Go west! Life is peaceful there.
I wouldn’t say that Half-Life or its sequels are the greatest examples of science fiction ever written, but they’re nonetheless interesting and accessible, with assorted amounts of techno-babble and high concepts to keep geeks hooked. After nearly two decades in the public eye, it’s rich in fan-fiction, and I’ve long felt that the universe of Gordon Freeman would work well as a TV show or comic. Now we can explore the latter idea with the awesome Half-Life: A Place In The West.
A Place In The West is a fan-made effort with neither Valve’s approval nor endorsement, but you couldn’t tell by reading it. It’s a product of high quality, with writing and art that could easily match anything sold commercially. It relies heavily on its source (pun intended) material without ever coming off as over-zealous, and you can tell the writers are massive fans of the Half-Life universe. And best of all, it’s completely free.
The comic is set a few months after the Seven Hour War alluded to in Half-Life 2. In a broken, Combine-ruled world, we follow a man named Albert Kempinski as he searches for his missing daughter. Through flashbacks, we learn that she was kidnapped by an unknown group of humans, and his negligence is to blame, leading him to being overwhelmed with guilt and grief ever since. In Kempinski’s search thought the wastelands of the United States, he comes across a Vortigaunt named Dreyfus and a human woman named Leyla who save his life and provide him with much-needed company, although he is reluctant to admit it even to himself. The trio, now in search of missing offspring and scientists alike, are drawn to a mysterious city named Franklin, which purports to be the last outpost of a truly free humanity. However, the city may not be all it seems, and may very well be related to the disappearance of one of the Combine’s Citadels.
The first chapter, Following Portents, is the first of a planned total of six comics. What’s interesting is its method of distribution: it’s released on Steam as a free download, and comes packaged with its own reader. You’re able to navigate via a menu system that resembles that of the actual Half-Life games, and it even comes bundled with achievements in a similar vein! Additionally, readers can download an extensive developer’s commentary as well, which delves into the comic’s production and backstory. Be warned, though, as it’s a surprisingly hefty, 2GB+ additional download. It’s well worth a look and I highly recommend it.
The second issue, after an initial delay, is set to be released at the end of February of 2017. In the meantime, a mini-comic named The Charnel House offers a tantalizing glimpse into just how insane Franklin’s underbelly is, and the potential horrors that await Albert and Leyla.
The art is fantastic, invoking a style that seems to be almost a hybrid between Jim Lee and Mike Mignola’s works. The colors are desaturated and earthy, giving the story a very somber and gritty feel. Various aerial shots invoke an almost cinematic feel, and the overall production value is easily on par with any officially-sanctioned Valve product. It’s easy to imagine Half-Life: A Place In The West being sold in physical format in various comic book stores.
A Place In The West gets off to a strong start, with characters you can relate to and a story full of angst, dread, hope, humility, and horror. Though its place on the Half-Life timeline is far removed from the eventual return of Gordon Freeman, there’s still plenty of opportunity for action and carnage as the newly-enslaved human race tries to cope with a drastically changed world. I’m eager to see the story continued and whether or not Albert will be able to eventually find his kidnapped daughter. It’s definitely worth checking out and comes with the highest of recommendations, both for fans of the Half-Life games, and of comics generally. Get yourself hooked by visiting its official Steam page now.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Writers: Ross Joseph Gardner, Michael Pelletier ; Artist and letterer: Heath Heil, Rachel Deering ; Genre(s): Science fiction, apocalyptic, game-related ; Published: 30th of September, 2016.
Full disclosure: this review is based on a copy of Half-Life: A Place In The West obtained for free by Hey Poor Player.