Half-Life – PC
Release Date (NA): November 8, 1998
Nerd Rating: 10 out of 10
Should I even attempt to take this suicidal leap into the abyss and dare to review one of the most influential, critically-acclaimed, and beloved games of the Clinton era? For the sake of Nerd Bacon’s Retroary month, you can bet your polygonal ass I will! Usually, I will nitpick a game even if I’m in love with it, but in the case of Half-Life, I have absolutely no qualms.
Released by Valve (the Hipster Jesus company of gaming) in 1998, Half-Life is one of those games that has such a large band of creative followers that produce their own fan art, memes, and a boatload of shenanigans in Garry’s Mod, people just being introduced to the franchise are often desensitized to the original source material. Not that I’m bashing creative interpretation, but I was given a mixed first impression and was unaware of the brilliance of this science fiction classic.
Theoretical physicist Gordon Freeman is a young research associate working in the highly regarded Black Mesa Facility, where security guard clones and generic scientist clones roam the halls, who every once in awhile say generic, science-y things to Gordon.
Gordon arrives late for work one morning to find out he’s been assigned to assist with the testing of a pure crystal sample; an experiment where the scientists claim absolutely nothing will go wrong.
So of course, everything goes wrong.
During the testing of the new crystal sample, a devastating accident causes the scientists to open a rift between Earth and the alien world of Xen. Unfortunately, these aliens don’t wish to simply phone home (that would lead to another famous retro game), but instead, engage in a killing spree of all the scientists, leaving Gordon to fight his way through the debilitated Black Mesa building and the hostile Xen aliens. All communication is cut off, forcing Gordon to meet up with other survivors and make his way to the surface to find help.
Story-wise, Half-Life is top notch. It’s an immersive world that goes beyond your standard FPS because the gameplay and controls are seamlessly integrated into a flowing narrative in such a way that it never takes you out of the story. It’s easy to get sucked in and stay there until the end. One of my favorite things about Half-Life is how saturated in atmosphere it is. I was suddenly sucked into Gordon Freeman’s hazard suit, fighting off bastard aliens and rescuing scientists, not paying attention to the real world around me. There’s a huge strength in the story when a video game can do that. There’s just enough suspense to induce a panic in the back of your mind while still having fun.
Violent and horrid imagery of crab-like aliens (also known as ‘headcrabs’) absorbing the heads of human hosts, and turning them into zombie-like creatures with exposed flesh and blood coating them, salamander creatures who spit acid and mucus, and bony cyclops who send out white-hot electric shocks. The platforming aspect of Half-Life is challenging because the levels have multiple variations of wide open spaces to dark, claustrophobic pathways where any moment could be your last. One of the tropes of typical shooters is the near, if not complete stupidity, of the enemy A.I. The lovely citizens of Xen don’t mess around when it comes to wanting to kill Gordon. I have a terrible habit of charging my enemies while gaming, not considering that the damage they do to me is superior than what I do to them. Half-Life forced me to sharpen up, conserve my health, and evade attacks whenever possible.
What I really enjoy about Half-Life is the perfect blend of platforming and FPS-style combat with a balance between intelligent level design and weaponized combat in addition to beautiful graphics.
I’m dead serious about the slave-driver thing. The graphics are stellar for 1998, with the character models being less geometrical than other games of that time, while the loading times and frame-rate still manage to be quick and seamless. To compliment the graphics, Half-Life has a subtle sound design that draws you in and forces you to pay attention to your surroundings. There’s very sparse music except for the sounds of Black Mesa’s electrical failures and crumbling surroundings or the cries of the aliens. Everything just draws you back in to the atmosphere of the story and the world that surrounds our hero.
So my overall verdict is this: If you want to see where a lot of first-person shooter games nowadays received some influence, I highly recommend you spend an evening in Gordon Freeman’s suit (bow chicka wow wow), and see the glory of Half-Life for yourself. With challenging combat segments, platforming and graphics that go hand-in-hand, and even a little dabbling in puzzles, I highly recommend Half-Life for your video game collection.
And as for the supposed third installment of Half-Life… I want to believe.
Share This Post