- The long-lost Half-Life: Uplink demo has been restored in the 25th anniversary update for Half-Life.
- Uplink takes place chronologically after the events of the main game and features a high enemy density, making it a thrilling 30-40 minute thrill ride.
- While Uplink demonstrates what Half-Life could have been as a conventional FPS, the game ultimately succeeded in being something much more ambitious and complete.
As Half-Life turns 25(!), plenty of us have been reflecting on why Valve’s seminal shooter was so important to gaming. Its ability to tell a story with almost no direct narrative exposition other than the crazy things you experience in the game, its fantastic level and sound design, phenomenal pacing, near-seamless level transitions creating the sense of a continuous game world, the list goes on. It was also an excellent shooter, but it had so much going for it that when I think about the game today, the actual shooting part is often the last thing on my mind.
But Half-Life: Uplink, the largely forgotten demo chapter that came out several months after the base game (and which is totally separate from the events of the main game), is a powerful reminder not only of the game’s shooty chops, but also what Half-Life could’ve been had Valve not been infinitely more ambitious with it.
Here’s a little clip of me playing Uplink, giving you a little flavour of the chaos:
Among various modernisations and several new multiplayer maps, Uplink was added to Half-Life in an update celebrating the game’s 25th birthday, and I played through this 30-or-so-minute thrill ride.
Chronologically, Uplink takes place about 48 hours after containment failure at Black Mesa, which basically confirms its non-canoninity as the events of the original game are estimated to have taken place over the course of 30-36 hours, after which Gordon was whisked off by the G-Man. With the facility under bombardment, Gordon joins forces with a scientist and security guard to try and send a signal to the USNRC that will allow them to escape the facility.
And damn is it an intense ride. In the space of just 30-40 minutes, you fight a good portion of the enemies in the game. According to Fandom, you take on over 30 HECU Troopers, 20 Headcrabs, 15 Vortigaunts, and a bunch of other nasties, which I’m pretty sure is the highest enemy density you encounter during any segment in the entire Half-Life series.
It definitely shows how Half-Life had the mechanics to be an all-out shooter. Enemy death animations are satisfying, the guns have great pop, while the battles between the soldier and alien AI are a joy to behold (though I always intervene and help out the Vortigaunts—who never asked to be summoned into this world and, as we learn in later games, can actually be quite amiable). It’s one action set-piece after another, with the aerial bombardment of the facility meaning that you’ll get transformed into giblets without warning a good several times.
The sharp shooting, and the fact that Freeman runs at 25MPH (as confirmed by Valve in the recent 25th anniversary documentary) speaks to Half-Life’s debt to Quake, with the game’s GoldSrc (‘Gold Source’) engine being built off the back of Quake’s source code and the Quake Engine. Along those lines, Uplink shows just how easily Half-Life could’ve settled for being an all-action first-person shooter in the lineage of the Quakes, Dooms, and Duke Nukem 3Ds of the world; it would still easily have counted among the best FPS games of its time.
What Could’ve Been
Of course, I’m grateful that it didn’t, ultimately striving and succeeding to be something so much more. I can also see why Valve chose to release Uplink months after the base game, because it would’ve created the wrong impression that Half-Life was a far more conventional FPS than it actually was (the pre-release Half-Life demo was the segment from the train up to the disaster, which was much more fitting).
Uplink is a cool demonstration of what Half-Life could’ve been, and shows how comfortably it could’ve slotted in among the more boomy shooters of the late 90s, but the very fact that you could isolate just the shooting action of Half-Life and it still be fun to blast through 25 years on is testament to just how complete a game the full product ultimately was.
- PC, PS2, Linux, macOS
- November 19, 1998
- Sierra Studios
- M for Mature: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language