Half-Life: The Lost Chapter

By Alec Meer on September 28th, 2008 at 11:53 am.

Did you know there’s an official slice of the Half-Life saga that never found its way to PC? Decay was a bonus game mode in the Playstation 2 port of the first Half-Life, much as Blue Shift was supposed to be the exclusive extra bit in the ultimately canned Dreamcast version. But while the latter saw its own PC release (replete with the at-the-time ace High Definition pack) and can be had to this day from Steam, Decay seemed damned to dwindle into olden console game obscurity. Oh, the irony of its name.

Which is odd and sad, as it was developed by Gearbox and is, to the best of my knowledge, the only official attempt to make something other than a straight FPS out of the Half-Life series. Fortunately, a Ukranian team have painstakingly recreated Decay as a free mod for the original Half-Life, even grabbing the original sound files off the PS2 disc (hope they don’t run into any trouble for that) – which means new voicework from the chaps behind Barney, Kleiner et al, plus a couple of new characters, so this really does feel like Official Half-Life. More importantly, it’s your first and only chance to get chatted up by Barney. Well, unless he has an ulterior motive behind that drink he keeps promising to buy Gordon.

It is an FPS, and recycles big old chunks of Black Mesa, but first and foremost it’s a co-op game – and that’s still the case when you’re playing it on your own. It’s very much in the Lost Vikings/Project Eden mould – alternately guiding multiple characters through the levels and switching between them to aid each others’ progress. This kind of puzzling’s pleasing enough by itself, but doubly so when you’re doing it in Black Mesa, surrounded by those comfortingly familiar characters -and sound samples. It’s even plugged into the core story: you’re playing as lady scientists Drs Cross and Green (which do you fancy?), who are helping set up Drs Kleiner and Freeman’s Resonance Cascade experiment from another part of the complex. Remember this wee fella?

In Half-Life, it emerges magically from a hole in the ground. In Decay, you’re the lab assistant that pushes it into place, ready for clumsy old Freeman to accidentally trigger the end of the world with it. Sure, there’s a certain shoehorned-in, fan fiction element to it, but it does an ace job of blending original dialogue/events from HL – you get to hear the whole “it’s probably not a problem… probably” spiel all over again – with new words and happenstance. It’s the Back to the Future 2 thing: witnessing familiar events from a new perspective.

It’s not up there with the HL saga’s finest moments, but it’s certainly a strong one, most especially because it adds something truly different to the formula rather than simply retreading or honing. Plus, being back in Black Mesa calms my soul. It reminds me how much I prefer HL1 to 2, and I still hope we’ll see an official return to that sort of environment and setpiece at some point.

So it’s fantastic to have this short but sweet lost Half-Life episode on PC at last, and it even has something the PS2 version didn’t – online play. While it’s surprisingly effective as a character-switching solo outing, really it’s designed for co-op play, each of two players controlling one of the lady-docs rather than having to do all that stop-start bodyswapping. I played through Decay in split-screen co-op on PS2, but each player at their own PC is a far more elegant way to do it. That said, it’s a shame there isn’t any split-screen in this version, but it seems a minor sacrifice. Also there are some stilted animations, and I suffered a couple of crash bugs, but for the most part it’s a near-perfect recreation of PS2 Decay, only a whole lot slicker to play thanks to mouse and keyboard support.

While I don’t know to what extent the modders have made this from the ground up or have been able to simply recycle existing files from the PS2 disc, they’ve been at this for a good three years, so it’s clearly been a mammoth undertaking. I’m dead chuffed it’s finally seen the light of day, as otherwise Decay was in serious danger of being lost forever. The entire HL saga is restored and complete at last.

Download Decay from here. It only works with classic Half-Life, not the futile Half-Life Source, I believe, but perhaps someone will mod the mod.

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36 Comments »

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  1. Garreett says:

    Uh, as far as I remember, Blue Shift wasn’t Dreamcast exclusive, and Decay wasn’t the “bonus” game mode; it was the whole game.

  2. Alec Meer says:

    Well, Blue Shift was supposed be Dreamcast exclusive bonus stuff, but the port got canned so they eventually chucked it out as a PC expansion pack. And Decay was just the bonus mode in the PS2 port (as it says above), which I own a copy of. Google-do before you ‘uh’, good sir.

  3. nabeel says:

    This is canon, right? Mebbe I have a look.

    nabeel

  4. kuddles says:

    I believe at some point Gabe Newell said the Gearbox expansions had their stories approved by Valve, but he also cut short of saying they were 100% canon.

    Anyways, Half-Life is easily my favorite FPS series of all time, so getting to play a missing chunk is delightful. Thanks for linking to it.

  5. sockpuppetclock says:

    Oh hell yes! I always wanted to play Decay but I couldn’t get it, so now I’m happy yayyyyy

  6. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    So, does it need the original Half-Life or is it standalone?

  7. Down Rodeo says:

    If I remember correctly there is a remake in Source as well… I can’t seem to find it though. Perhaps I am taking out my… never mind. There is a Let’s Play of it on PS2 though. The guys are pretty funny (it seems to be a pretty tough game. Either that or they suck). Like kuddles said whether it is 100% canon or not is debatable but it’s an interesting slice of the HL universe regardless. I might have to give this a download.

  8. The Hammer says:

    Ooooh, thanks for the heads up – might have to give this a whirl!

  9. Mman says:

    Shame there isn’t splitscreen play with a gamepad, as I been wanting to do this mod the way it’s meant to be played but have to wait until tommorow to get a network cable (of course, the overall experience will be all the better for that).

  10. teo says:

    “It reminds me how much I prefer HL1 to 2″
    I’m glad to hear someone say that. I replayed both recently, and I really loved Half-Life whereas with HL2 I was having so little fun that I stopped playing.

    HL2 amazed me with its graphics, environments and characters when it came out, but it’s just too on rails. Shoot this barrel when the guy stands behind it…

    HL1 just has such fleshed out game mechanics that it’s timeless. The weapons, levels and enemies (grunts in particular) are just so good. Fighting the Combine doesn’t come close to fighting the HL1 grunts.

    HL2 is shooting muppets with a pea gun, and HL1 is having awesome fights that sway back and forth. The grunts move around, flank, throw grenades etc. Ah… awesome game

    The silo fight in HL2:EP2 gave me a bit of a HL1 vibe and it was the most enjoyable combat section in the HL2 series yet, but I really feel that they need to start fresh with more interesting ‘human’ enemies and guns that pack more of a punch.

  11. Haroshi says:

    Oh hell yes I used to play this on the PS2.

    Me and my friend spent a lot of the time just killing the guy in the wheelchair in different ways and having to restart the level.

    The best way to bump him off it turns out is to slide a grenade under his chair.

  12. Cooper says:

    Decay is the game that managed to get my ex into games other than guitar Hero and Lego Star Wars on her PS2, and move onto PC gaming.

    Eventually she got better than me, and started owning me at Counter Strike. Realising that my job was done, I then moved on.

  13. SPEEDCORE says:

    Sweeeeeet, thanx for the heads-up :)

  14. EyeMessiah says:

    @Cooper

    Maybe tomorrow you’l wanna settle down. Until tomorrow the whole world is your home.

  15. Die Happy says:

    after some troubles i managed to get this working with hamatchi and now i playing this with a friend
    some parts are quite challenging

  16. JakeB says:

    Hoaxer programmed a decompiler for the ps2 maps. Although since decompiled half-life 1 maps are useless, they had to recreate every single brush in the level, and some of those levels are bloody huge. So it’s basically 100% the same experience minus the ps2 menu screens.

  17. Jolson42 says:

    @EyeMessiah
    HAHA LITTLEST HOBO

    *High fives EyeMessiah*

    *Awkwardly realises what just happened*

  18. Saflo says:

    Someone posted a few e-mail discussions with Marc Laidlaw on (I think) the hl2fallout forums, and he was very cagey about whether the expansions are canon. What I got from it is that they’re not canon unless Valve feels like using one of the story elements in a new game.

    Anyway, this is great news. Count me in as one who prefers HL to its sequel, but not one who ever wants to see the series return to Black Mesa.

  19. Reader No. 4 says:

    Another semi-“lost” HL chapter that some might have missed is Uplink, which AFAIK was cut from HL1 and used as a demo. It’s not quite up to the quality of HL and was a little buggy for me but if you’re a big fan it’s worth a go.

  20. The Stranger says:

    Does anyone know if black mesa source is still alive?

  21. Garreett says:

    @The Stranger: it is.

  22. Saflo says:

    There’s this bit in Uplink when you clear a marine encampment and find a pit where they’ve been burning alien corpses. It’s one of those little details that say so much more than a cutscene ever could, and I wish it had been included in the actual game.

  23. Cargo Cult says:

    Been playing through this with a friend – it’s fairly straightforward to get it running on a dedicated server, and then for you both to connect to it.

    It’s definitely pretty good, although lacking a bit in ‘direction’ in places. (What-are-we-doing-and-why, and so on.) It’s an impressive example of co-operative puzzles in other places – and when you get separated from your friend, it’s more than a little nerve-wracking to hear the sounds of gunfire in the distance, then the eventual click-BEEP as the door is unlocked to let you through. The sense of relief!

    Definitely worth playing. And definitely find a friend to play it with…

  24. Cigol says:

    Uplink was awesome. What a demo.

  25. Captain Crunch says:

    I liked HL1 a lot more than HL2 as well. I still think that HL2 was kind of hyped and had a much stronger mainstream feeling to it that I did not except to be in the successor of Half-Life.

    But well, well… HL: Decay, we meet at last.

  26. Andrew Doull says:

    Its always worth pointing out the best Half-Life expansion is the oddly named Azure Sheep. There’s definitely something to be written about how all the Half-Life game sequels intersect each other, through parallel story telling, but Azure Sheep trumps the lot, with multiple paths crossing with Gordon Freeman, Adrian Shepherd etc.

  27. Rustkill says:

    So. Time to dig out my HL install CDs again. Hopefully they’re someone not to hard to get at.

  28. Ixtab says:

    I liked HL2 well enough but it lacks the sence of urgency “I have to get out of here before the place really goes to hell.” I also found HL1 made me question if I was actually doing the right thing, when you see the aliens in cages I began to think “Maybe we’re the bad guys and they’re all just misunderstood.”

    And we never visited anything like the Xen homeworld in HL2 (Obviously you wouldn’t go back there but a similar bizzare environment would be nice.)

    I will definately get this as I’m a huge fan of the original Half-Life and it’s second only to Deus Ex as my favourite game of all time.

  29. Monkfish says:

    This looks great – I’ll give it a try when I get the chance…

    Also, Half-Life will be 10 years old in November – I really hope Valve have something planned to mark the occasion. I know that Left 4 Dead’s release happens to coincide with the anniversary – wonder if they’ve got something else up their sleeve?

  30. Saflo says:

    If they put out a commemorative making-of book or something I’d buy the shit out of it, but they’ll probably just mark down the HL collection on Steam.

    Or give it away with Left 4 Dead.

  31. internisus says:

    Nice! I’ve been following this project; thanks for letting me know that they’ve completed it.

  32. phuzz says:

    ^^what internisus said.
    I’m sure I’ve seen a security camera footage of one of the good Drs Cross or Green pushing the cart from within HL1 (or possibly one of the expansions)

  33. Pete says:

    So glad this got made – one to add to the list of co-op games to play with my co-op buddy (not a euphemism).

  34. Bob says:

    “I’m sure I’ve seen a security camera footage of one of the good Drs Cross or Green pushing the cart from within HL1 (or possibly one of the expansions)”

    That’s in Blue Shift.

    EDIT: I really need to learn how the blockquote-tag works.

  35. Barnz says:

    Woo it’s on news.

  36. iainl says:

    Now, if only I could work out how to get my Half Life 1 working again. When I last successfully installed it on my machine I obviously used Steam and made an account that I can neither remember, nor get the ‘recover account’ thing to work for. As such, the code is lost in the bowels of Valve’s system, and I’m reminded of why Steam in particular, and PC DRM in general, is such a horrible pile of pain. Boo…