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Retinal scanner

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For other uses, see Scanner (disambiguation).

Hl scanner01.png
Retinal scanner
General information

Identification scanner

Used by
Game information
  • item_eyescanner (HLPS2)

Karen Laur[1]

"We all have retinal scanner access. Escort us to the lobby, and we can get out of the lab."
Black Mesa scientist[src]

Retinal scanners are biometric devices featured in the Half-Life universe.


Retinal scanners are wall-mounted electronic lock systems typically connected to secured entrances. Authorized individuals can unlock these doors by having their eyes scanned, verifying their identities in the process. To operate the device, users must peer into the visor and remain still for a brief period while the scan commences.

In Half-Life, scanners in the Black Mesa Research Facility are often found near security checkpoints being operated by security guards. Some science facilities such as the Anomalous Materials Laboratory in Sector C also require scanner use, the apparatuses here being used by the science team. If the user isn't authorized to enter, the automated announcement system will report that access is denied. It's said that new employees must submit their identity to the retinal clearance system at the Black Mesa Personnel Department before being permitted into the high-security branch of the transit system.

Variations of the retinal scanner are used elsewhere in the facility. In Decay, full body scanners are seen at some checkpoints. These large chambers are capable of scanning and recognizing multiple individuals at once. In Blue Shift, hand scanners are present in the Section A-17 Prototype Labs, an older section of Black Mesa. Dr. Rosenberg states that these are part of the old security system which instead recognizes users by their fingerprint ID.

In Half-Life 2, a retinal scanner is used by Dr. Kleiner in his lab to access the teleportation room. Initially hidden inside a column, its secret compartment is revealed by adjusting the nearby Black Mesa research team group photograph. This scanner emits the same sounds as a Combine Camera.


Eli Vance operating a scanner shortly after the Resonance Cascade.

Retinal scanners are featured several times throughout Half-Life and its expansions. They are usually found in levels that feature escort missions where the player is required to lead a character to the device to open further paths, such as in the chapter Questionable Ethics. The game ends and loads the last save game file if the player fails to protect the character.

In his letter of acceptance to Black Mesa, Gordon Freeman was told that he wouldn't immediately need to submit to a retinal scan for the outset of his employment.[2] He is therefore unable to himself use the scanners that are encountered throughout the game. Similarly, in Opposing Force, Adrian Shephard is dependent on members of the science team to use their retinal scanner access to enter secured areas of the facility. Other Black Mesa employee protagonists, namely Barney Calhoun, Gina Cross, and Colette Green, are able to operate scanners. In his reassignment letter, it is said that Barney had his retinal scan verified some time shortly before May 12,[3] days before the Black Mesa Incident.

Behind the scenes[edit]

Half-Life's retinal scanners are made out of brush-based entities. However, in the PlayStation 2 port, these were substituted with fully animated models that utilized a new entity. The textures for the original brush version were created by Karen Laur.[1]

An early but non-functional design for the scanner is seen in the Half-Life Alpha which featured handles for the user to hold onto during the scanning process. Despite the handles being removed in the final design, the animation still depicts the user holding onto the device where the handles used to be.

Cut retinal scanner puzzle in On A Rail.

In Half-Life's On A Rail chapter, the High Altitude Launch Center was planned to have an additional puzzle wherein the player had to escort one of a group of scientists to the retinal scanner at the control room to unlock the door, similar to the setup in Questionable Ethics. In the final game, all scientists within the center have been executed by the military by the time the player arrives, and the control room retinal scanner and door have already been activated and unlocked. This puzzle is still mentioned in an early Prima guide for the game.[4]

In Opposing Force, leading Engineers around to use their ability to cut open doors was meant to be analogous to leading scientists to use retinal scanners.[5]


Half-Life Alpha[edit]

Half-Life and its expansions[edit]

Half-Life 2[edit]

List of appearances[edit]

Main games[edit]



External links[edit]