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March 17, 2008 | by  | in Games |
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Classic Game Review

If you haven’t played Half Life you can’t call yourself a gamer. I don’t care if you own an Xbox 360, a Wii and a state of the art quad core duo LAN rig. If you haven’t played
Half Life, you aren’t qualified to game. Period. Gaining over fifty game of the year awards in 1998, it was a landmark in the history of gaming and a breakthrough in the gaming industry.

Half Life is set in a near-futuristic world, in the secret scientific research facility Black Mesa. You play as the physicist Gordon Freeman, an everyman, thrust into the greatest scientific disaster to befall mankind. During a routine experiment, for reasons that are yet to be explained (even after one sequel and two following episodes) the experiment goes wrong – resulting in a quantum rift between an alien world and ours, through which pour creatures hell bent on our destruction.

On paper the story sounds fairly banal. That’s half the beauty of this title: it revolutionised the way that gaming plots are told. Before Half Life text boxes and character monologues filled in all the relevant details. Half Life changed all that. The game was the first to fully immerse a player in the Half Life world – the introduction credits displayed as you rode a subway train into the Black Mesa complex – during which you could move, jump and look out the windows at the complex below. You were playing the game’s introduction video in realtime, and with in game graphics.

Its not just game design and plot that Half Life excelled in; the artificial intelligence of the units was groundbreaking. Never before had you had to deal with enemies that would throw grenades back at you, duck for cover from your fire, or try and flank you with their pals. It made gaming more intense than it ever been before; instead of just pointing and clicking, you had to think. And think you fucking did. Half Life was instrumental in combining puzzles and riddles with action paced gameplay. There was no stumbling through uniform rooms looking for keys here, it was all about finding elusive routes, and solving technical challenges – while dodging aliens, and soldiers hell bent on your destruction to protect the state’s secrets. Half Life has also spawned one of the most enigmatic characters in all of Gaming Lore – noone knows who he is, or what he does, or why he is so integral to the plot of Half Life. Even after ten years of sequels, these questions remain unexplained.

Half Life opened game developer’s eyes. It heralded the beginning of computer games as a cinematic medium. An invisible wall had been broken, developers after Half Life were finally able to create games that had no logical resolution, were intelligent (both in story and gameplay) and were intrinsically innovative. So how did Half Life do this? Primarily it was in its superb characterisation (something it continued to lead the field in, with its sequels). You finally started to care for the characters — incorporating human emotions of empathy, protection and anger into the gaming experience. Every Half Life fan can still remember only being able to watch as an elderly scientist screams in terror while the elevator he is clinging too breaks apart and he is thrown to his death. The feeling of shocked repulsion was palpable. The way in which Half Life allowed the gamer to be involved in the events of the story as they unfolded — due to its first person playing perspective — added new layers of emotional complexity to gaming.

Co-operative gameplay elements also featured heavily. Real relationships were formed with Half Life’s characters. The jovial and helpful security guard known affectionately as Barney has become an iconic figure in gaming history — and it was immeasurably difficult to complete sections of the game without his selfless contributions.

The final feather in Half-Life’s cap is its graphic design. Using the heavily modified Quake engine – ‘GoldSrc’, it was able to support levels of astounding beauty and texture resolution. Looking back now it doesn’t seem like much – but you have to remember this was ten years ago; Yahoo and AltaVista were the major search engines for fucks sake. A stroke of genius was Valve’s decision to release GoldSrc to public gaming developers who have created some of the most popular and successful modifications ever made, becoming commercially viable games in their own right. Titles include Counter-Strike, Team Fortress Classic, Day of Defeat, and Natural Selection – these games need no introduction, but are the bastard children of the iconic and enduring Half Life legend.

Half Life Platform – PC
Developer – Valve
Hardware Specification – Minimal (now)
Genre – First Person Shooter

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