Author: muddasheep & team
It’s been quite a long time since I last played through the previous halfquake titles, the second becoming one of my favourite releases for Half Life. The representation through style, atmosphere and its own soundtrack was a refreshing change. Then out comes this third instalment, perking my interests to jump right back into the sadistic world of halfquake once more. The insanity returns.
You will once again take your role as another victim, to hopelessly navigate through the structure of the halfquake institute, whose sole purpose is to simply entertain. And die at the end. This instalment of the halfquake series is much more focused on the aspects of puzzle solving intertwined with many of the traps spread across each level. And there’s a lot of variation in the initial design of each puzzle that keeps the experience fresh, from logic to jumping puzzles. The latter will probably become your main source of nightmares, if not for the engines annoying habits. You even get a choice of routes here and there. But death is inevitable! I found myself liking a majority of the puzzles, there’s some clever stuff there for Half Life standards, such as the music puzzle. Unlike the previous titles of halfquake, there is very little in terms of action and practically no enemies to fight against this time around. As a whole however, the experience found throughout Sunrise is a lot more balanced and polished compared to the previous titles. Though I still forget how much life insurance I had to take out.
I recognise the halfquake series for its overall style present in each of the titles. The first started it off with the theme of sadistic traps and dangers inspired from Quake. Amen further pushes this by creating a fresh visual style and representation through the simplistic nature of textures and level design. It had atmosphere, created through a small soundtrack of its own and comes complete with satire humour. Sunrise brings many elements back. The general visual theme this time makes use of simple, grayscale textures and a level design with a detailed yet clean construction. Even those who have played through the previous two will find some nice surprises later on. Lighting however seemed to be very dark, at least on my CRT, I had to resort to forcing the gamma higher through the driver control panel.
One of the bigger aspects that create the atmosphere and mood in Sunrise is the soundtrack, complete with a mix of lyrical and instrumental through piano, acoustic guitar and others. This was a big part of Amen I enjoyed and continues to do an even better job in Sunrise. I even came across one of the best and most hilarious loading sequences I have ever encountered. The title music, ‘Eye of the Storm’ really sets the overall mood quite well, although being a simplistic tune. ‘Madvertize’ is quite an ironic piece, a somewhat relaxing listening experience. Despite having some different composers, every track blends quite well with the halfquake world and mood. The OST is available for download on the official site if you feel like checking it out.
The creation of mood doesn’t just end there either, as each level is packed with several ambient sounds, almost as if stuff is crawling through the walls or some odd things are taking place elsewhere, echoing through the walls of the institute. Even general sounds of the doors opening or mechanics slamming about can add a threatening vibe, which really kept me tense at all moments, thinking that something is going to poke and prod me at any moment. Half the time I felt like I was really there, desperately trying to time a certain puzzle correctly so my legs didn’t turn into paper. The satire conversations between the workers can be pretty amusing too, even dropping hints how exactly the other titles link up to Sunrise and how the institute works. The atmosphere and tone really hasn’t changed too much from Amen, but I do miss the moments you got to go ‘outdoors’. So as a whole, the main complex that Sunrise takes place in feels more claustrophobic, many tight spaces with sharp objects millimetres from your eyes.
Sunrise is a success in that it continues to do what I loved about halfquake amen, and expanding on it with a much better soundtrack and more polished gameplay and level design. The lack of fighting really helps keep a focus on the puzzles and traps, which I favour a lot more. Despite dying a lot, I did have more fun trying to solve each of the areas than avoiding enemy attacks. Overall, a nicer balance and lots of variety.