Review: Half-Life (~9 hours)

No one wants to know the ending of a movie before they watch it.  No one wants to know the ending of a book after they just started reading it.  And yet Half-Life is a game that shows you the end of the game (the planet Xen) very close to the beginning, when you enter a test chamber that opens a portal that teleports you there. I think it shows a lot of audacity on developer Valve Software’s part to do this.

The game starts you on a monorail where a pleasant voice on the PA system tells you things like the time and temperature. There’s a joke about radiation as you ride past some spilled radioactive material. When you arrive, your co-workers greet you as Gordon Freeman. You suit up and go to the test chamber, as part of the day’s assignment. As already mentioned, it backfires and introduces a host of aliens to the Black Mesa Research Laboratory where you work.

From here it’s a lot of running and gunning. Head crabs are probably the easiest aliens to take care of, with a couple of shots from the pistol. Then the aliens that cling to the ceiling can be neutralized with a shotgun shot. Otherwise, they hang a long tongue down that grabs you as you walk by. The beginning isn’t all that difficult, but it gets progressively more difficult from the middle of the game to the end. You amass a collection of guns, but unlike GoldenEye 007, which was contemporary for the time, it’s not about finding an array of cool guns, like the “Phantom” or the “Golden Gun”. In Half-Life, the shotgun is the shotgun. The assault rifle is the assault rifle.

To speak of the middle of Half-Life again, there is a lot of lever pulling, valve turning, and button pressing. In other words, there are a lot of puzzles. It’s never too difficult. If you get stuck, just check an FAQ. Valve Software does the Star Wars thing where you’re in a giant trash compactor and need to get out. You fight human beings in uniform at a certain point, and it’s never explained well why they are there. You can shoot their helicopter out of the sky which is pretty cool. These are the most difficult enemies, so don’t feel bad if it takes a couple of tries.

The PC’s graphical superiority is evident. You can be in a large room with enemies, and there is no slowdown. That’s something GoldenEye couldn’t pull off. There are also many mods for the first Half-Life. I’ve never really checked it out, but it’d be fun to try the more popular ones and make a day of it. The game ends clearly with a sequel in mind, and the package as a whole put Valve Software on the map. Half-Life 2 proved to be groundbreaking, but there were a couple expansions to the first game before that.

4/5

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