Released nearly 20 years ago, in late 1998, Half-Life changed the First Person Shooters on PC, and its legacy remains, even today, stimulating new gamers and old fans alike.
If you just recently got into video-games, Half-Life is a new and exciting experience, for those who are familiar with it, it’s always a refreshing and nostalgic moment to revisit Black Mesa.
Welcome to Black Mesa where we take the role of Dr. Gordon Freeman, a physicist recently employed at this research facility located in the New Mexico desert. Another normal day for Freeman, until a new crystal is up for testing, and all hell broke loose by opening portals between our world and the extraterrestrial one!
The entire staff is lost, guards are being massacred by all sorts of alien creatures running around and making crunchy noises in the vents, and if you want to survive, you have only yourself to count on.
Half-Life presents a top-tier sci-fi storyline about a simple person who has to fight for survival in a complex facility infrastructure, fighting not only aliens, but also military and mercenaries who try to destroy the entire complex. Although Freeman fights for his life, he also fights to uncover whatever truth may be hidden.
The narrative treats the player with a mist of doubt and mystery, as we travel from section to section in hope to find answers, but only to find more devastating effects of the invasion. Fellow scientists and security guards are as oblivious as us, but this doesn't stop the player from teaming up with them for survival, and extra intel on the events. As the plot thrives, the game delivers hints in small amounts by leaving trails of information in each new objective, as we explore this doomed facility compound.
(G-Man on the alien planet Xen)
The storyline isn't practical, but leaves a huge deal of assumption to the player, and the only NPC that really makes a difference is the The G-Man; A mysterious character that seems to be in every important place, at the right time, and one of biggest enigmas of the game. It's revealed eventually later on, but it remains probably the most iconic character (other than Freeman himself), and I can't stop having a massive vibe from Cigarette Smoking Man (X-Files), and overall influence of one of my favorite TV Series. This is obviously a personal comparison, as Half-Life is extremely distinct and offers a tremendous identity on its own. This is deliberate, and I for one love Half-Life direction, as mystery suits extremely well within Black Mesa.
When one starts Half-Life for the first time, expectations are usually that it’s going to be good, but don’t be surprised if turns out to be even better than you expected.
Even barely 20 years later, Half-Life is still an enjoyable first person shooter to new gamers, and this just proves how advanced it was in its day. Although this game is a classic, it can also be a refreshing adventure, as we no longer find gems as these on the market. A game with no RPG elements, and yet delivers different type of approaches thanks to impressive AI and other mechanics that even some games released in today's age, can only dream of accomplishing.
At his core, it’s still an action packed shooter, with intense encounters and the essential difference between other games of its time, is how you approach your target! Throughout the adventure, Freeman must survive the alien attacks, which teleport to our world with nothing in their instinct but killing us. Each enemy is susceptible to noise, so it's possible to stealth kill each enemy as long as a one-hit kills the target. Some aliens, however, are also manipulated by the smell of other small dead creatures, such as the bullsquid. Others, such as the vortigaunt show a cowardly behavior, and become easy prey at close range scenarios. Those are just some examples that one can use to survive the Black Mesa invasion, but throughout the years, players have found numerous ways to survive!
Interactions with other survivors do exist, and from time to time we actually have to escort scientists to open doors, or extra locations for more gear. These escort missions are actually fun to do, and far from boring and tedious as games usually portray them. I personally always enjoy having a scientist with me, I find their remarks quite funny considering the situation at hand!
Other classic gameplay elements are included, such as the life percentage. Nowadays, video games are easier, since the player once taking damage, can just wait for his health to increase back to normal. Back in the day, games had a life bar, demanding constant searching for health items to keep playing, or face death. With quick save it’s obviously not a problem, but still a reflect of another era!
The crowbar is Freeman's trademark, but the rest of the arsenal available is satisfying none the less, from the standard pistol, assault rifle, shotgun, grenades, crossbow, and even some pretty cool prototype machine devices! If you think this is cool, you can even use some alien weaponry too. Half-Life uses smart gun positioning, that when used correctly, can deliver the player some pure amusing moments of satisfaction. It's also satisfying when we finally figure out what weapon to choose on each enemy, and thanks to quick-save, there's no excuse not to explore all possibilities.
The design shows its age, but an HD patch is available within the game, that significantly increases the visual quality. With pretty much any resolution at your disposal, plus external mods out there, Half-Life can really become next-gen. Personally, I never felt the needed to, but it's a choice.
Overall visuals are good, old but remarkable and atmospheric capable of leaving a trial to everyone who plays, and this is exactly why I'm not surprised why so many players feel nostalgic when comes Half-Life!
The game delivers a fantastic journey from a simple day at work, to finishing off an Alien boss in a otherworld location, through the radioactive swears, to desert canyons, and even several science labs. An epic science fiction adventure, from a time where simply playing the game was a conquest. With linear levels yet quite disperse, and some simple and small puzzles between, you'll never feel you're in the same area twice. Even labs have a very distinct feeling and visuals, and the deeper you go, the darker are the secrets and it becomes obvious; Black Mesa is not just another facility!
The soundtrack is based on ambient, and key moments during the game, however, a few generic but cool music tracks exist, to emphasize specific moments. From 90s fast digital music to simple rock-based guitars, serving mostly as atmospheric, the short and intense tracks do their purpose, but are quite far from being praised, particularly with such amazing gameplay at hand! Our hero is the silent type of character, but doesn’t really affect the flow of events. Gun sounds and explosions are what you’re going to be hearing most of the time, and it’s somehow reminiscent of the 90’s.
If replaying the game at his higher difficulty is not enough, the community offers a tremendous amount of mods. If fact, there are mods to push further the world of Half-Life, as well as create a whole new and different game! Mods like specific textures, or even adding subtitles are away useful, but there are others, such as Brutal Half Life, that increases the violence of the encounters. Steam Community is very active when comes to Modding, so that’s always a plus!
Gold Source, the engine behind Half-Life became one of the most popular engines of its time, even being used later for the original Counter-Strike, and the Classic Team Fortress.
Valve’s very first game confirmed their quality as a team as a fantastic title, worth it of all the praise from the fans throughout the years.
A top-tier single player experience, at its prime core!
Above, is a picture of the original team behind Half-Life, a portrait of an industry changing team, where dreams can reach the unthinkable, if dedication and passion is put towards the right place.