing out the forces you make your way inside to the main chamber where the cannon is located.
The next challenge is to disable the cannon, which you can do by deliberately jamming it with a nearby object. Doing so will achieve your objective, but the doors to the monastery will lock as Combine soldiers are lowered in via the skylights to ambush you.
If you manage to survive the ambush and make it outside, you’ll need to use your rocket launcher to take down a Combine gunship. This can prove tricky given the sheer walls around the monastery’s courtyard. Make your way to a nearby lookout and take out the ship, and you can then complete the scenario by lowering yourself via a rickety winch down to the ground. This brings you back to where you started.
Talking to the fisherman again, the screen fades to black as someone (or something) pulls you out of the town by means unknown.
One of my favourite things about Half-Life 2 and its additional episodes is the architecture. It would have been all too easy having had the story take place in a North American city such as New York or Los Angeles, but the designers instead went for Eastern Europe. This is reflected in the architecture of City 17 and its environs which show Soviet inspiration combined with the kind of decay which might make you think of abandoned and dangerous places such as Pripyat. The final touch is the augmentation of the architecture with futuristic Combine technology, which creates an unsettling dystopian sensation of alien technology devouring a decaying world.
In Lost Coast we get to see some new architectural influences in the monastery and its courtyard. They show a more Mediterranean influence and one wonders if this was an experiment which didn’t quite fit the look of the main game, and one of the reasons this level was cut from the final version.
Either way, if you’re a Half-Life fan you shouldn’t miss out on out Lost Coast. It may not add much to the mythology of the series you don’t already know, but it succeeds in adding a splash more bleakness to an already bleak world.
Half-Life 2: Lost Coast is a free add-on when you purchase Half-Life 2 on Steam.