Review by Dark Vortex

"Unforeseen consequences..."

When Valve had first released Half Life, the FPS genre was dominated by games such as Quake II and Unreal. Soon thereafter, Half Life rose to stardom, leaving its rivals in the dust, and becoming one of the most effective shooters ever released. But what separated Half Life from the rest of the pack during that era in which the FPS genre was still slowly growing in popularity? Sure, they all incorporated ugly aliens, gargantuan monsters, powerful firearms, and LOTS of gibs into an action-packed adventure, but Half Life had a defining edge.

Half Life had depth.

Valve's creation had shown us that shooters could be so much more than the standard "FRAG EVERYONE THAT ISN'T YOU" label suggests. It had literally brought about a revolution that ultimately changed the way the FPS genre, as a whole, functioned.

SUBJECT: Gordon Freeman, Male Age 27

It's just another day at the Black Mesa Research Facility. You're running a tiny bit late as you step onto the tram en route to your office block. You don't pay attention to the computerized voice droning out of the loudspeaker fixed to the front of the open-air car. After all, you've listened to the same safety message every year that you've been working here. Around you, you notice other Black Mesa employees getting ready to carry out their daily tasks. Scientists bicker to each other about pointless formulas as a lone security guard patrols his section. On your way, you also catch sight of a chemical leak nearby. A large spider-like machine, operated by a certified professional, slowly trudges over to the accident and cleans it up.

When you arrive, you are told to hurry up and put on your HEV suit. Some researchers up at the test lab are expecting you. As you make your way down, you are told to enter the tube and do some dirty-work for the scientists standing safely up their hole. The experiment starts off normally, but suddenly, bursts of luminescent light flash and a strange world you've never seen before scrolls before your very eyes. After the lights dim, you realize that something has gone terribly awry. The majority of the scientists are dead. Blood is splattered on the walls and horrifying zombies trudge through the hallways.

What started out as another dull day in the research facility suddenly turns into a battle for your own life.


Of course, you aren't really sure what's going on. In fact, the majority of the game leaves you mostly in the dark. However, as you make your way through the research facility in an attempt to escape, you slowly reveal more and more. But as you figure things out, more mysteries emerge. An alien race known as the Xen have entered Black Mesa through a portal created by the failed experiment. As you dash toward the surface, you'll fight off headcrabs, zombies, and various other beasts. But as you inch toward the surface, you'll become aware of a new enemy: your own fellow humans. Alongside the Xen forces, you will be forced to deal with US Marines and deadly assassins sent to eliminate you and the entire scientist team.

Compared to the Xen forces you've fought up to that point, the Marines will prove to be a toughie. Half Life's AI, in this sense, is pretty impressive. They will duck for cover behind crates and walls while leaning out to take a shot at your head or to toss a hand grenade in your general direction. If you don't move, they'll take you down in seconds. Getting through these toughies can prove to be somewhat frustrating at points. You may even hear their chatter as they literally talk with each other to formulate plans to flush you out of your hole. Very often, you will run into these grunts and their toys (stationary machine guns, trip mines, and helicopters to name a few).

To combat these dangers, you also have your own guns to fight back with. Although Half Life doesn't have the biggest weapon selection ever, each and every weapon has its own strengths and weaknesses. You begin with the signature crow bar: an effective all-around melee weapon. As you progress, you will pick up more potent weapons. The MP5 has an attached grenade launcher which can be activated with a right mouse click. There's a shotgun and a RPG, along with hand grenades and satchel charges for those explosive savvy. Eventually, Xen technologies can be obtained. The hornet gun, for example, features a never-ending supply of ammunition as it constantly recharges itself. After all, it's ammunition is alive in the form of hornets.

The path forward isn't always obvious to you. Sometimes, you'll be required to complete various tasks to get through an area. The first real boss you'll come across is a gigantic three-headed snake in the Black Mesa missile silo. A dying scientist manages to tell you to use the rocket engine to destroy it before the monster finally grabs him and pulls him into its jaws. In order to activate the rocket, oxygen, fuel, and power must be turned on. From there, a good bit of cleverness and skill will be required to get past the monster unscathed while attempting to set off the rocket. Frequently, you'll need to use your brain, alongside your trigger finger, to get through the game in one piece.

The Black Mesa Research Facility is massive. Each and every section is detailed the highest extent. From the complex rail line of the main train to the Lambda Core itself, the amount of depth in each area is just astounding. Vending machines scatter some walls and toss out a stream of soda cans whenever you happen to accidentally break one. Even bathroom dryers activate if you are bored enough to actually press them. Everything looks great right up to the grain, and considering how large the facility is, Valve managed to accomplish quite a feat with the visuals.

Half Life definitely proves to be an all-around game, requiring both a trigger-happy right hand and some brains. There are large-scale battles involving you, a plethora of aliens, and a handful of deadly Marines. At many points, some thinking will be required to get past a certain puzzle or trap. Half Life does require a bit of strategy and planning to get past some particularly frustrating portions of the game. Because your opponents aren't braindead, it may not always be easy to get past those shootouts either.

In all honestly, Valve executed everything that makes any ol' FPS tick, and turned it into gold. Even after years and years, the Half Life franchise is still alive and kicking. You will still find players all over the world. If not Half Life, it's Counter-Strike or any of the other countless mods created using Half Life's original coding.

Half Life was, and still is, the best FPS ever to grace the PC.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 02/08/06

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