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  • I've been meaning to cover this on LGR for nearly a decade but I've continually put

  • it off with it being such an established classic.

  • Well no more excuses, this is Half-Life!

  • One of the golden standards in first-person shooters

  • and an all-time classic among games in general.

  • More specifically, this is the original release for Windows PCs, developed by Valve Software

  • and published by Sierra Studios on November 19th, 1998.

  • And you can tell it's an early release, not only due to its sizable gatefold box,

  • but the fact that protagonist Gordon Freeman doesn't even have glasses here.

  • That changed by the time the 1999 Game of the Year Edition came around, with Mister

  • Freeman donning a respectable set of spectacles from here onwards.

  • We'll get back to some of the later releases in a bit, but for now let's stick to the original release.

  • Inside the box you get a jewel case containing the game CD-ROM sprinkled with rusty patterns

  • and mathematical equations, a registration card that was found bundled with both Sierra

  • and Knowledge Adventure titles, an ad for the official Half-Life strategy guide, the

  • Fall 1998 Sierra software catalog featuring full-color ads for both Half-Life and a standalone

  • version of the Half-Life editor, Worldcraft Pro: a product that was canceled in March of '99.

  • And finally there's the owner's manual, a 40-page document featuring vivid orange

  • highlights and piles of detailed gameplay information and concept art, as well as an

  • ad for the Falcon Northwest Mach V. Man that company was all over the place, seems like

  • there were Falcon ads for every major PC game release back then.

  • Half-Life begins with some logo videos, including that iconic one from Valve.

  • [ominous Valve theme plays]

  • Ahh "Hazardous Environments," still one of the best intro themes around.

  • And at this point you get the original Half-Life main menu, something I hadn't seen in ages.

  • Subsequent versions of the game changed this menu around quite a bit, before ditching it

  • entirely once Steam came along.

  • One thing that didn't change is the default control scheme, and for good reason: it's

  • still pretty standard, even decades later.

  • This was back when default FPS controls could still vary wildly from game to game, but Half-Life

  • was one of the very first PC games I remember seeing WASD for movement, control and shift

  • for ducking and walking, E for interactions, etc.

  • And to this effect, Valve included a training room for players unfamiliar with this kind

  • of first-person shooter.

  • It's more or less just a [“practice mooooode”]

  • where you can mess around with the controls, mechanics, and weaponry.

  • But you're also accompanied by a helpful holographic training guide.

  • -"Hello and welcome to the Black Mesa Hazard Course, where you'll be trained

  • -”in the use of a hazardous environment suit. I am your holographic assistant."

  • And even though the default controls are going to be second nature to anyone familiar with

  • more modern FPS games, I still recommend going through this hazard course due to a couple

  • of the moves you need to master in Half-Life.

  • Namely, the crouch jumping and long jumping, two moves that are vital to navigating a significant

  • chunk of Half-Life but are pretty much non-existent in newer shooters.

  • Once that's over, it's time to clock in for a day of work at the Black Mesa research facility.

  • And that begins with a leisurely tram ride, making for a deliberately slow introduction

  • to the vast Half-Life universe.

  • -”The time is 8:47 AM. Current topside temperature is 93 degrees

  • with an estimated high of one hundred and five.”

  • And man, seeing this for the first time was mind-boggling stuff to teenage me.

  • This was an FPS game that began without the 's.'

  • Nothing to shoot, no guns or weapons, no one to talk to.

  • Just a bit of exposition in the form of the computerized tram voice and the text letting

  • you know you're 27 year old Gordon Freeman, an MIT graduate with a PhD in theoretical

  • physics, and a level 3 Black Mesa research assistant

  • assigned to the anomalous materials laboratory.

  • Who also happens to be running late to work.

  • -”Morning Mister Freeman, looks like you're running late!”

  • [keypad beeping, door opening]

  • Oh and it's worth noting that the gameplay you're seeing here is being captured using

  • original retro hardware with Creative's Environmental Audio Extensions enabled.

  • Makes quite a difference compared to sound cards without it.

  • -”Hey, Mr. Freeman. I had a bunch of messages for you,"

  • "but we had a system crash about twenty minutes ago and I'm still trying to find my files.”

  • -”Hey, Mr. Freeman. I had a bunch of messages for you,"

  • "but we had a system crash about twenty minutes ago and I'm still trying to find my files.”

  • Some players may understandably prefer it turned off, or using Aureal's A3D mode instead.

  • But either way Half-Life was one of the premiere titles to make use of audio hardware enhancements

  • back then and personally it just feels right having EAX enabled.

  • Echoey audio or not though, this starting section in Black Mesa is still crazy to me.

  • In a good way, I love when games go out of their way to provide extraneous interactivity,

  • and Half-Life delivered here with its locker rooms, hand dryers,

  • soda machines, and microwave casseroles.

  • [beep beep boop, BLAM]

  • -”My god, what are you doing?!”

  • And of course, this is where you get the Hazardous EnVironment suit.

  • The HEV practically turns you into a superhero, so that's convenient considering what's to come.

  • And that is, well, you're throwing science at the wall here to see what sticks.

  • Imagine if CERN went the way of Stephen King's The Mist, the latter of which has been cited

  • by Half-Life's developers as an inspiration.

  • Turns out that shimmering alien crystals and anti-mass spectrometers don't mix, resulting

  • in a massive quantum event known as The Resonance Cascade.

  • [scientists scream, resonances cascade, bad things happen]

  • Yeah so an interdimensional rift has opened up

  • and lots of murderous aliens are flooding into the facility.

  • It's up to you to... survive, mostly.

  • Though unlike the rest of the poor souls in Black Mesa, you're equipped with a suit

  • that largely protects you from all manner of attacks and hazards.

  • And thankfully it's not long before you find Half-Life's most recognizable weapon,

  • the crowbar, uniquely clad in red paint and perfectly suited for bashing alien flesh and

  • fragile objects alike.

  • But even with these advantages, for the most part you're running scared like everyone

  • else, enduring attacks from face-hugging headcrabs, zombified former scientists,

  • and the sonically obnoxious Houndeyes.

  • Luckily you're not stuck with the crowbar for too long, with increasing enemy threat

  • matched with increasing firepower.

  • Two different pistols, a combat shotgun, and an SMG show up, as do explosives like grenades,

  • trip mines, satchel charges, and a laser-guided RPG.

  • There's a powerful crossbow that acts as your sniping option, along with the Tau Cannon

  • and Gluon Gun: energy weapons that dole out incredible damage while constantly running

  • low on ammo.

  • Two organic alien weapons fill out the arsenal, with the Hornet Gun and the throwable Snarks,

  • each of which are a little odd, but effective.

  • And despite the fact Gordon can't actually speak, there's no shortage of talking in Half-Life.

  • When you run across friendly survivors, mostly scientists and security guards, Freeman can

  • interact with them and have a one-sided conversation.

  • There are no objective markers or anything, so this is the game's primary method of

  • letting you know what's going on and what to do next.

  • -”Gordon. If I'd known it was you I'd have let you in.”

  • Everyone is heading to the surface. But I think they're crazy not to stay put."

  • "Someone is bound to come by and rescue us.”

  • This also provides ways to unlock hidden areas and alternate paths since each NPC can be

  • asked to follow you around.

  • If you can keep them alive, they'll do things like open locked doors, provide health resources

  • when you're hurt, and even engage enemies in combat.

  • Typically not very useful combat, but y'know, the gesture is appreciated.

  • And considering the escalation in difficulty once the military shows up, I'll take all

  • the gestures I can get.

  • Yeah, it rapidly becomes clear that Black Mesa is considered a lost cause by the authorities,

  • who've dispatched legions of grunts to clean up the mess.

  • Seems that you and your colleagues are considered part of that mess, so you're soon fighting

  • both otherworldly creatures and combat-trained assassins wielding military-grade hardware.

  • These guys do not mess around either, with both aliens and the military displaying some

  • impressive AI, for 1998.

  • Ambush attacks, suppressive fire, flanking maneuvers, flushing out with explosives, even

  • tracking you using sound as well as scent.

  • Yeah as printed on the back of the box, enemies have a sense of smell,

  • so one misjudged fart and you're dead.

  • [shoots, dies]

  • "Emergency: user death imminent."

  • That's not to say Half-Life is a non-stop flatulent shooting gallery though.

  • More often than not, it's just you alone navigating Black Mesa with a flashlight, looking

  • feverishly for the next health and suit charging stations.

  • And progressing in a notably linear fashion, more than many other shooters I was playing

  • in the late '90s.

  • Make no mistake, it's still a substantial 10 to 15 hour story with plenty of detours

  • off the beaten path.

  • But unlike Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, or even Unreal, which all often relied on a string of large

  • maps with straightforward entrances and exits, Half-Life is a distinctly linear campaign.

  • You can't really go off the rails too much, instead being funneled through each area with

  • clear intentions.

  • Rarely are you left wondering what to do next, as typically there's a clear obstacle to

  • overcome in each map segment.

  • Often it's a puzzle with a logical yet slightly elusive solution, giving Half-Life an appropriately

  • scientific quality when making progress.

  • Maps also weave together in a way that was fresh at the time, where one area loads directly

  • into the next as you encounter it.

  • No key cards, exit switches, or level ending stat screens here.

  • You can even go back and forth between maps as well in many cases, making Half-Life feel

  • more like a large cohesive world rather than an assortment of loosely-connected maps.

  • And just the overall atmosphere, it's pretty fantastic.

  • With rather minimal amounts of admittedly awesome music and a good mix of industrial

  • atmosphere and creepy alien sound effects.

  • And each area feels distinct in both theme and mechanics, always tossing out new puzzles,

  • hazards, and environments in order to test your skills.

  • Keeping in mind this was using the GoldSrc Engine, based on the Quake code base, this

  • was quite impressive stuff.

  • Graphically it was no powerhouse, but Half-Life still more than impressed with its network

  • of claustrophobic passages, ample storage facilities, and ethically questionable laboratories.

  • Not to mention features like in-engine cutscenes that were quite novel at the time, and the

  • numerous scripted horror sequences that do a stellar job of putting you on edge, morbid

  • curiosity piqued by what further atrocities lie ahead.

  • The Black Mesa Research Facility and its surrounding environs constantly keeps you on the defense

  • while unraveling the mystery of how to overcome the latest roadblock.

  • Fixing power problems, manipulating water pumps, troubleshooting rocket engines, shooting

  • a giant alien using remote missile launchers, even taking down attack choppers!

  • And then there's navigating tunnels using cumbersome rail cars, slippery first-person

  • platforming, exhaustingly repetitious combat encounters... ah I'm remembering why I got

  • so annoyed at Half-Life once upon a time.

  • For every enjoyable challenge there is to solve, you're presented with another that's

  • either tedious or straight up frustrating.

  • Sometimes AI misses its cue and you're left reloading save games until it works, sometimes

  • AI does its job too well and you die cheaply from hitscan weapons with little to no chance

  • to react, other times you just fall off a ladder to your doom because the ladder climbing

  • mechanic sucks, or the game will just freak out because physics aren't always what they seem.

  • For all of its groundbreaking awesomeness, Half-Life is occasionally waist-deep in wonkiness

  • which can turn into a pile of aggravation if you're not adequately prepared for it.

  • This is especially true of the final chapters that take place on the alien borderworld of Xen.

  • Kind of a shame too, because I dig the overall design of the place with its crazy gravity,

  • funky landscapes, and giant crabby sac monsters.

  • But by this point, without fail I am entirely ready for the story to be over with.

  • All the jumping puzzles, annoying enemies, spiky difficulty, and unclear objectives on

  • Xen didn't do it for me on my first playthrough and I have even less patience for it now.

  • Ah well at least the ending is enjoyably strange,

  • with you finally coming face to face with the G-Man.

  • Up to this point you only see him show up in silence with no explanation.

  • And you still don't quite get an explanation at the end either, but at least it's something.

  • -”That's why I'm here, Mr. Freeman. I have recommended your services

  • to my employers and they have authorized me to offer you a job.”

  • They agree with me that you have limitless potential.”

  • At this point you can either accept the G-Man's vague offer and you're teleported to who

  • knows where, preparing for the inevitable sequel.

  • Or you can turn him down, being teleported to who knows where, preparing to die at the

  • hands of an army of alien grunts.

  • Either way, the credits roll and that's the end of Half-Life!

  • Still an excellent single player FPS experience after all these years, though one that's

  • also showing its age.

  • Still, considering this was the developer's first game in 1998?

  • This truly was nothing short of unprecedented, revolutionary, and all the related marketing

  • blurbs, deservedly becoming the highest-rated PC game of the year.

  • Leading to the previously mentioned Game of the Year Edition released in 1999, having

  • won over 40 such awards from various press outlets.

  • It also came with some new content, most notably Team Fortress Classic.

  • Half-Life already had 32-player deathmatch modes, but Team Fortress's class-based multiplayer

  • was much more nuanced, and more enjoyable in my opinion.

  • Before this it was a popular mod for id Software's Quake, but in what would become a go-to business

  • move for Valve, they hired the independent developers and turned it into an official product.

  • The next Half-Life release came in the form of an expansion pack: Opposing Force.

  • But with Valve moving onto other projects,

  • newcomer Gearbox Software was hired to develop this one.

  • Opposing Force is fascinating idea for an expansion, forgoing a continuation of the

  • main story and instead going back to revisit the same events from the perspective of the

  • enemy soldiers you were so callously slaughtering.

  • You play Corporal Adrian Shephard, accompanied on occasion by teammates which you can order

  • around to complete objectives.

  • New weapons, new enemies, new locations around the universe to explore, it's darn good stuff.

  • The next major Half-Life release was Half-Life Platinum, hitting the market in the year 2000.

  • This is one beefy package, containing everything released for the series up to that point in time.

  • That included the Half-Life Game of the Year Edition with Team Fortress, the Opposing Force

  • pack, and Half-Life: Counter-Strike.

  • This also got a standalone release of course, and much like Team Fortress it began as a

  • mod and became an official Valve thing once they hired the developer.

  • Nowadays, the Half-Life