In their weekly update last Friday, Valve announced that the wait is finally over: they plan to release Half-Life 2: Lost Coast this week.

"Our current plan is to release Half-Life 2: Lost Coast next week (week commencing Monday 24th October -Ed). Lost Coast is a free level for everyone who owns Half-Life 2, and serves as an HDR technology demo based in an unreleased section of the "Highway 17" chapter of Half-Life 2."

The level has experienced several delays in its gestation, with some gamers frustrated at the empty promises surrounding its release. Indeed, the last information we were given was at September's Lost Coast Tech Day at Valve's offices in Seattle. When quizzed whether it was significant that the HDR-enabled Day of Defeat: Source would in fact beat Lost Coast to release, Marketing Director Doug Lombardi told us: "The two releases are so close to each other that internally, we treat them as one."

At that time, it was expected that Lost Coast would debut within two weeks of Day of Defeat: Source, though that figure has now blown out to five weeks. The version we played and tested a month ago was not final, and contained several bugs that have clearly proved troublesome to resolve.

What is all the fuss about then? Half-Life 2: Lost Coast was designed from its inception to push the boundaries of day's performance PCs. It features high resolution textures, and character models that feature double the number of polygons of the year-old Half-Life 2; the infamous Fisherman is made up of some 8,000 polygons.

Of course, Lost Coast's real party trick is the High Dynamic Range (HDR) rendering. Valve's implementation of HDR varies from other developers, like Far Cry's Crytek, in that you can run HDR and Anti-Aliasing at the same time on current-generation graphics cards. Other approaches can offer you one or the other, but not both at the same time - a hurdle that ATI has reportedly addressed in the new X1xxx family, formerly known as R520.

If you are new to HDR, we have a series of articles you can read to bring you up to speed: Half-Life 2: Lost Coast will be made available to all existing Half-Life 2 owners via Steam as a free download. While it should give gamers a chance to evaluate Valve's HDR without having to buy Day of Defeat: Source, bear in mind that it was only ever designed to be a single level. As such, total gameplay is less than 30 minutes, depending on how long you spend drooling over the new eye candy.

Once Lost Coast ships, Valve will be working on fresh content for both Counter-Strike: Source and Day of Defeat: Source, as well as an update for the SDK so that all the mod developers out there can take advantage of recent changes.

You can ask questions about Lost Coast, or post your thoughts in our News Discussion Forum.
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