"In a crowded world of shooters, Half Life stands tall even today."

Half Life. Released by Valve Software in 1998, Half Life was (and is) a first person shooter in which you play the role of Gordon Freeman, a simple scientist just trying to make do his job. The game was a hit, winning more than 50 game of the year awards from various publications. What made this game so great, and why does it still stand up today?


Half Life is a first person shooter. What's that mean? Well, you go around blasting different types of creatures using various weapons in different ways. Sound unremarkable? I thought so too, at first. But Half Life conveyed to me something I didn't feel in many other games before-A true sense of atmosphere. The game is a perfect blend of puzzle solving and fast paced action. Scripted sequences help keep the flow of gameplay going along, providing both help and harm as you try to survive. Half Life's arsenal is a great blend of traditional military weapons, including pistols, shotguns, and machine guns, and futuristic sci-fi guns that show some real originality. In how many games do you get to shoot down a helicopter with a charged-up laser cannon? Not many, and it's thrills like that which make Half Life's gameplay what it is.


Ok, Half Life doesn't have much in the way of story compared to RPGs and the like. But for a first person shooter, it really revolutionized the idea of combining run-and-gun gameplay with an intense story to keep you on track. You begin the game on a train, riding into work like normal. As you walk into the lobby and through the halls, scientists and security guards greet you and talk to you. You reach the test lab, where some kind of experiment in which you are the central figure is taking place. You calmly climb to the raised platform, and push a button. Within a few minutes, all hell breaks loose. You pass out, and find yourself in the middle of an alien takeover of your once peaceful science facility. Grabbing a crowbar, you quickly begin your descent into the deeper truth. For half of the game you'll be fighting a mix of different aliens, all with some kind of different way in which they try to kill you. Two-thirds of the way through, you encounter your first human enemy...From there on it's a test of survival that pits one scientist against military grunts, assasins, and more aliens. I don't think Half Life would be what it is without it's story.


Games from six years ago don't tend to have top of the line graphics, and Half Life is no exception. The character models are pretty blocky and chunky, but the animations are pretty good. The environments looks good thanks to the quality of some of the textures that were put into this game. There's a striking contrast between the harsh rock cliffs and the cold metal hallways of the facility. Lighting is handled well, it can be hard to see at times but never so much that you find yourself lost in a maze of blackness. The weapon models look ok, but with the high definition pack that comes with the Blue Shift expansion they do look good. Not great, but passable.


The weapons have distinct sounds that easily allow you to tell them apart just by sound, and the voice acting is well handled. In most situations it's a so-serious-that-it's-funny type of thing. The friendly scientists will run and scream in terror if you shoot near them, really adding to the frantic situation. The aliens make their assorted variety of grunts and high pitched moans, and are also very different. It can be a scary thing to hear the sound of an alien controller just around the wall, knowing that it's coming for you. The enemy humans have muffled radio command style voices, and often shout things at you while trying to kill you. All in all the sound immerses you deeper in the experience.


The main game will take most players around 10 hours to complete, and three varying levels of difficulty offer a reason to replay. There's also a deathmatch multiplayer mode featuring the game's weapons and enviroments that can be fun to play, while it lasts. The main thing that makes Half Life replayable is the incredible amount of user-created mods for it. I'm guessing that at any one time there are over 100 different ways to play Half Life, both online and off. If you get tired of the actual game, just download a mod or two and you're set for a while.


Now that it's only about $20 to buy the game and all of the expansions included, there really isn't a reason not for you to get this game. It's a great game that'll please most who play it, especially first person shooter fans. I would recomend this game to anyone who wants an enjoyable game experience.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 03/18/04, Updated 04/18/04

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