Review by BigCj34

"The game that changed the FPS genre still remains a gem today."

Half-Life was released by the end of 1998 by Valve, who were a small team of unknowns until the immediate success of half-life. Half-Life itself was made using a modified Quake engine, now recently known as the GoldSrc engine, and has spawned off two official expansions (Opposing Force and Blue Shift). Several official mods have been made, including Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat and a Team Fortress port plus a vast amount of unoffical mods, a huge gaming cult, and a hugely successful sequel 6 years after the first release.

Half-life commences with Gordon Freeman, on his way to work to the Anomalous materials laboratory at the Black Mesa research facility in New Mexico, USA. The first sign of suspicion is the stopping of the train from a chemical leak to see a blue suited G-man staring at Gordon, who is seen agian at the lab arguing with a scientist. G-man is seen making random appearances throughout the game. Gordon Freeman, after being criticised by his colleagues for being late, puts on his HEV suit and proceeds to the test chamber, where he puts an alien specimen into a scanning beam, only to find all hell has broke loose, an interdimensional portal is created between planet Xen and the Earth, where Freeman briefly appears on the planet and vats amounts of aliens have apeared in the black Mesa, while massive destruction has taken place in Black Mesa. Gordon Freeman is instructed to reach the surface of Black Mesa and put an end to the invasions. It's up to you, as Freeman, with an arsenal of weapons that increases as you progress, from a crowbar to advanced prototype gause cannons to put an end to the chaos, fight the aliens, purge the US marine clean-up crew that get you to shut-down the portals between Xen and Black Mesa. Can you handle the heat?

Half-Life back in it's released was acclaimed not for the plot itself, but how it was delivered to you, and I strongly agree. The plot of aliens invading doesnt stand out as the most original plot ever thought out, but the way you get immersed into the plot is another thing. The plot plays an iintegral part of the gameplay, as what happens brings you right in the situation and affecting where you are and what you're doing. For example, the US marine's who have been sent to clear otu the place and just words in the instruction manual that you wouldn't know that exist had you not read it, nor are they the occasional people you meet. They stand there, and they shoot the hell out of you, and there's no getting away from them until after the surface, while the mysterious alien planet isn't something you hear about and don't see, as at some point in the gamer you're taken there to see for yourself the roots of the alien's, incuding the flesh factory that manfactures new aliens for earth.

The game sets itself nicely for it's atmosphere, the graphics aren't bright or shiny, but dark and always sets the mood throughout the game. There's the occasional scripted music track, but for most of it it's just the whir of machinery or the aleins stomping about round the corner. The story again has been presented to you in firstperson, no cut-scenes but just scripted sequences from scientists and security guards talking to you as you stand in front of them, to when aliens charging through a wall or even when a security guard gets sniped from nowhere. The magic behind the use of scripted sequnces prevents changing the perspective and therefore keeping you in the game constantly, which means there's no boring dialects of speech in cut-scenes, but instead listening to scientists bore you about a prototype weapon or how 'dangerous' the next sector is, so you'll vcaryr on without taking in a word they say.

There's no such thing as 'levels' as such in the game, but short areas that you have to go through and parts that you can't return to. It's advantages are imminenet in that it keeps the game flowing, but regualrly you see 'loading' spalshed upon the screen, which is espcially annoying when you have to charge back and forth two different sectors. Another noticable feature is that Gordon Freeman himself doesn't speak, particularly because the game is implying that Gordon Freeman is you, and would therefore take the personal sense away.

Albeit the atmosphere, the gameplay element is aided strongly by the scripted sequences I said before, particularly when aliens fall from nowhere, or parts of the level being blown to smithereens as you run through them. Throughout the game, particularly the early stages, there's a lot of puzzles and platform jumping as well as shooting, which becomes more abundant through the later stages of the game. For example, you go through Black Mesa, as you do and next thing you see is a monster. Okay, so this monster doesn't look so good, so you save the game, iand through the door you see it appears to be 3 snakes that are tied together at the base, who then starts pecking on your platform and you've been sliced to smithereens already. No matter how many grenades you throw, the snake thing appears unaffected, but the snakes appear to start pecking the other side where you've thrown the grenade, so you've got to run down to the bottom, turn on the power, and run back up until you realise you have to be very efficient with your last grenade so you can just avoid the snakes. Another fine example is when you have to get to a sattelite beam through a railway system and plenty of ambushes, so you have to clear the area to progress.

The weapons are all certainly abundant, not just because you only have so much ammo for each one but the various enemies that appear. For instance, even when you have the gause cannon and rocket launcher the pistol always proves handy when the pesky headcrabs are lurking around, especially with it's lightness and ease to point with, and the machine gun that proved so handy when you nabbed one off the marines proves not so efficient when you discover the one-shot effectiveness of a bow and arrow later in the game. The revolver itself proves handy with it's one shot kill effectiveness, while the crowbar has it's uses for breaking open boxes, thats become a signature wepaon.

Half-life's graphics look obviously dated nowadays, with overly square shaped objects and environments, low detailed textures and a general flat feeling on every object, expecially on water. The scientists and security guards are awfully ubiquitos, but the aliens even today look quite well animated and have been drawn quite well. For it's time the graphics would've been pretty good, not so much about the shininess but the atmosphere it's use of colour creates. Unfortunately, the environemnts throughout lack Mesa do feel a little repeatitive, with the same textures re-used throughout constantly giving the feel of the same old Black Mesa. The versatility of the graphics engine has proved useful for it's mods, while the game itself can be played in direct3D, openGL AND software mode, but seeing as every modern computer today should have some form of 3D acceleration, software mode does little more than annoy the living daylights out of gamers who set the game to D3D and 1024x768 simultaneously, only to find it switches to software mode.

The audio on the game has been presented excellently, with true stereo sound and giving an impression of surround sound. The constant hum of machinery, aliens and the occasional background music contribute significantly to the atmosphere of the game. The alien noises are fantastic, the charcters dialogue is great and G-man speaks, should we say, different. He's not evil though, is he?

Half-life itself can be installed straight from the disk on it's own, in that case you won't have access to the online deathmatch or Team Fortress as the server for those using the retail half-life ceased in 2004. Nowadays you can download a program called Steam, which appears to be a fronted for all the Valve games and others but also manages your Steam account, online access for the games and where you can register your CD key for Half-life. Registering your Half-life CD not only gives you access to Half-life itself, but it's official mods and expansions, including Counter-strike, Day of Defeat, Ricochet, Team Fortress, and HL Deathmatch, plus Half-life's expansions, Opposing Force and Blue Shift, plus you can download a long list of third party mods. Not a bad deal if I say so myself. Steam works best with broadband, as the game has to be up-to-date to play the games, and it's offline mode is very inefficient at times.

Graphics Obviously dates now, but still enough to set the atmosphere, and pretty good for it's time. 8/10
Sound Sets the atmosphere brilliantly, great alien effects, gun sounds and voice acting. 9/10
Gameplay Plenty of puzzles, lots of weapons and constantly flowing, despite the occasional loading. 9/10
Length 18 chapters make for a long, satisfying shooter, and if that doesn't keep you occupied for long enough, Counter-Strike certainly will. 10/10

Half-life back in 1998 revolutionised the shooting genre, and is a great game to play today still if you perserver through some of the slightly boring areas. For £10-15 you can get Half-life and all it's add-ons I mentioned. Even if you don't plan to play half-life (you ignorant fool), Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat will be worth the money, and is a great way to start you Steam account. Just don't hope playing through Half-life will suddenly make you a CS 1337. 9/10


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 09/05/06


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