Classic Game of the Week - Half-Life

At one time there was a question, and that question was who will be the Quake Killer. In 1998 the potential answers to that question included Sin, Requiem, Prey, Daikatana, Duke Nukem 4 — yes, it’s been that long — and a relative upstart on the FPS stage, Half Life. To be honest, the idea of a Quake Killer was becoming a little stale, and while first person shooters were the hottest market around, it was pretty obvious that no one was going to do it better than id.

Then, I took a tram ride through Black Mesa Research Facility, and that all changed.

A lot of people liked to imagine that eventually a video game might be able to put forth the kind of cinematic experience that seemed as deep and engaging as a film, but to date that was still something of a pipe dream. There had certainly been games to incorporate full motion video and other gimmicks to create a sense of magnitude, but no one had really done it organically in game until Half Life came along.

It’s a little difficult looking back to see how game-changing Valve’s opening salvo was, because we take for granted now the things that Half Life did with level design, AI and narrative. Even now I look back and am amazed at how seamlessly the apocalypse of Black Mesa took place, and how it slowly changed over the course of the game from teaming with scientists to becoming a war zone. Looking back, I remember iconic moments that include triggering the accident, my first firefight with the military that was supposed to be saving me, scaling a cliff-side while being hunted by an attack helicopter, and of course that opening tram ride.

It was a game for the ages.

Comments

dthind wrote:

Or I could be I was never smart enough to use anything other than a crowbar, which meant my playing experience never lasted long.

You'd be surprised at how long you can survive with just the crowbar when used right.

I just completed my first playthrough of Half-Life (Source) a few weeks ago. I played some deathmatch and just the opening sections back in 1999-2000, but never really sat down with the whole game.

It holds up incredibly well, from my experience.

I'll never forget that tentacle beast in the rocket test chamber. The horrible clanging sound of it banging against the metal walls, and the way it would chase after grenades was so convincing, and so terrifying. For me, that was one of those moments where I realized that games could do so much more than what I'd come to expect.

Also, the first time a soldier reacted to a grenade I threw was pretty mind-blowing.

muttonchop wrote:

I'll never forget that tentacle beast in the rocket test chamber. The horrible clanging sound of it banging against the metal walls, and the way it would chase after grenades was so convincing, and so terrifying.

My friends and I named him "Frisky".

One of my favourite things to do in the game was to enable weapons during the intro before all hell breaks loose. Crossbowing scientists was incredibly entertaining.

I really want Black Mesa Source to come out

I'd call this a perfect timing for that kind of article.

Memories: the shark cage. Calling in an airstrike. Being left for dead with the walls closing in.

I first played Half-Life years after it came out. But at the time I didn't play very many FPSs; between that and Thief (which I played around the same time) I totally redefined what I expected from a shooter. So I certainly appreciated the effect, even if the year did have a 2 on the front.

Best game of 2006 (for me...). Yes, I was a little late to the game. But I still had a 32MB graphics card until then, and it looked beautiful.

Also, when I remember scenes from it, my mind 'updates' the graphics in my head. Kinda like how when you watch a movie in a foreign language with subtitles you remember it in English. Looking back at the screenshots I can see how much your mind can fill in the gaps when its given less to work with. Maybe sometimes that's for the better.

Cinematics and immersion standard was set for me by a "small" title released nearly 4 years previous: System Shock. I enjoyed Half Life and commended the way the storyline worked, but not always the story itself. It was compelling but extremely basic. That is one of the reasons it works so well.

Gremlin wrote:

Memories: the shark cage. Calling in an airstrike. Being left for dead with the walls closing in.

What? Gordon Freeman was Left4Dead!?

I don't know if any shooter will ever best the memory of the original Halflife for me. I especially liked the slower movement pace, which Valve games retain to this day. It's also the game that made me buy my first graphics accelerator, a Voodoo2. Without Halflife, there never could have been, for example, a Call of Duty 4. Heck, CoD4 even had a tram ride in it. OK, it was a car, but still.

Gordon Freeman is the Rorschach test of game protagonists: he is only what you project onto him.

Drekk wrote:
OzymandiasAV wrote:

Fantastic game and one of the most influential first person shooters of all time, but I'm always surprised at how many people are willing to forget the final moments in Xen, where the whole thing comes dangerously close to falling apart. As interesting as the setting and enemy design may be, I still feel like the last section of Half-Life plays like you're running into a brick wall at full speed: the dicey platforming elements almost make the whole area a non-starter and the descent into Standard Boss Battles A and B run counter to the virtues that made it such an amazing experience to that point.

I don't think people are willing to forget as much as forgive. Sure, the Xen levels were goofy at best but the whole of the game more than made up for it. Personally, I didn't mind it as much; after playing a game so grounded in reality (well, as much as you can get running around and shooting aliens) to jump into this bizarre alien world was pretty wild.

Oh, don't get me wrong - I agree that the final act of Half-Life isn't enough to subvert an experience that, up to that point, had completely turned the genre on its ear. And I think you raise a good point about the shift in tone from the more grounded setting (which is another one of the more underplayed aspects of the game) into this freaky alien world.

I just think that Half-Life (and Valve in general) often draws this "great game - or the greatest game ever" kind of discussion from the gaming community...and my distaste for the final section keeps me from really buying into that level of enthusiasm for the overall game, despite it being amazing.

PyromanFO wrote:

And honestly, most data available shows that if a game is longer than 10-15 hours most people don't make it to the end. Alot of people played it and probably either never made it to Xen or wandered around a bit and went "this sucks" and went to play multiplayer.

I understand the numbers, but that doesn't (and, in my opinion, shouldn't) stop us from collectively taking a hatchet to other games with sketchy final sequences. Fallout 3 took home the GWJ Game of the Year Award last year and it took all of two posts in the GOTY thread for somebody to express dissatisfaction about that game's wrap up. Contrast that kind of reaction with discussions of Half-Life, which I'll point out is a much shorter game - how does Half-Life manage to "escape"?

One my favorites moments is when you first hear the jets swarming overhead and the windows shatter while the military rope in. Definitely one of those "oh sh*t" moments. Again, pretty standard stuff now but that's thanks to HL.

Spunior wrote:

I'd call this a perfect timing for that kind of article.

This takes my Activision hate up a level, really making my blood boil right now.

consciousness wrote:

I don't know if any shooter will ever best the memory of the original Halflife for me. I especially liked the slower movement pace, which Valve games retain to this day. It's also the game that made me buy my first graphics accelerator, a Voodoo2. Without Halflife, there never could have been, for example, a Call of Duty 4. Heck, CoD4 even had a tram ride in it. OK, it was a car, but still.

Gordon Freeman is the Rorschach test of game protagonists: he is only what you project onto him.

Not to be contrarian, but Freeman certainly wasn't the first or only cipher protagonist.

I'm not sure I agree about a "slower movement pace" in HL either. It still feels fast and floaty to me.

wordsmythe wrote:

I'm not sure I agree about a "slower movement pace" in HL either. It still feels fast and floaty to me.

I agree - feels like a camera on ice skates to me.

My favorite parts of Half-Life were the quiet stretches where you were just exploring the facility, and you felt all alone. Having these moments really made the action pieces all the more intense.

I have to admit I am the odd man out here. I never played HF1, then I got HF2 based upon the hype.
Never finished it.
It just seemed very "flat" and slow for me. It simply never hooked me.
Also - not sure how you compare Quake to HF.
did Quake have some sort of single player/story aspect I missed? I honestly only played Quake after it had been out for a while and did nothing but multiplayer. - My question is honest - I don't even know if it had a single player/plot type mode.

It still seems to compare Quake to anything other then UT (given chronological time frames) falls short.
UT was a bit less twitchy, (or as I like to call it - more within the realms of the 15+ crowd), but was at least the tomatoe-to-tomatoe.

Maybe I was looking for something else from HF.
The online was pretty crappy - and that is the only real comparison to Quake that I am even able to make.

Not griping - just seems the comparison crosses genres a bit too much.
But thats ok - Still enjoyable reading.

PyromanFO wrote:

And honestly, most data available shows that if a game is longer than 10-15 hours most people don't make it to the end. Alot of people played it and probably either never made it to Xen or wandered around a bit and went "this sucks" and went to play multiplayer.

Sadly, this was my experience with Half Life, and I still haven't gone back to finish it after all these years. Half Life was a huge critical success, but for whatever reason I just wasn't feeling it - to me it basically felt like Quake with different guns. Sure, there were NPCs, and a plot of sorts, and that's more than you can say for Quake... but there just didn't seem to be much depth beyond that.

Multiplayer was decent seeming, but I didn't find it to be exactly awe inspiring. I dabbled in it a bit before going back to Quake 2.

To this day, I still think of Half Life as being hugely overrated.

I know it was a couple of years later, but Deus Ex felt to me the way Half Life seems to feel to everybody else. That's the first FPS that I can recall that seemed to have some actual meat to it beyond "go kill all the bad guys."

A confession: I only beat Xen because I turned on god-mode after the first boss. (Or should this go in the other thread?)

Half-Life is basically an action movie that you can play through. I admit that the one thing I wished for while playing Half-Life was a more open world. So I agree that Deus Ex is the better experience and had a bigger impact on me emotionally.

Edxactly wrote:

Also - not sure how you compare Quake to HF.

I think you're confusing Quake with Quake III. Quake was a single and multi-player game, released in mid-'96. Quake III was a multiplayer-focused game - its single-player aspect was just a series of bot-matches designed to train you for the multi-player experience - released in fall of '99, the same time (within a week) as Unreal Tournament.

Half-Life was released in the fall of '98, a little more than a year before Quake 3. So when the podcasters refer to the potential "Quake-killers" of '98, they're referring to Quake and Quake II. I suspect they were also talking more about the single-player experience, as multi-player hadn't really taken off yet.

Hans

Ahh. makes sense.
I never played the original quake.

I undersand the dissatisfaction with Xen, because the game changes so dramatically suddenly and FPS isn't necessarily the most comfortable perspective for some of the challenges that await. BUT, I also think if you step back and consider that the whole idea was being thrust involuntary into an alien environment, the fact that you are faced with jumping puzzles, really underlines that sense.

I remember pre-ordering Halflife and, being at work, asking my wife to go pick up my copy at EB before I got home. She was a sweety and did. It was something I'd looked forward to with such great anticipation and it delivered. My counter example would be Daggerfall, where I raced to pick up one of three import copies while living in Tokyo and it left me in total disappointment.

I don't think the tram ride itself is that important, it's just that it symbolizes Half-Life's departure from 'doom clones' and its founding of first person shooters, because it's at HL such a line must be drawn. Maybe its significance is lost to those who didn't experience it in the 90's but I can't see any game ever again having as strong an impact on games and the gaming community as HL had. When it came out Half-Life was simply awe inspiring. It's too bad everyone can't experience it like that

I still enjoy the game more than most FPS just for the combat. I love fighting the grunts and I love the weapons. The shotgun, revolver, satchel charges, snarks... ah. And Counter-Strike is something I've soon played for 10 years. Pretty insane. HL2 broke new ground but at the same time lost a lot of what made the first game great. I don't enjoy the moment to moment gameplay in HL2 nearly as much

There was a section of the game where you had to run from a helicopter over the surface of a dam or some other raised walkway towards a cylindrical tower that had a room. Off the the left there was an exit from the area, in the canyon wall, that had to be triggered somehow. There was the helicopter that you had to shoot down... I remember playing the section over and over, running, ducking, turning, firing at that helicopter again and again...

I just went to the Hoover Dam last week and had a flashback, a legitimate flashback, to that section of a level. It was clearly designed on the intake towers at the Hoover Dam, designed on the walkways that connect them and rise over Lake Meade towards that massive wall of the dam. It was very surreal and I didn't Tweet about it because of how odd it made me feel.

Edit: Clearly I'm not mad. A Google search for images of "Half-Life dam" yielded this, among other things.

For me, Half-Life was the first game I played that was cinematic without actually forcing me to watch non-interactive cut scenes. My mind was blown when I realized during the opening tram ride that the game had already started and I was in control of Gordon and could run around the car and look all over the place during the ride to work. Maybe a little thing today, but for the time it was incredible to play this amazing game where I was always in character, never pulled away to watch a cut scene or view a movie of the bad guys plotting somewhere else. You only know what Gordon Freeman knows and that is one of my favorite things about the HL series overall.

Finally finished this today. Great game, lame ending... why oh why can't games have GOOD endings!?

Redwing wrote:

I liked Xen...

I liked Xen also.