Half-Life Review

Half-Life is the closest thing to a revolutionary step the genre has ever taken.

A major goal in any game is to create the illusion of reality, a fact that is especially true for first-person shooters. The whole point of the genre is to put you, literally, in the role of the protagonist. In light of this, it's surprising that so many games have stuck to a blueprint that breaks the illusion at every possible opportunity, with text-based mission briefings, jarring level transitions, and weapons and power-ups scattered around like decorative furniture. But Valve Software has obviously spent a lot of time studying the mistakes of the past. The result is Half-Life, the closest thing to a revolutionary step the genre has ever taken. Through a series of subtle and artistic design decisions, Half-Life creates a reality that is self-contained, believable, and thoroughly engaging. And while it may be surprising that no game has utilized any of these ideas in the past, it's clear that any future shooter will be remiss to overlook them.

The plot of the game is typical (in fact, it's little more than an elaborate version of Doom). You are Gordon Freeman, scientist at the Black Mesa Research Facility, involved in some mysterious experiments. These experiments go awry, and foul creatures begin taking over the complex. It gets more complicated, but there's no need to ruin the surprises that await. Suffice it to say that Half-Life isn't a great game because of its story; it's a great game because of how it presents that story. From the opening moments of the game to the final showdown (and even beyond) all hell is continually breaking loose, and there is never a moment where you are not seeing things through Freeman's eyes. There are scripted events in the game. There are opening and closing scenes. But they all occur naturally within the game environment. It may sound simple, but it goes a long way toward helping create a believable world.

Weapon, ammunition, and health placement follows the same philosophy. You'll hardly ever come across an item that is just bobbing and spinning in place like some gift from the heavens. Valve has done a good job of justifying the typical health and armor meters. Freeman is wearing a hazard suit, used by researchers involved in dangerous experiments. To regain health and armor energy, you must fill up at power stations. These are almost always located in logical places, usually near areas where dangerous work would be performed. There are no power-ups to be found. Weapons and ammo are taken from supply closets or the corpses of fallen security guards and soldiers. Even the more experimental weapons have their proper place - in the weapons research department of the facility. And late in the game, once you've left the research facility, the supply of ammo and first aid kits is believably scarce.

There are no levels in Half-Life, or, more specifically, it lacks the concept of levels and episodes we've come to expect. The game is a continual stream of locations from beginning to end. You can move back and forth at will (with only a few exceptions), as can those who are pursuing you. And though the brief loading time between zones is the one artifact that breaks the flow of the game, the transitions are thankfully brief.

The attention to detail doesn't just stop with the basic structure. The game is full of surprises, continually throwing new obstacles and challenges in your path. There is a wide variety of textures, lending a distinct look to every area. The numerous scripted events bolster the illusion of reality, and you'll come across detailed scenes that are continually suspenseful. The gameplay is very puzzle-oriented, but the puzzles hardly seem to be superficial obstacles. Whether you're repairing a reactor or finding some way to dispose of a massive locked door, the puzzles always seem plausible in the world Valve has created.

The alien enemies are well designed and occasionally border on the terrifying. From the basic headcrab (which resembles a cross between Alien's facehugger and X-COM Apocalypse's brainsucker) to monstrosities a hundred times its size, the enemies truly look like organic beings. There are human enemies in the game, and these display a level of artificial intelligence that is remarkable. While many a game's idea of excellent AI is simply monsters that can make it through a doorway to follow you, Half-Life's antagonists act in a manner that is frighteningly realistic. They won't follow you through a doorway - they'll just lob a few grenades to where you're hiding and be done with it.

The weapons look and sound great, ranging from the realistic combat shotguns and grenade launchers, to the science-fictional, high-powered particle accelerators. The level design is diverse (owing a nod of thanks to Jedi Knight), including the expansive research facility, some great outdoor areas, and foreign locales that are best left to be discovered on your own. Suffice to say, it never gets repetitive.

The only problems with Half-Life are the results of it being so ambitious. The fact that all of the humans in the game look like clones takes from the otherwise realistic atmosphere. The diversity of the levels and puzzles will undoubtedly leave you thinking some areas were better than others. But complaints that arise are simply a reaction to the fact that the game is so close to ideal. Half-Life is an exceptional single-player game and a solid multiplayer game (though the upcoming Team Fortress add-on may make it even better). It takes the tried-and-true one step further but ends up leaps and bounds ahead of the rest.

The Good
N/A
The Bad
9.4
Superb
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17 comments
AcidTango
AcidTango

Still the greatest fps ever made.

Number118
Number118

Black Mesa, the Half Life remake is free on steam...it's a little different but fun and not too far from the original.

widdowson91
widdowson91

Half-Life is nothing short of a masterpiece. Just finished playing it for the second time and loved it more than I did when I first played it.

kanuj
kanuj

My low-end laptop at work has only 256MB's of shared video memory. And it runs linux. But it runs Half-Life beautifully under Wine. One of the greatest games of all time, and while I've played through the entire game about 15-20 times, and even remember when a loading screen is about to pop-up, it still gives me scares to this day.

senseless_dj
senseless_dj

So much emotional attachments...I love HL.

Skeggsinator
Skeggsinator

My brother in law got me into this game. (Thank you Stimpy!) To this day it's one of my all time fave's. Awesome story line, great creatures, legendary weapons.  Even the way it started from an underground lab and then onto the surface of the planet and ended up in the heavens was ground breaking. Ranked against todays standard of great games like Oblivion, The Halo's and  Skyrim its still is all time. 9.9/10 (cos I dont give 10's)

philMcCrevis
philMcCrevis

i remember where I lived when this game came out.  I'd heard nothing about it cause i didn't follow games like i do now.  i saw a huge stack of orange boxes somewhere, bought it, installed it that night on a sunday and took the entire next week off work playing every second of the day.  The only other time I've been struck by a game like that was Dark Souls.  Isn't that what were all here for?  lol  wish it wasn't so damn rare a thing.  Half life - timeless, perfect and missed.  where is ep 3??

delgad88
delgad88

Still one of the best FPS games  I have ever played.

freedomspopular
freedomspopular

Just got exposed to Half-Life for the first time today. I see now why it's one of the all-time greats.

PeetBurton
PeetBurton

I also revisited this game today. It still has the same impact it always had, and it's still a great game.

Archpimp
Archpimp

Just revisited this game today. Great game.

noble46
noble46

it may be getting old but its memories will last forever

AgentA-Mi6
AgentA-Mi6

I couldn't agree more, i wonder what happened to the reviewer, Half Life is truly a gem, one that has aged fairly well considering it came out 14 years ago :)

Cunhao
Cunhao

Great review. Indeed a revolutionary game.

Half-Life More Info

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  • First Released
    • Dreamcast
    • Macintosh
    • + 3 more
    • PC
    • PS2
    • Unix/Linux
    Half-Life is the closest thing to a revolutionary step the genre has ever taken.
    9.1
    Average User RatingOut of 17494 User Ratings
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    Developed by:
    Gearbox Software, Valve Software
    Published by:
    Sierra Entertainment, Valve Software
    Genres:
    First-Person, 3D, Shooter, Action, Team-Based
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Mature
    All Platforms
    Animated Blood, Animated Violence