Game Description: Half-Life features an integrated storyline with stunning visual effects and a huge, sprawling environment filled with aliens determined to hunt you down and kill you. You no longer just point and shoot—Half-Life is a dynamic, plot-driven, complex world where you need to play smart to survive. Monsters have a strong instinct for self-preservation. They will duck, jump, hide behind barriers to avoid gunfire, and even retreat if feeling threatened. Superior AI drives these behaviors and they are different for each species. Plus you can choose from 18 different weapons, ranging from a crowbar to laser-guided rockets.
As gaming evolves, the line between movies and interactive media continues to blur. The earliest incarnations of videogames offered up nothing in the way of plot or story, offered no resolutions (the games often went on forever), and featured no characters. As technology progressed, games became more sophisticated. They featured rudimentary stories, goals that led to a defined ending, and even characters with a bit of personality. Today's games have taken things even further, creating rich worlds, characters that arc and develop, cinematic scores, voices, cinematic camera angles, and gameplay that is supported by the story itself. Some of them even set up sequels.
Trying to gauge which game was the first to blur the line between game and movie is a daunting task (and one sure to inspire more than a few arguments). However, the game that tends to stand out as one of the first to do it effectively is Half-Life—a classic PC game that is now making its debut on the PlayStation 2 gaming console.
Half-Life, a sci-fi based first-person shooter (FPS) is the gaming equivalent of big-budget action film. Players take control of physicist Gordon Freeman, a new employee at the Black Mesa Research Facility. Strange things are going on at Black Mesa and things get really out of hand when an experiment opens up what appears to be an inter-dimensional doorway between Earth and another planet. Soon, alien monsters are killing off the research staff, and Gordon must figure out how to make his way to the surface of the Black Mesa facility. Unfortunately, he not only has to contend with aliens, he's also got to deal with a squad of government commandos sent to the facility to eliminate everyone.
What makes Half-Life so intriguing is the way it blends film elements into traditional FPS gameplay. Early titles in this genre were light on story (Doom, for example) and featured gameplay that revolved around finding keys and blasting everything in sight. Half-Life moves in a different direction (much like another highly touted PC game, Deus Ex), featuring no shortage of action, but with story that ties everything together and doles out the plot piece by piece as the player progresses through the game. Because of this, the story is an integral part of the game—the backbone that supports everything from the gameplay on through to the different scenarios Gordon will encounter. And while other games have attempted to mix cinema with gameplay, Half-Life is one of the few games to achieve the perfect balance—one element never overwhelms the other.
Yet, while Half-Life still stands as a classic game, the years between its initial PC release and conversion to the PlayStation 2 haven't been as kind as they could have been. For its time, Half-Life was a revolutionary game, one that captivated gamers for quite some awhile. However, now in the age of games like Halo, Half-Life is starting to look a little rough around the edges.
The game received a graphical makeover for the PlayStation 2 release, but that doesn't change the fact that it still looks old and a little blocky overall. Textures could use some work, character models have little in the way of variety, and many of the games locales are fairly redundant. In the game's defense, it does feature a smooth framerate that appears to run consistently in the neighborhood of 60 frames per second (frames per second refers to the number of frames of animation used in each movement—the higher the number, the smoother the character and game moves). Still, compared to a current FPS like Halo (with its amazing bump mapping and texture work), Half-Life isn't pretty.
Of course, gaming isnt all about pretty graphics—and this is Half-Life's saving grace. The game may be showing its age visually, but the gameplay still draws the player in and keeps him immersed in the game's environment. Half-Life features a broad based gameplay system that has Gordon not only blasting through countless enemies, but also features some stealth elements, puzzles, and instances where might isn't always the proper way to get through a situation. While its not as open-ended as Deus Ex, it does give the player more to do than the standard Doom-styled game.
During the course of his journey, Gordon will find a multitude of weapons, enhancements for his bio-suit, and assorted other odds and ends. He'll have to fight his way through certain spots, as well as do some platform-styled jumping. One of the biggest complaints about PC ports to console systems is that the controls are never as fluid on the console. The PC game utilizes a mouse and keyboard, while the console has to map all of the games commands to a controller with far fewer buttons. Deus Ex, which was also recently ported to the PlayStation 2, suffers greatly because the control is awful. Meanwhile, a game like Halo (which was developed with a console in mind) has one of the best control schemes I've ever encountered in a first person shooter. Half-Life falls somewhere in the middle in this category. The controls are much more responsive and intuitive than the ones in Deus Ex, but not quite as good as the ones found in Halo. At any rate, they're solid enough that the player wont find himself dying cheap deaths with any kind of regularity.
The PlayStation 2 version of the game also features a new mode called Decay. Decay is something of a side story to the main game, wherein two players can control two female employees of the Black Mesa Facility. The two women must work in unison to reach the surface and escape with their lives, making cooperation vital. Decay is an interesting addition, and works best when played with two players. Gamers can tackle it on their own, but they'll have to work both characters separately to get through the complex—and it's an incredibly difficult task.
Half-Life may be showing its age in this era of games like Halo, but that doesn't change the fact that the game is still one of the coolest FPSs around. While the graphics are starting to look dated, the gameplay is still as solid as it was when the game was first released on the PC. Add that in with the engrossing storyline and solid control, and you wind up with a game that's more than entertaining. The PC is still the best way to experience Half-Life's charms, but the PlayStation 2 version provides a nice alternative for those who prefer their games on a console.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Blood and Gore, Violence
Parents should note that Half-Life has received a Mature rating from the ESRB. The game is violent, gory, blood-filled, and a little scary at times. Gordon spends the majority of the game killing aliens, watching his coworkers be devoured, and taking out government forces with a variety of high powered weaponry. This isn't a game for the kids.
First Person Shooter fans will no doubt enjoy Half-Life. This is one of the revolutionary games in the genre, and is well worth playing for anyone who enjoys these kinds of games.
PC gamers will almost assuredly prefer the original version for the computer, particularly since it has more options for gameplay and a nicer control interface with the mouse and keyboard.
Console gamers who don't get to play a lot of PC games will certainly want to take the PlayStation 2 version for a spin, its not quite as good as the PC experience, but it is satisfying nonetheless.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing gamers should approach with caution—the game doesn't have subtitles.
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.