Review by p1r4t8r

"Will this game absorb half your life?"

'Half-Life' is probably viewed as one of the greatest and most successful first person shooters ever. Riding in on a wave of hype I decided to buy ‘Half-Life’ and decide for myself whether it was worth the hype associated with it. While hardly revolutionary, 'Half-Life' does mark a good evolution for the first person genre, and is the game that paved the way for a whole host story based first person shooters, including the amazing ‘Deus Ex.’

The introduction to 'Half-Life' takes you on a fly by of the Black Mesa research complex where your character Gordon Freeman works.
After running around for a bit and getting used to the game you will be strapped into a hazard suit to complete a hazardous experiment on a highly volatile specimen. Something horribly wrong happens however, and soon the Black Mesa complex is over run by strange beings from an alternate dimension. Being only one of the few survivors it is your job to get out of the Black Mesa facility alive, and get help for the few remaining survivors.
The story is told wonderfully and the whole while the game is kept completely interactive. Instead of sitting back and watching a cut-scene you actually get to play through the action, which is a refreshing change from most other games.
The characters are fairly one-dimensional though, especially Gordon who barely utters a word the whole time. It's a pity that the characters lack any depth as this does detract from the excellent story.
Story: 8

For its time 'Half-Life' featured amazing graphics and spectacular animation.
Each of the human characters have fairly realistic animation, right down to their lips moving when they talk. The texturing is great throughout the game, and is kept reasonably varied throughout, while also looking realistic.
The aliens have interesting models, such as the head crab, which latches onto a victims face, much like the face huggers from the movie 'Aliens.' Some of the aliens are truly strange and often rather gruesome.
The weapon models are well detailed with great texturing; weapon effects are varied and realistic, giving a real feeling of power to each weapon. The reloading animations are a highlight of the game's graphics though. Gordon will eject a clip and slot a new one into his pistol, and pump extra rounds into the shotgun. All the reloading animations are realistic and look really cool.
Perhaps my only problem with 'Half-Life's' graphics engine was the load times. Because of the games CPU intensive graphics each map has to be split into smaller sections with a short load times in between. On my system (Athlon 1800XP+) this wasn't really much of a problem, although it certainly would be on slower machines.
There was one other slight problem and that was the games resolutions, with the highest being only 1280 x 960, which looked rather odd on my monitor.
Otherwise, for its time 'Half-Life' set the bar for graphics, and it was a game that all others were measured against. To this day the game doesn't look too bad, a true testament to the power of its engine.
Graphics: 9

Atmospheric is probably the best way to describe the sound in 'Half-Life.' Everything from the grunts of the aliens to the blast of the shotgun is excellently done, and adds immensely to the game.
The grunts of the aliens as they are shot, and the screams of pain from the guards and scientists alike is extremely effective and to a certain degree rather realistic.
There is even voice acting featured in 'Half-Life' which is extremely realistic, although some of it seems to be rather muffled. From the chatter of the scientists amongst themselves to the soldiers shouting out orders at each other all the voice acting is off a high standard. The scientists sound timid and scared, the security guards attempting bravery and the cold voice of the soldiers are all great, and they fit the respective characters well.
The music comes in at key moments throughout the game but never became too obtrusive or repetitious. The sound is easily the high point of 'Half-Life.'
Sound: 10

'Half-Life' incorporates a number of more complex themes to the innovation starved first person genre. The first of these changes is the use of non-playable characters to reach certain points in a level and to solve puzzles. Scientists and guards often have security access to areas that Gordon does not. This emphasises the need to keep all NPC's throughout the game alive. If you fail to save someone you may miss out on a secret room, or have to find a longer way around to reach a certain spot. The NPC's are given two simple commands; stay and follow. The AI is off such a high standard that they will open doors and shoot enemies without having to be asked. There are a few problems sometimes with NPC's not following you, but on the whole they are smart enough to make their own way around, and to know what to do next, without the use of clumsy menus like some games.
Scripted events play a big part in the game, as often things will happen when you reach a certain point. An NPC may die, an alien might jump out at you, or something might explode. It's events like these that keep you constantly on your toes, wondering what will happen next.
Definitely the meat of any first person shooter is in the weapons. Without a good supply of extremely lethal firearms what is a first person shooter? In this regard 'Half-Life' does not disappoint. There is an amazing selection of weaponry throughout, both man-made and alien. Weapons include a crowbar, pistol, revolver, shotgun, machine gun, rocket launcher and numerous alien devices. Each of them has a different use against different enemies, and only through experimentation will you find out what weapon works best against which enemy.
Each level is well set out, and follows a fairly coherent design. There are no maze like maps, and for the most part they are well set out and straight forward, perhaps even a bit linear.
As the game progresses you fight increasingly harder enemies and bosses, until the games big finale. The bosses are well thought out too and often require you to use your brain and not just your trigger finger.
Another innovative idea in 'Half-Life' is the way that extra health and armour is gained. Instead of just picking it up off the ground health must be gained from special recharge stations, or often by scientists. This adds an interesting edge to the game and beats collecting obviously placed health packs off the ground.
There was a slight problem I had with 'Half-Life;' quite often the character feels as though he is running on a thin layer of ice, as he has a tendency to slid about to a certain degree. This can become a bit annoying on the jumping sections, or where careful and precise control is required.
'Half-Life' marks a good change to the first person genre, and has enough original gameplay to keep you hooked for hours.
Gameplay: 9
Life Span: 8

+ Varied gameplay
+ NPC interaction
+ Graphics
+ Music
+ Sound effects
+ Weapons
+ Level design

- Slippery movement
- Often difficult
- Level load times
- Muffled voices

As you can see it's hard to pick faults with 'Half-Life,' and for a good reason. 'Half-Life' is about as close to first person shooting perfection as you will get. The varied gameplay, coupled with excellent interaction and a real feel of team work makes 'Half-Life' an excellent game, and easily a classic. With the scores of expansion packs and mods available, 'Half-Life' is a game with near limitless potential, and near infinite life span. If you have never played 'Half-Life' before now is your chance, don't let this classic slip you by! Simply gaming history.
Overall: 9

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 12/21/02, Updated 12/21/02

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