Half-Life (PC) review
"Four years after its release date and despite its aging graphics, the game is still relevant today and still far better than many of its more recent counterparts. "
Every once in a while, a game comes out with innovations so new and true that they aren’t just popular, they become urban legends.
Half Life has stood the test of time. Nearly four years from its original release date it is still going strong today. Evidence can be seen when you log on to Gamespy and see that over *70,000* people are playing Half Life online *at that moment*. That’s not including the people who aren’t. Not bad for a game built from the code used in Quake (yes, that’s right, Half Life uses a heavily modified Quake engine, not a Quake II engine as the story is normally told. So heavily modified in fact, you’d never recognize it.)
Why is Half Life so big? How is it that Valve, its developers have been able to survive on that one game and its variants? What made it the gaming phenomenon that it is today? A vast combination of factors, but at its heart is the game.
Half Life isn’t just a game, in a way its an experience. It begins with training. When I first played it, no other game had a training sequence. Half Life needed it. Half Life was reaching out to the people who had never played a game like this before and taught them to move. How to fight, how to go about in the gameworld. And it never left the storyline behind. From the moment you start, *you* are Gordon Freeman, theoretical physicist. You are an employee of the Black Mesa Research Facility and this training course is to teach you how to move in a Hazardous Environments Suit. Everything you need to learn about movement and weapons to play the game is learnt in four short levels.
Then the game starts. The intro is great the first time through. There wasn’t really anything like it before and it probably be good if you never see it again because the significance of the intro can only be experienced a handful of time. Nothing happens.
Not quite. You’re given a tour of the massive Black Mesa facility on a tram ride to your place of work. Along the way, a computerized female voice informs you about job opportunities for friends in the Black Mesa facility and scheduled events. Once there you are greeted by a friendly security guard who tells you you’re late. The whole thing immerses you in the game’s world and never once from that point does it let you go. You even have to perform some task befitting for the lowly research assistant that you are, like turning on the machine in the test labs and delivering samples of materials. And that’s when all hell breaks loose. The experiment goes awry and reality warps. You awake in a shattered Black Mesa research labs, over run by strange aliens from another world. Your only hope: To find a way to the surface and find help.
This is where the game truly shines. The way you are thrown into skirmishes with deadly aliens while somehow keeping the plot flowing (albeit, its not a very deep plot, but it more than suits it purpose) smoothly. Intelligent puzzles that are relevant to the story and environment come at you at every turn. And the scripting of scenes is first class, making you feel as if there’s more going on than just you muddling through some levels, running and gunning beasties. The beasties are nothing to sneer at either. I will proceed to try and convince you:
One of the best examples I can give you is one of the best ‘puzzles’ of the game. In the middle of rocket testing lab, there’s a three-headed monster, blind, and it only responds to sound. Your weapons fail to eliminate it. But on the console in front of you, there is a single button that says ‘ignite’ and three lights saying ‘fuel’, ‘water’ and ‘oxygen’. The answer is there with a bit of braining. You have to find supplies for these three utilities and fry the giant thing. But here’s the trick. You have to go through the testing area and past the beast. Walking will make a tell tale sound that will mean instant death. The switches are two levels below. How will you make it down? Its no easy feat, especially with the brute smashing its beaks on the metal, producing a blood curdling melody, but once complete, sitting back and watching it fry is truly satisfying.
And then there is the all-important AI. AI is truly amazing, for a game of its time. People might say the Half Life revolution (as far as single player gaming was concerned) was its scripted scenes. I beg to differ. The difference was its AI. While the aliens go about in the usual manner, some literally screaming for you death and often easily dispatched, they still *hunt* you down. Hiding behind a crate and waiting for them to casually ignore you and return to walking around or going blindly for you simply isn’t true. The will stalk you and they will do their best to kill you. Even the small headcrabs stalk you through ventilation shafts and ambush you in dark corridors. But then come the human enemies…
Unforgiving. You see a human enemy and you duck behind a crate, waiting for him to follow you. “Flush. Him. Out.” You hear a cold, detached voice say over a radio and an unmistakeable ‘klink, klink, klink’ as a grenade sails over the crate into your lap. Boom. Game over. Hiding won’t help you. Over whelming power won’t save you. The only thing that can save you from seeing your view change from upright to looking at your gun as you crumple to the floor is your brain. Never before did I actually have to outsmart my opponent in a game. Now, you’ll never go anywhere without it. This *is* Half Life. More than any other innovation, this is where it will be remembered as a classic. Your opponents running for cover, in teams they will outflank you, coming from all sides. Lobbing grenades into your hiding place. You are not safe in the open. You are not safe in the shade. You are not safe.
To add on to an already extended review, I will now proceed to tell you about what happens in the afterHalfLife. Don’t put away your game just yet. Don’t remove it right away. Get more. Don’t need to buy any expansion packs. All you need to head to the internet. Hundreds of aspiring game developers have flocked to Half Life to make ‘mods’, modifications of the original Half Life game engine and multiplayer code to flood the net with additional single player episodes, multiplayer maps or even multiplayer mods. It is a testament to Valve’s foresight in dealing with these ‘modders’. It was their support that helped a little known multiplayer modification called “Counterstrike” to become the most played internet game in the world. That amateur mods like ‘Day of Defeat’ are used as a benchmark for Medal of Honor’s multiplayer game and not the other way round. And counterstrike is still available *free* despite seeing an official game release. Half Life: Counterstrike sold well even though it was available for free off the net. Four years and still going strong.
Half Life is truly an experience. If you haven’t played it yet, get it now, especially since it’s going cheap. Four years after its release date and despite its aging graphics, the game is still relevant today and still far better than many of its more recent counterparts.
Community review by tigmal (Date unavailable)
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