[Overdue Review]: Half-Life
Yes, dear readers. This one is far overdue. How it took me this long to finally play Half-Life is beyond me, but I’m damn happy I got the chance to take the role of the enigmatic Gordon Freeman.
I didn’t think I would get immersed in the game’s story with its slow beginning. You begin in a tram car on the way to the Black Mesa Research Facility where Gordon Freeman finds himself in the midst of a war between Earth and aliens from another dimension. Known as Xen the hostile creatures begin attacking the scientists and Freeman. Throw in a marine death-squad out to kill the remaining scientists and things get all conspiracy-like. And now Freeman has to escape while all hell breaks loose.
Being able to witness the events through the first person view gives you a firm feeling that you’re involved in the story, instead of a distant watcher like in most FPS games. Though Gordon Freeman is a bit of a mute through all of this, witnessing the events through his eyes actually creates some depth by keeping the player behind the wheel of Freeman.
Much of the story remains inside the Black Mesa Research Facility as Freeman makes his escape. Valve still manages to create diverse environments ranging from sterile lab rooms to warehouses cluttered with boxes and even the occasional ‘scaffolding and stairs room’ to fight your way through. It become a bit of a maze at times and I would sometimes find myself lost, not recognizing where to go next. This isn’t because of poor design, but often because Valve doesn’t always use doors for an exit.
Momentary breathers to the surface help bring change from the insular environments of the facility. Surrounded by the walls of a desert canyon creates a better sense of setting for the facility, instead feeling like you’re in some random mysterious lab. They typically involve short battle sequences that you are better off running away from.
Mixed in with the necessary combat components are puzzles typically involving a box-pushing or button-pressing combination, which offer a respite from all the mayhem. Thrown into the mix are also a few platforming elements forcing Freeman to climb boxes, jump dangerous gaps from ladder to ladder and crawling your way through cramped air ducts. These little asides force you to think as you navigate through rooms. As the maze-like facility already gets you lost you will often lose yourself in rooms with these story-progressing puzzles.
Enemies can be aggressive sometimes ranging from little pouncing headcrabs or the more aggressive Vortigaunts who can blast you with deadly green lightning bolts. If you’re not careful, long-tongued creatures hanging from the ceiling can ensnare you and drag you towards their gaping maw. Marines offer some very advanced AI tactics even on normal mode, but the challenge still allows for success.
The graphics are a far cry from today’s polish and clarity, yet Valve still managed to create their own distinct art direction. Character models feature a slightly realistic, but mildly cartoonish appearance that managed to separate itself from even the shared graphical textures of the sixth generation of consoles. Animations are somewhat out of date, but story set pieces will often feature some occasional acrobatic stunts from NPCs. I witnessed a scientist jumping through a window in typical action-style as a headcrab zombie attempted to hunt him down. It wasn’t exactly graceful, but at least Valve pushed the limits of what they could do in 2001.
I still need to beat the game, but all in all my time spent with the game was exciting and immersive. It may take some time to nuzzle up to the games story, but when it picks up you’ll want to keep pushing it forward. The impressive set pieces and intuitive combat hold the story together and make every moment of Half-Life a treat to witness. It’s no wonder why the series is loved by so many. And now you can add one more fan boy to that list.