Return to Black Mesa

Return to Black Mesa

When I was a kid I owned Half Life for three hours. It’s by no coincidence this timeframe aligns with how long it’d take for my soft plump legs to carry me back and forth from the shop where I’d feverishly fondle those boxes of potential glee, pluck a few of the best from their nest, hold them to my chest so as others could not grasp the games I’d graced with esteemed paw-marks, lengthily consider and ultimately identify the finest of the few, install the game and whimper and shiver and tell Mum I needed to go back to town and would she hold me please. Yesterday, Mythrilfan – he of RPS chat fame – bought me Half Life as a ‘gift’. This is no gift, this is the Day of Reckoning. I shall confront it head-on.

This time there’ll be no returning the game with excuses of an installer crash and maybe the disc is damaged and hoping for a refund or at least some store credit. Ten years have passed since that day, thought it haunts me still. I am now a man – I’ve changed a pillow case, I’ve contacted the telephone company about a bit of static on the line, I’ve hoovered – I’m ready for this.

The game opens by welding me to rails, yet I’m reminded of my fate by Sector C’s airlocks, which speak to me with a screeching steel statement as the monstrosities let out their last gasp and seal me within their sarcophagus. This is all too familiar. I wish I was home. I watch industry in motion, observe machinery routinely fulfilling its role; the scripted have no utility for digression. I ponder if the yellow robot has noticed the monorail’s passage and shares a similar musing on my place in life. A barney escorts me to ground-zero’s foyer; after a decade of this job, he looks decidedly inhuman. He tells me we should catch up for a beer later. If I find my friend’s humanity lacking, what hope do I have to empathise with my monstrously metamorphosed foe?

My inner soundtrack does nothing to calm my nerves. The omnipresent DJ composes a cacophony of tension and blades, bringing my taut psyche to breaking-point. I sit on a changing-room bench in a futile attempt to calm my breathing and see sense – lunging for Zen only brings Xen within reach. My cold, pale body now tightly ensnared by the Hazard Suit, I feel ever more inadequate in contrast to its power. Somebody else should have received this gift, someone who’d suffer this disaster with a smile.

Outside the test chamber I meet men who’re blinded to the risk by myopia of greed and prestiege. I see knighthood in the balding one’s eyes. I want to inform him that honour is reserved for rugby players and game show hosts but I can’t summon the words. The ladder is tackled and the source of my depression begs to be depressed itself. I pressed this button when I was twelve and discovered only incompetence and incontinence. There’s a moment’s hesitation then the process is engaged. The PC whirs to a stop. I never thought I’d see a resonance cascade, let alone escape one.

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