It’s been five years since Half-Life: A Place in the West started life as a free comic available via the official website, four years since it was released on Steam (remember the Greenlight initiative anyone?) and nearly three since Valve granted the team, headed up by Mike Pelletier and our very own Ross Joseph Gardner, use of the Half-Life licence. It’s been a wild ride for the duo and their team, revealing in September that 2020 has, as you can imagine, been a rough old year which has delayed many of their plans for taking the story, and technology, forward. But here they are, finally releasing remasters of Chapters 1 and 2, along with a newly revamped Steam app to read it in.
A disclaimer here, as I’ve worked with Mike and Ross in the past on halflife2.net, and Ross is currently contributing his own words here at The Reticule, I won’t be delivering a Verdict on the remasters, so you’ll have to read my words to find out my thoughts.
When I first read A Place in the West all those years ago, my attention was piqued and I was very interested. A comic set in the Half-Life series, a gaming series which meant so much to me and shaped my development as a writer and gave me an invaluable sense of community with halflife2.net was a dream come true. I devoured the first chapter, and was very excited when it first launched on Steam. Mike and Ross have come a long way since then and the story comprises six full chapters, numerous smaller interludes and its own soundtrack, and of course their writing has evolved in that time. As they developed their writing style and formed a closer understanding with the talented team behind the art, colours and letters, they felt that the first chapters didn’t do their later work justice. You can read all about their reasons for embarking on the remasters on their blog, but having read the remastered chapters (and associated interludes), I have to say the new opening to the story is so much better.
Coming back to A Place in the West for the first time in a few years (sorry for falling behind Ross!) the change which struck me first was the new interface which is a game changer. As a comic, A Place in the West is a strange fit for having to sit within an app launched from Steam, it would work wonders as a hard bound book, but the original app was clunky and not the best platform for reading a comic. The new app is more streamlined and professional, offering a vastly improved reading experience, perfect to sit alongside the remastered chapters. The sense of Half-Life is still there, but the characters (especially Albert) have had their roughest edges sanded down to make for more rounded and human individuals with more relatable motivations.
If you’re coming to A Place in the West without much in the way of background of the Half-Life story, interlude 0.5 ‘The Fate of All Worlds’ provides you with a stepping stone into the world that Albert and Leyla inhabit. It’s a smart decision from Mike and Ross to offer the interludes for free, and even remastered, Chapter 1 ‘Following Portents’ will remain a free entry point to the story. For those who already own Chapter 2 ‘A Very Modern Major-General’, the remastered chapter will be free, or just £1.59 for those who haven’t already explored this slice of the Half-Life universe.
The story as a whole is nearly halfway through as it stands, while Mike and Ross are looking at releasing Chapter 7 some time in 2021. If you want to expand your horizons of the Half-Life universe, or just read a very fine comic these remasters offer a perfect launching pad.