Until about two-thirds of the way through, Half-Life is a largely subterranean corridor shooter. It’s oppressive, uncompromising, and makes serious demands of the player every step of the way. But just as you come to accept its claustrophobic brutality as the norm (bar a brief, violent sojourn outside under cover of darkness), it provides the briefest flash of something else. The game’s tenth chapter sees Gordon ambushed, beaten and left for dead by the incoming military ‘clean up’ team. Escaping the steel jaws of an industrial waste compactor, he then earns the shortest glimpse of the bright, blue desert sky before heading back underground.
Although it lasts for the briefest of periods and is tantalisingly curtailed by the walls of a narrow canyon, the sense of impending freedom, of a whole wide world just above, is an incredibly powerful motivator to push on. Later, the game introduces huge expanses of sky during its fearsome surface combat sections, building greater motivation alongside an uncomfortable feeling of exposure. It’s a powerful and uneasy set of emotions to give a player during a game’s more hectic sections, and a fantastic example of Valve’s environmental storytelling abilities.