Since its release in 1998, the PC version of Half-Life has won more than 50 game of the year awards from various publications. Broken up into 17 episodes, Half-Life features an immersive atmosphere and finely tuned pacing, both of which are seldom matched within the gaming realm. Half-Life has been flying off store shelves for almost three years now, but oddly enough, a console version has yet to be released. There are hordes of anxious console players out there who have waited a long time to discover the first-person shooting magic that is Half-Life. Sierra and Gearbox are about to give them what they want.
For those who haven't played the PC version, Half-Life's story centers on Gordon Freeman, a hack at the Black Mesa Research Facility, where top-secret experiments are taking place. Gordon is late for work, so he needs to get into his protective suit and report to the test chamber as quickly as possible. Gordon's assignment is to analyze a specimen of unknown origin. Upon receiving the go-ahead, Gordon pushes the specimen into a vortex of energy. Shortly thereafter, the scientists declare that something has gone awry, and flashes of bright light give way to a time rift that lets alien creatures enter Gordon's reality. Gordon's dead colleagues are strewn about the complex, so his first order of business is to fight through the waves of alien beings and get to the surface. Once he's at the surface, he'll discover that a military cleanup crew is on the scene with orders to kill anything that moves.
Half-Life is a pioneer of its genre for a number of reasons. Its strong story elements and cinematic presentation focus on the single-player mode, which is something that's seldom seen in most of today's first-person shooters, which focus on the deathmatch mode. The game is broken up into small chapters, and a save-anywhere feature lets you play the game for short periods of time and still make some progress. The game is structured around this save feature, and because death can come at any time, it's often essential to save after each completed task. Gordon collects a wide variety of objects and weapons during his escape to higher ground, and using the right tool for the job is a necessity. There are 15 weapons total, and the majority of them have multiple uses. The machine gun can be used to fire grenades, and the rocket-propelled grenade can be switched into a fly-by-wire mode. One of Half-Life's more interesting weapons is a small creature that you can cast loose on the enemies.
While there are plenty of weapons to use in Half-Life, acquiring ammunition for them, at least in the PC version, can be a chore. Ammo is found on dead security guards and slain scientists, but there's rarely any ammo just lying about. If you have an itchy trigger finger, you'll quickly find yourself helplessly trying to beat the aliens down with the crowbar. Gordon receives instructions from the few scientists who remain alive and may ask security guards in the complex to cover him during especially challenging portions of the game. Enemies come in a variety of shapes and sizes--some are no larger than a football and will spring up at Gordon's head and start eating his face while others will use electrifying attacks to shock Gordon into submission or slash him to death with menacing claws. The enemy AI can be startling at times--the aliens will notice your laser scope and come running or follow you from area to area if you don't dispose of them.
The early portions of the game take place within the darkened confines of the Black Mesa facility. Gordon must negotiate his now-disheveled workplace in attempts at reaching the surface and, presumably, safety. Once Gordon makes it out, the game is far from over. Not only will he have to destroy the aliens that lie in his path, but he must also defend himself against the military's soldiers, who believe he's just another Black Mesa employee adversely affected by the faulty experiment. Real-time, scripted events take place regularly, and they serve different purposes, whether it's altering the plot, opening a new way to explore, or simply scaring the heck out of you.
Valve has passed on the developmental duties for the PlayStation 2 version of Half-Life to Gearbox Software, the developer behind the Opposing Force mod for the PC. Gearbox has been working on the PS2 version of Half-Life for almost a year now, and based on the few screenshots released thus far, it already eclipses the graphical achievements set by the PC version. The character models have been beefed up considerably, and special effects, such as real-time lighting and particle effects, have been vastly improved. The textures have also been reworked so that they may be displayed at a higher resolution for improved clarity.
In addition to the engrossing single-player mode, Half-Life on the PlayStation 2 will feature a two-player multiplayer mode via split-screen. A plethora of deathmatch modes will be included, and a two-player cooperative story mode is reportedly in the works. The PS2 version of Half-Life will also have USB mouse and keyboard support for those who have been weaned on the PC version. The Dreamcast version of Half-Life is scheduled to include a bonus side story called Blue Shift, in which you take control of one of Black Mesa's security guards. We have received no word on whether this side story will be included in Half-Life on the PlayStation 2.
Currently, there is little information available regarding the PS2 version of Half-Life, but Half-Life on the PC has stood the test of time and is looking to be even better on the PlayStation 2. The level design, attention to detail, and story were all compelling three years ago and still manage to pack quite a punch. With improved graphics and added gameplay modes, the PlayStation 2 version has the potential to be the best Half-Life yet. Half-Life is currently scheduled for release this August. Expect hands-on impressions when we receive a playable build.