Anyone who reads GameCritics.com regularly will know that I'm not a big fan of first-person shooter (FPS) games. I don't hate them, but I don't think it's particularly fun to just run around and blast things, either. Most of the games tend to be very repetitious and unimaginative, and the genre has rarely captured my attention. Being the non-fragger that I am, I was particularly interested to check out Half-Life. It has received an obscene amount of awards and accolades in the years since it was released, and my curiosity has been piqued for quite a while. Often billed as the "thinking man's FPS" and credited with being the first game of its type to seriously implement a strong storyline, I thought there might be enough here to make it worth looking into.
While it may have been something extremely special when it was younger, Mike is right when he says the years haven't been too kind. While I was interested and engaged enough to finish the game (which is not true of most FPSs that I've played), I didn't walk away feeling like a changed person or like I had a new appreciation for the genre. I didn't even think the story was especially creative or original. My overall impression was that it was basically a pretty decent FPS adventure, but that it didn't offer much more. I suppose since I'm used to games that regularly incorporate large amounts of story on consoles, the pioneering steps Half-Life took on the PC didn't seem worth a whole lot to me. Keeping history in mind however, I can see how it once would have been viewed as a huge step forward compared to most of its contemporaries.
Looking briefly at the technical aspects, I thought the voice samples were of a very poor quality. I often couldn't hear what was being said to me by the rescued scientists, and I kept my remote control close at hand so I could blast the volume whenever some dialogue came up. The framerate was smooth enough for the bulk of the game, and controls were not a problem. Graphics, as Mike said, are fairly blocky and stiff. In general, the game doesn't look nearly as polished or attractive as more recent offerings, on either console or PC. Despite the fact that it's a port of an older title, things come across pretty adequately with no major complaints. Everything was pretty standard overall.
However, an area that I thought brought the game down significantly was the multiplayer options. Always a crucial part of any FPS experience, this was a bit surprising. While the simplistic deathmatch mode wasn't anything special or unique, the "Decay" two-player cooperative mode I had been looking forward to ended up being quite lacking. I invited my brother over so we could tackle this together, and we ended up putting Half-Life aside and popping in a movie DVD before we even completed all the missions. The first problem was that the missions' briefings are set at various time periods during the main quest. The idea here is to "fill in the gaps" of what other scientists were doing while Mr. Freeman was saving the world. While this sounds like a good idea, if you haven't already finished the primary story mode, these missions don't make a whole lot of sense. You can forget about continuity from level to level as well. Secondly, they are incredibly difficult and spring far too many cheap shots on the players. This mode wasn't very much fun at all, and led to more frustration than high-fives. The thing came off like an inchoate concept pasted onto the disc quickly, rather than a real attempt to add quality content building from the primary narrative.
If you view Half-Life as a game that has historical significance (I feel a bit funny saying that, given the relative youth of our industry) and can understand what the game achieved, as well as where it was coming from, its easy to see why it was labeled "revolutionary" and "best ever" so many times. However, videogames (especially consoles' in general) have surpassed the high-water mark set by Valve many times over in the years since Half-Life's debut. As a result, it's still worth a spin to those who enjoy a basic action or FPS game, but it doesn't really stand out or even stack up to the competition as much as it once did in days gone by.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.