Take one look at Industria and you’d be hard-pressed not to think of Half-Life. It has all the signatures—an Eastern European city besieged by futuristic tech, liminal mind trips into new dimensions, ambient sounds that linger to soak you into the world, and rogue scientists puzzling together this new dystopia. And you’re at the heart of it with your trusty axe and handgun, smashing boxes and scurrying about the streets avoiding robots. But its identity goes deeper than superficial aesthetics.
It’s a bleak insight into a future under totalitarian control with the ideas of rebellion unthinkable and victory insurmountable. That’s where it embraces but also breaks from its Half-Life influences. You’re not a scientist with a crowbar and a god complex, boosted by your superheroic antics—a leader who faces those insurmountable odds and triumphs. You’re a person trying to survive and find their husband, wading through the filth and the wreckage with a faceless voice guiding you, only to find disappointment. It’s hollow, empty, and lonely. That’s where Industria shines.
Half-Life’s world is bleak. The idea of toppling the Combine, shutting down Dr Breen, and rising up feels like a pipe dream. But then Gordon arrives on a train, the wrong man in the right place, and he sparks hope in the cause, leading its soldiers to tear down the monuments to fascism while staging battles in the streets. All building up to the Citadel’s destruction, the greatest monument of them all. And along the way, you meet countless rebels who lend a hand. It’s a community sprawling across Eastern Europe with one goal. But Industria is just you and an unknown man, trying to get out.
Half-Life is a technological marvel that pushed the FPS genre (and now VR) forward with each launch, but its world is as fascinating as its physics and immersive finger-tracking gunfights. That’s what I’ve been craving in a modern Half-Life, a game that leans into Earth under totalitarian control, brought to its knees, the overlords literally towering above the masses, and picks apart its impact on the people stranded at the bottom.
Industria gives us that. It takes us back to that atmosphere of dread that we felt in 2004 but leaves it to fester. The eerie mystery of G-Man is replaced by a fluid lucid dream with a person dancing on a stage through a corridor in a mundane office. The bickering between Alyx and Barney is swapped out for Nora and a strange individual over the radio. The triumph is gone, with a hollow victory in its place as we find our husband only to stumble back into the limbo, now standing on the stage ourselves.
It feels more relevant now than Half-Life, a game where fascism is toppled and democracy and community win. We get what we want at the end of Industria, what we’d been looking for, but it's disappointing and cold, the victory wrenched from our hands almost immediately. The world is still apocalyptic, we’re still alone, and nothing has changed. Not really. The cycle of control and beating down continues, and the city is still lost to these robotic constructs. It feels closer to what we’re experiencing now in 2022 as the alt-right continues to grow and rip rights away from those they deem undeserving.
Maybe it’s a reflection of our loss of hope over the years, but Half-Life was always the perfect mirror to our own world. Breen was an aloof stand-in for the fascists of our reality, the Combine a metaphor for fascism’s sublime and unbeatable nature, the Metrocops an allegory for neighbours turning on each other. But ultimately we win. Industria doesn’t give us that moment of victory and instead rips the escapism from under us. It takes Half-Life’s core message and unravels it, but Half-Life’s genius was that it reflected our own world. Industria gets that, even if it’s less optimistic.