Lost amid the hoopla surrounding Half-Life 2's long-awaited debut, Valve has rolled out Half-Life Source, an updated version of the original game that started it all. Available only as a bonus to customers who purchase the collector's edition retail package or the silver or gold packages from Steam, the developer's online content delivery service, Half-Life Source is an opportunity for veterans and newcomers alike to experience the opening chapter in the Half-Life saga.
The thing to keep in mind about Half-Life Source is that unlike Counter-Strike: Source (the updated multiplayer component of Half-Life 2), Valve has not improved the overall look of the original Half-Life in any significant way. For Counter-Strike: Source, Valve upgraded the geometry and textures of the levels, bringing the graphics in line with modern standards. But for Half-Life Source, Valve simply transferred the existing 6-year-old levels and textures to the Source engine. The result is that, except for a few upgraded effects, Half-Life Source looks almost exactly like the original Half-Life.
While Half-Life Source looks almost identical to the original Half-Life, it also runs a lot smoother. Of course, it helps that the original Half-Life was designed to run on 6-year-old machines. Any relatively modern system will have no problems running this game at a high frame rate. The action is so smooth, in fact, that it goes by hyperfast at times, which can throw off your timing. And the Source engine does upgrade some of the graphical effects in the game...most notably water surfaces. If you have a DirectX 9-compliant video card, you'll see the same shimmering water that you experience in Half-Life 2. Meanwhile, some of the game's surfaces offer better reflective properties, such as the back of security guard Barney's helmet, which presents an obvious sheen.
Half-Life Source also introduces the new physics effects from Half-Life 2, though they have relatively little impact on the game, because none of the levels for Half-Life were designed with physics in mind. Still, you can see cool effects, such as rag-doll physics, on bodies. The lighting engine has also been upgraded, which means that you have a better flashlight to illuminate the dark corners of the game. Meanwhile, everything else that made Half-Life such a beloved game pretty much remains the same, including the deathmatch-style multiplayer that allowed you to play with the submachine gun, crowbar, and rocket launcher in an online arena.
If you haven't played Half-Life anytime in the past few years, playing Half-Life Source can bring back a lot of memories. It's almost jarring to see how relatively crude the character models, textures, and levels appear when compared to the cutting-edge visuals of Half-Life 2. You'll be happy to know that Valve lets you start a new game at the beginning of each of the major chapters, such as Surface Tension and Xen. That way, you go straight to your favorite chapter of Half-Life and experience it anew, while skipping over much of the prologue and buildup. And if you never played the original Half-Life, Half-Life Source is certainly worth checking out. It's one of the finest action games ever made, and the advancements made in Half-Life echo in today's games.