Half-Life – Review


Release Date: November 8, 1998

Steam Link: http://store.steampowered.com/app/70/

Half-Life Complete: http://store.steampowered.com/sub/715/

Unforeseen Consequences

May 16, 2000-something

For Gordon Freeman, a 27 year old theoretical physicist with a degree from MIT, it was just another day at work at the Black Mesa Research Facility. Gordon started his day as usual, by catching the monorail at Level 3 Dormitories where his quarters was located and riding it through the facilities while listening to the same boring safety announcements on his way to Sector C Test Labs.

Go home Red Faction! You are in the wrong game!“Black Mesa would like to remind you that any feeling of nostalgia about “Red Faction” at this point is merely an illusion. In case of tendencies to install other games, please continue playing”

Working at the labs was just the same boring routine of putting the Hazardous Environment Suit on and doing everything that the other scientists where too bored to do; like pushing a cart into the Anti-Mass Spectometer. Sure, many scientists where envy of Gordon’s position at Black Mesa and would do anything just to be near such a piece of equipment but pushing a cart does not require any scientific expertise. Well, at least they did not asked him to bring them coffee and cookies…

The HEV Suit. As precious as it is symbolicThe Mark IV Hazardous Environment Suit. As much precious as it is symbolic

Black Mesa was not a secret research facility. The general public knew that the Black Mesa complex existed and they had an idea of what was going on there but most people would not be able to understand the nature of the experiments; not without at least a degree in science. Naturally, Black Mesa attracted the attention of conspiracy theorists and technophobics but no one paid any attention to them. These voices exist since the time when Man started to question and reason and were always viewed by science just as rambling based on superstition and baseless fear and the people voicing these fears were left alone to ramble about things like how the experiments taking place at Black Mesa could have unforeseen consequences that could cause a disaster of apocalyptic proportions, or even attract the interest of aliens that will invade Earth.

Standard insertion procedure for a non-standard specimen, go ahed Gordon“Standard insertion procedure for a non-standard specimen, go ahead Gordon”

But on that fateful day these voices where right.
Some members of the science team had expressed their concerns about testing the purest sample that had ever been acquired with the Anti-Mass Spectometer boosted all the way up to 105% power but nothing could indicate that things where going to get horribly wrong. Similar experiments where daily routine for Gordon and the rest of the science team and nothing ever got wrong. But on that fateful day, when Gordon inserted the cart into the Anti-Mass Spectrometer all Hell broke loose.

Nothing to worry about they said“Nothing to worry about” they said…

Recovering from the explosion that followed, Gordon finds himself injured and unarmed inside what is left of the Anti-Mass Spectrometer’s chamber. The damage to the surrounding laboratories is extensive. Corridors are blocked, security doors are jammed, cables have snapped, laser tubes have been broken, machinery overloads and explodes into  storms of deadly shrapnel and if this was not enough, the whole facility is crawling with alien monsters that are nothing like friendly. The security measures that where there to keep people out backfired when hordes of monsters were teleported inside Black Mesa and the whole facility became a death trap. Now it is Gordon’s job to sent these monsters back where they came from!

This will make a nice rag“This will make a nice rag!”

The Gay Science

Gordon Freeman might be a scientists, but Half-Life is not a science simulator. Half-Life is an old-school, fast paced, FPS game. The enemies are challenging and even the weakest enemies can be dangerous in great numbers or in disadvantageous for the player environments. But Half-Life also requires thinking. You do not just press a button, you might have to press it at the right time and thinking unconventionally not only is rewarded, but it might be crucial for survival. Health comes in form of first Aid kits and also, as it is more prominent in Half-Life, it can be collected from Health Dispensers.

What exactly I am supposed to insert into this thing?“What exactly I am supposed to insert into this thing?”

During his “adventures” in Black Mesa, Gordon will find other survivors who are willing to help him and even follow him, something which is sometimes essential for game progression. These companions are useful, especially the security guards that can fire at enemies; or be murdered to loot their weapons if you are a horrible person… But regardless of how Gordon treats the people he meets, everyone has something to say.

Hey, catch me later, I'll buy you a beer.“Hey, catch me later, I’ll buy you a beer!”

In Half-Life there are naturally many scripted events. But some of them can be prevented or avoided, some of them however cannot but their fluidity can be broken by the player and this might be immersion breaking for some players but thankfully this is something rare. There are also scripted events in which a NPC runs straight into their death, but in Half-Life Gordon can actually save them, most of the time…

Except this guy, he has to die for drama purposesExcept this guy. He has to die. For drama purposes

Gordon can even goof around Black Mesa and play with NPCs or do other silly things. The game will not crash and although these actions will not result in a penalty they might be proven lethal for Gordon and also sometimes game progress might become impossible and loading of a previous save will be necessary; but usually it is well worth it.

Congratulations! You manage to spawn enemies inside the Anti-Mass Spectrometer while you are unaccompanied by your faithful crowbar...Congratulations! You manage to spawn enemies inside the Anti-Mass Spectrometer while you are unaccompanied by your faithful crowbar…

The Black Mesa complex feels alive. It might seem confusing at first, but this is how a facility build inside well…, a Mesa as well as the underground will look like after a disaster has taken place, it is not a cheap trick to have the player run around and extend playing time. Especially at the first levels when Gordon has to get out of Ground Zero and find help, there are areas that can be accessed as soon as the player find them, in any order they find them. Of course there are different thing the player can do in different areas, and doing them in any order the players sees fit will not result in penalties or cause crashes.

“Ah! So this is where the shotgun was!”“Ah! So this is where the shotgun was…!”

Later in the game things will get more linear, but is explained as Gordon having a clear specific goal so he knows where he has to go and how he gets there. Again, there is a reason. Anything else would be too complicated and probably technically impossible for the time Half-Life was released anyway, but even in the later levels there is life and freedom. Even some of the jumping puzzles, involving the stereotypical huge crashing pistons in the middle of nowhere, can actually be avoided by taking an alternate route, usually resulting in not getting some hidden ammo.

“Marty, this should be enough to power the Flux Capacitor”“Marty, this should be enough to power the Flux Capacitor!”

With Science On Our Side

The trademark weapon of Half-Life might be the crowbar, but the first firearm Gordon will find is the Glock 17 pistol. The usefulness the simple pistol through the game is reason enough to make you fall in love with the Glock even you do not like the Spartan simplicity of its aesthetics.

“My Little Glocky, My Little Glocky, Ahh, ahh, ahh, ahhh... Hey, what are you looking at?" “♫ My Little Glocky, My Little Glocky, Ahh, ahh, ahh, ahhh… ♫ Hey! What are you looking at?”

Half-Life introduced the iconic version of MP5 Sub-Machine gun fitted with a M203 Grenade launcher. Similar to the version of the weapon that was featured in the 1999 film “End Of Days”. The game uses stereotypical “Video Game Ballistics”, meaning that most firearms kick like mules (at least three of them together) and spread bullets all over the place except the place you aim at, but the most unrealistic and potentially annoying for some players thing is the shotgun that can use the magazine tube to fire a second shell… Except of ballistics, the appearance and sounds of the weapons seems realistic. There are also two fictional weapon prototypes that Gordon can use to dispense science and vengeance to the alien invaders and show them why they should not mess with Terrans!

If there's somethin' strange in your research facility, who ya gonna call? GORDON FREEMAN!“♫ If there’s somethin’ strange in your research facility, who ya gonna call? ♫


Time to choose Mr. Freeman...“Time to choose Mr. Freeman…”

“A surprisingly unconventional and nonlinear hardcore FPS game.”

Even nearly two decades after its release, Half-Life surprises with how alive and free its world feels and how unconventional thinking, which is actually encouraged,  can be a deciding factors between life and death and change dramatically the gaming experience based on play style.


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