Valve's Original Classic Half-Life Still A Delight, Even In the Shadow of PS4 and Xbox One
The year is 1998. I’m a freshman at the University of Idaho and my roommate and I are getting really tired of Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s a great game, but we spent most of our senior year of high school playing the heck out of that game and it’s time to move on. Our other roommate walks in and says, “Hey guys, you gotta see this new game.”
That's how it all began.
15 years later I still regard Half-Life as one of the best games I’ve ever played, and the game that truly got me into gaming as more than just a hobby. I’ve spoken to a number of people lately who haven’t played it, which in my mind is a complete travesty as the game still holds up today (at least through its Source update, available on Steam). Sit back and relax, because today I’m going to send you on a journey to discover a remarkable game.
Perhaps one of the best parts of Half-Life is the very beginning. You are riding a transport train that weaves you deeper and deeper into a mysterious laboratory where, if you are observant enough, you can see some of the sinister creatures (and people) that await you later in the game.
You are theoretical physicist Gordon Freeman, and you work at the Black Mesa Research Facility. As you exit the train and enter the facility, you get to wander around, chatting with the various people milling about, and eventually making your way into the Anti-Mass Chamber for an “experiment". Fortunately, something goes wrong (If nothing went wrong it wouldn’t be much of a game, would it?) and you awaken after the lab and much of the facility has been destroyed.
From there you begin a wild sci-fi journey to escape the facility, running from terrifying monsters, uncovering corporate conspiracy, and solving puzzles along the way. It’s a fantastic first-person shooter, and it set the groundwork for many games to come in its wake. What made this game so special at the time was the sophisticated graphics, smooth gameplay, intriguing story, and excellent combat. It was the first FPS I ever played on PC, and from that day forward I would prefer playing that genre on a computer rather than console.
Half-Life holds up today as one of the better games from yesteryear. After being reworked using Valve’s Source engine, it is even more playable now thanks enhanced graphics. Though Half-Life 2 was released a few years later, looked amazing, and received fantastic scores, the original version still holds a special place in my heart. It was one of the first games I not only beat, but beat repeatedly. It remains the only game I have revisited more than a decade later and beat yet again.
Recently I have wondered why this game held up so well for me. Why, rather than all the other great games from the past, does this one register with me so strongly?
So I sat down to play it again to re-live the experience, and right off the bat I noticed one thing: that intro. The entire train ride is eerie, weird, and a little scary. It really sets the mood for what’s to come. If you aren’t intrigued by what you see during this ride, you aren’t going to like the game.
Once you begin combat it again becomes clear why this game is amazing. You start with a simple crowbar as a weapon, by oh my God does that crowbar rock! There are many instances throughout the game where you’ll find yourself switching back to the crowbar thanks to its reliability. Even monsters don’t last long when taking a crowbar to the face. But even the other weapons pack a punch, and using the Franchi SPAS 12 shotgun and the MP5 sub-machine gun with attached grenade launcher are absolutely unforgettable experiences.
The enemies range from tiny little crab-like monsters to angry human soldiers, and their combat styles vary greatly. While the enemies may be dated by today’s standards, they still provide a nice challenge.
Taking out challenging enemies would be nothing if it didn’t take place in a beautiful, impressive environment, and Half-Life has that. Whether it’s the Black Mesa lab, clinging to the edge of canyons, or creeping through the underground rail system, Half-Life looks amazing. Even today, while it’s not Bioshock Infinite, it holds up pretty well.
Half-Life is absolutely worth your time and money if you’ve never played it. If you have, maybe it’s time to revisit and see if you agree with me about it standing tall even today. There’s even a ton of extra content to explore like Blue Shift and Opposing Forces that flesh out the story even more, answering so many questions you never knew you had after finishing the main game. For the best experience, check out Half-Life: Source on the Steam store, turn off the lights, and get ready for a great ride.