Half-Life is a science fiction first person shooter(FPS) released in 1998. It is the debut game of the legendary company Valve that now owns the biggest games digital market and distribution software Steam (not to be confused with STEEM). The game was released by Sierra Studios on PC and later ported to the PlayStation 2, Mac and Linux, and it sold over 8 million copies by 2004.
How it all started
Former Microsoft employees Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington founded Valve in 1996 and wanted to make an action horror game that, in their words, "would scare you the way Doom did". This was a reaction to the FPS scene at the time trivialising the genre where every game was a shooting gallery. To do this they licenced the Quake engine from Id Software, and modified about 70% of it and thus gave birth to GoldSrc to which they added Direct3D support and skeletal animation. The team wanted to make compelling characters and worlds, so they gathered inspiration from Stephen King's The Mist with level design compared to Die Hard meets Evil Dead. Initially, it was intended to launch in 1997 to rival Quake, but Valve had a hard time finding a publisher as the game was deemed too ambitious for a first project. Because of this, they delayed for a year after Sierra signed a one-game publishing contract.
Wolrd design and Plot synopsis
The game puts you in the skin of Gordon Freeman, a theoretical physicist late for work at the Black Mesa research facility. You take a monorail train that is to take you to a laboratory where an experiment is to take place. Unlike the games before it where the storyline was presented via text before a level or a cutscene, HL uses this train ride to show you the research facility daily routines, thus establishing the world and giving you time to enter the mindset of an everyday scientist working on secret government projects.
Once the experiment is underway, something goes completely wrong, the aftermath being a fictional event called a "resonance cascade" that tears a rift between dimensions that culminates with the pouring in of creatures from Xen. You barely survive and try to find out what has happened while. On the way you talk to other survivors and help them get back on their feet. At some point, you realise that the facility is now in shambles and require protection from security personnel as by this point you still don't have any real weapon, just the iconic trusty crowbar. While trying to find a way out to the surface, you find out that the government is attempting to put the lid on the event, from here on out known as the Black Mesa Incident, by sending in the military. This sparks your fight for survival against both humans and the invading aliens. Your journey will take you from the research facility, to military checkpoints, to the sewers servicing the area, to the massive canyon it is in and to Xen itself, all the while fighting enemies and tackling all sorts of puzzles. During your adventures a massive conspiracy that seems to have a mysterious G-Man at the center, begins to unfold, but it is always out of reach
Gameplay and AI
Like most games of its time, the protagonist is completely silent, but unlike those games, *Half Life relies entirely on scripted events to progress the story and never taking control from the player to play cutscenes. Also, there are no real levels, but worlds connect to each other, thus creating a continuous experience with only flashes of text notifying you of the beginning of a new chapter.
To advance, you will need to manage your ammo for several weapons that include a revolver, a shotgun, a crossbow, a laser guided rocket launcher or a gauss gun. Most of these weapons have alternate fire modes to provide more variation. You will be fighting very advanced AI that communicate between themselves and attempt to flank you while making use of the environment to stay out of your line of fire. You will also need to occasionally solve puzzles by stacking boxes to form stairs, or use conveyor belts to reach high place, or use the environment to create new pathways by turning heating off to shut down a steam vent or raise/lower water to expose pipes. Towards the end of the game, you will access an upgrade you your Hazardous EnVironment suit that allows the iconic long jump (you jump further if you crouch while jumping). You will make heavy use of this upgrade in the Xen world.
Expansions, Mods and Remakes
There have been three official expansions released, two of which were developed by Gearbox Software, the first of which was Half-Life: Opposing Force that sends you to Black Mase as an HEV enhanced marine by the name of Adrian Shephard. Here you play as one of Gordon's enemies sent in to clean up all hostiles and cover up the incident. This expansion added new enemies and allies, and of course new guns. The second of Gearbox's expansions was a PlayStation 2 extra that came bundled with the port of the original game. It was called Half-Life: Decay and it added a cooperative mode that allowed friends to complete puzzles together. The third official expansion came in the form of Half-Life: Blue Shift that puts you in the shoes of a security guard named Barney(for those who played the game, he's the one greeting you at the end of the tram ride at the beginning of the game) who works in Black Mesa, and is struggling to survive after the alien invasion.
The game also received a sequel in 2004 and two more episodes in 2006 and 2007 following that, but I will be touching on them on a different post at a later date. These sequels were build using the new Source engine. The same engine was used to port the original game without adding any new content. But fan made remake called Black Mesa was started in 2005 and released in 2012. It recreates the game with new models, textures, lighting, particle effects and improvements to every aspect over the original.
But the real stars of the show are the fan made mods that started appearing everywhere. This was due to the fact that Valve released the software development kit which included model editors, texture editors, level editors and everything in between for free. They also actively encouraged indie developers to experiment with the game. This prompted an explosion of high quality mods that would later become full blown games. Of there is the (in)famous Counter-Strike that had multiple iterations like CS1.6, CS:Source that spawned world-wide leagues, and the massive e-sport that even boasts World Championships, CounterStrike: Global Offensive. Another very successful mod was Portal that had players solving puzzles by shooting a gun at walls to create ingress- and egress- point to effectively create portals(shocker!) to traverse the environment. This mod got a sequel created by Valve which included coop-play needed two players to cooperate to solve increasingly more difficult challenges by using the portals along with switches, lasers and different types of goo that sped players up or stuck them in place. Yet another multiplayer mod was Team Fortress that had two teams fight each other over territory. Each player could chose from a few classes that had different perks to aid their team. This mod also got the Valve treatment with the release of Team Fortress 2 which can be considered the progenitor of the hero shooter genre, one that includes such behemoths like Overwatch, Paladins, BattleBorn and the upcoming Quake Champions. Other great mods include They Hunger, a single player mod in which the player fights zombies in 1950s America, Natural Selection, a multiplayer mod that borrowed fro the RTS genre and also got a stand-alone sequel in 2012, Ricochet, another multiplayer mod that had players throw frisbees at each other in order to push one another off platforms and into the abyss, Sven Co-op a still developing multiplayer mod that forces players to work together in order to solve puzzles and survive the enemy AI and Day of Defeat, yet another multiplayer mod set in World War II. There are plenty more mods out there both narrative or competitive, puzzle based or action focused, the selection is endless.
Reception and influence
Upon launch, Half-Life was received with critical acclaim both by critics and fans alike, garnering a Metactitic score of 96 and won over 50 Game of the Year awards. It was widely praised for its new take on the FPS genre and storytelling, propelling it to world wide fame. This meant that in 2008 it had sold over 9 million copies and is even acknowledged in the Guinness Book of World Records as the best selling FPS of all time. Is is often considered one of the most influential games of all time, bringing not only great mechanics and seamless transitions between levels, but also great storytelling techniques that build the world and characters without ever having the protagonist acknowledge anything. It is up to the player to be immersed and react. And in spite of some criticism regarding the Xen levels of the campaign, Half-Life will probably go down in history for one of the most believable worlds to have every been created in an FPS. And on top of the stellar game design by Valve, the free SDK release ensured a long lasting community forming around the game that would provide endless new content: campaigns, multiplayer mods, maps, game modes and total conversions. Mods are probably the biggest contribution Half-Life has made on the gaming industry and specifically the FPS genre. It opened up the possibility of creating a game with the need of knowledge of in depth software development.
While I am not a an FPS fan, I do love Half-life for its story and for what it stands for, a revolution in gaming and the democratisation of games development. A great experience all on its own, that is constantly reinforced by new great content to keep gamers busy for years. I am certain that Half-Life, along with many of its mods, will go down in history as one of the great pioneers that set the standard of the genre along the likes of DOOM, Quake 3 Arena, GoldenEye 007, Battlefield 1942, Bioshock or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, if it hasn't already.
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What do you think? Have you played the game or any of the mods? Do you believe it deserves the praise it gets, including from me? Share your thoughts, feedback is appreciated!
Thanks for reading and keep steeming! See y'all later!
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