Review by GundamMonX

Reviewed: 10/17/05

"A mediocre game that doesn't really stand out anywhere"


"Awarded 'Game of the Year' by over 50 Publications" it says on the package. 1998 must've been one black hole of a year for gaming, because Half-Life isn't the cream that rose to the top, it's just the one that didn't sink to the very bottom and drown a horrible death.

I'll begin by saying that there is nothing unique about Half-Life. And the parts that were blatantly stolen from other games aren't even that interesting. Alien invasion? Seen that before: Duke Nukem 3D. Stuck inside a massive laboratory? No character exposition from the main character at all? Doom. Headcrabs? Alien vs. Predator.

Give me one unique image that defines this game, asides from the Lambda symbol. Can't name one? Didn't think so. Half-Life is, on opinion, a game that survived solely among a small group of online gamers who play Counter-Strike and nothing else. I've honestly met people who play CS all the time, and have never played single-player.

As for multiplayer (Team Fortess Classic, Counter-Strike, etc.), I have not played those, so if you're looking for commentary on that, you won't find it here. This commentary is strictly single-player.

Graphics: 7/10

Oh, the world looks real enough, the problem is that it's not that interesting to gaze at. One would figure that a secret government science laboratory would have some kick-ass architecture. Instead we get stone corridor after stone corridor, or oceans of fluorescent green toxic waste pools, or red pipe after red pipe. Now I'm not looking for Frank Lloyd Wright here, but something other than dirt-brown would be much-appreciated. After twenty minutes of playing this game, you'll see everything that there is to see.

Most of the enemies have a fair design, but they quickly become repetitive. The headcrabs will bother you from beginning to end, as will the lightning-shooting lizard things and the roof-bound trap monsters. The floating giant-head monsters that throw firebolts remind me of the squid-like aliens from Duke Nukem 3D. And then there are certain enemies that you have to lure into traps or outright run away from (realistic, but not fun). The only truly unique monster design is the tendril monster that relies on hearing to find its target, and you must crawl around it to pass.

The human scientists, doctors, and soldiers must all be twins; there are only about four really unique character models for each.

Without the High Definition pack, this game looks like crap. With the pack, it looks much better, although your screen still becomes extremely blurry and pixelated when there are heavy graphics going on (i.e. when the screen pulses green as you teleport).

Sound: 6/10

The multidirectional sound isn't a bad thought, it's just too bad that there's no driving music to get you in the mood. When the pseudo-heart-pumping tunes chime in they always drown out everything else that's going on. There's either too much music or not enough, nothing in between.

Without the High Definition pack, again, this game sounds horrible, but the upgrade makes the sound more palatable, especially the weaponry effects.

Control: 7/10

You'll wish that you played someone a little more athletic, since Freeman moves as slow as molasses, even while running. Every jump is a pain because your character will skid on any surface. Oftentimes you'll pass buttons that you need to press, simply because you have no way of knowing that they're there.

Very few of the weapons are actually good. The Magnum handgun is by far the best, but as always, you'll hardly ever have ammo for it. The machine gun is sketchy at best and doesn't feel as strong as it should be, and the shotgun is only good up close. The alien weapons aren't that great, either; I've maybe tried three and decided they weren't worth the effort to use, much less the time required to understand how the hell they work. You get too many "average" weapons in Half-Life instead of a few really useful ones.

Funfactor/Challenge: 6/10

This game is hard because you'll be frequently empty on ammo, low on life, swamped by enemies, trying to navigate the terrain, or a combination of all four. Only once have both my health and my armor been at 100 each. You don't get any quiet pauses where you can stock up on items or just converse with other characters. You're always doing something, which isn't necessarily a good thing.

"Is it fun, though?" you may ask. The first two-thirds of Half-Life are pretty enjoyable, wherein the aliens get loose inside of the underground lab, and you must escape, and after cutting through to the surface, the US Government sends special forces in to "clean house." With this sci-fi story comfortably grounded in some semblance of acceptable reality, Half-Life holds together moderately first.

It takes a swan dive off the "bad idea, even worse implementation" tree and hits every branch on the way down when you get to the alien world, Zen. Low gravity somehow makes everything hard to control, it seems, and that means that friction is somehow nonexistent. The entire world looks like a throwback to a bad 1930's pulp-envisioned alien world, with sharp tendril sticking out of the ground and weightless, spinning islands high in the air. It's neither believable nor interesting.

I've been told that this game has amazing artificial intelligence, when they really only have specific attack patterns. Once you can read them correctly, you'll laugh when enemies just stand there and let you shoot them dead. It gets very annoying when aliens "beam" in from out of the blue and attack you from behind as you progress. This is essentially the same as enemies appearing out of thin air; it's a cheap trick, and it's a pain to deal with.

People will say that the Multiplayer saves this game. They don't realize that they're mutually exclusive; if multiplayer is good, then it saves multiplayer only. Quake II had fun multi- and single-player.

Replay Value: 4/10

In all seriousness, after this unnecessarily long game with an alien world tacked on at the end "for good measure," I really don't want to play any part of this game again. Not a one. Never once during the gameplay did I have the "hey, this is pretty cool" moment that files a game under my "good" category. Nothing really caught my eye or sent a chill down my spine. Most of the game is fair enough to keep your interest, but that's because you'll have the "when is this game gonna open up and really kick ass?" feeling many times; trust me, the credits began rolling and I still had that thought present in my mind.

This game is veeeeery linear: go here, shoot this bad guy, press this button, go here, shoot this other bad guy, press this button(or, for a change of pace, pull this lever), and so forth. It actually gets tiring and redundant after long periods of gameplay. And for a game that prides itself on "no more searching for keys," it certainly has the same "go-here press-this in this order or you cannot move on" approach that many older key/switch-based FPSers (e.g. Doom, Hexen) do. I know that most games are linear, but they don't have to do such a poor job of covering that up.

I've seen many a PC game magazine give this game a "Best Narrative" award. What narrative? What pitifully little we're supplied with is all in-game speak (and none of it from Freeman himself), and rarely do we know what the hell is going on. If the game wasn't linear in that there's only one way to go, we wouldn't know what we're supposed to do.

Another problem is that this game is one long mission, and even that's not all that compelling. You don't get any downtime or chapter breaks. It would be cool, if there were any cinemas, or a progress report of sorts (i.e. mission parameters). You never learn anything about the character you play, Gordon Freeman, nor anyone else in the game. You don't have to care or worry about a damn thing except your own hide; everybody and everything is expendable and replaceable. That doesn't jibe with me in a supposedly "heavily narrative" game. Hell, you don't even get a map.

The game ends almost on a non-sequitir, with Freeman being "hired" as a specialist, although it doesn't say by who or how that turns out (read: buy the sequel to find out what the hell was going on in first place).

Final Word:

"Best PC Game Ever" says PC Gamer? Doubtful. Many great games came both before and after, and Half-Life can barely hold a candle to any of them. This game doesn't know what it wants to be: realistic or campy, a pastiche of older FPSers or deathly serious.

I don't think I'll ever understand what people saw when they first played Half-Life that makes them think it was so great. It's not that Sierra did everything right, they just didn't do anything really wrong. Pale characterization, obnoxious and unbalanced gameplay, no weapons that really pack a punch, and a throwaway plot destroy what would have been a decent game. If you like multiplayer, then that's all well and good, just don't go looking for a thrill-a-minute cinematic blockbuster with Half-Life.

Like Halo, this is one of those games that was somewhat decent so that everybody and their brother bought it and everybody and their brother didn't immediately toss it aside. This game is not unbearably horrible, but like Halo, it is very overrated. I paid $20 for this game, which also included Team Fortress Classic, Counterstrike, Opposing Force, and Blue Shift. If those aren't better than Half-Life, then the game wasn't really worth that $20.

For story and/or setting, go with Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Aliens vs. Predator 2, or Clive Barker's Undying. For straight action, go with Quake III: Arena. I also recommend Call of Duty (short but sweet), Red Faction 1 or 2, and most of the Medal of Honor games. At least those games know what they want to be.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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