Release Date: 10/31/1998
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Man O’ man does this bring back a lot of good memories. I remember almost dying because my mom’s computer couldn’t run HL1. I begged her to get the computer upgraded (at the time not even knowing how this was possible or the cost) she just wouldn’t do it. All I could do was stare at videos and screenshots until I thought would be forever *da-da-da!* until I heard about the PS2 port! I was so excited I babysat my bratty sisters for a whole summer and laid down $200 smackeroonies on a used PS2, but to my luck, HL was nowhere to be seen. It turns out not many copies of the game were made so they were scarce. Settling with a rental I finally was able to play the game, but it was starting to feel old because I didn’t get ahold of it until late 2003. Realizing that I was missing out on a lot AT THE TIME I wound up losing my save and being so angry never touched the game again. Four years later I can finally play the game again thanks to Steam (I actually ordered the HL1 Anthology off of EB games for $20) and I DEFINITELY realized what I missed now that I have finally been able to finish the game.
Half-Life used the Quake II engine at the time which was fighting against the Unreal engine technically. While Half-Life never looked as good as Unreal Valve pulled some strings and did some custom stuff with the physics, water, and lighting effects that weren’t originally on the Q2 engine. HL isn’t just your regular run & gun shooter the story is told all in real-time by running into certain characters and by just progressing you get an idea of what’s going on without much dialog. This was revolutionary at the time and so were the weapons, graphics, sound, physics, and enemies. The game has your usual weapons like machine guns with grenade launchers, pistols, revolvers, etc. but HL has some weapons up its sleeve that was never seen before. Those such weapons happen to be a laser-guided rocket launcher (you guide it with your mouse!) I remember people buzzing about these weapons back in the day and it’s still pretty cool. You also have the Bee Gun which is a weird slimy thing that shoots killer bees, you have some strange electricity guns, mines, laser mines, satchel charges, etc.
The enemies were also something never seen before like the Head Crabs, Head Crab Zombies, the Ichthyosaur, the Vortigaunts, etc. The game also had HUGE bosses which were amazing back in the day and seemed very epic. The game was dark, creepy, and very hard as well. Most shooters back in the late 90s were just run & gun nonsense in dark tunnels, military complexes, etc. Half-Life is not innocent and does do this, but there are other places to see like climbing a HUGE canyon and looking out over the *ugly* vista that looks like the Grand Canyon. Today it looks like someone slapped a low-res JPEG image in the background, but in the late 90s things like this seemed like you were staring over a GrindLift in Gears of War 2. Half-Life was just so real and so amazing back in its day that it really kind of shocks you how such an old game can still make that kind of impact.
The game also consists of a lot of maze-like halls that you can get easily lost in and I found this the main problem with HL. Some of the puzzles were a bit confusing to do and navigating the endless halls calls for a much-needed walkthrough. While the level design is excellent and you pretty much know where to go there are those occasional moments that make you wander around the whole area a few times and look in every nook and cranny wondering what switch you missed or what you need to go through. Some neat things back in the day were being able to have the Blue Shift men help you and ask scientists to open doors for you. While this is standard these days this kind of AI was unknown to the late 90s PC gamers. This added to the realism and made you feel like you really are stuck in Black Mesa trying to fight off the alien invasion.
You’re probably wondering what the story is right? Well it’s simple really, Gordan Freeman (that’s you) arrives in Anomalous Hazards as a regular employee and an experiment goes awry and Gordan must escape the facility and figure out the source of the alien invasion. The story, as I’ve already said, isn’t told through cutscenes, but rather in real-time while you play. This helps add to the experience, but of course may bore most younger PC gamers who are used to FEAR, Crysis, CoD, etc. Half-Life is for the hardcore old-school PC shooter fans only and really takes cunning skill to finish. The game will give you less and less healthy as you go and you’ll have to figure out how to take out a room of 10 bad guys with only 2 health. While this isn’t impossible it can be done and requires precise skill (thus only for hardcore fans).
Most of you have probably played HL2 already and these games are pretty much completely different besides the content. You still have your hazard suit, most of the weapons are the same, but there is more stuff in HL1. About 40% of the weapons and enemies in HL1 aren’t in HL2. HL2 is more realistic while HL1 is more of a sci-fi type game. Thankfully you can play HL2 without even touching HL1 (which I did), but HL1 explains a lot of things that aren’t explained in HL2 and there are bits in HL2 that are for fans of HL1 that you normally wouldn’t know about unless you played this game.
Now, of course, HL1 has a lot of flaws like floaty physics, being able to run 100mph, cheap deaths, and poor graphics but these are flaws seen from age. If you were to warp back to 1998 the game was almost flawless. Now when it comes to upgrades and mods there is an endless ocean. There are a ton of amazing multiplayer and single-player mods available and I have spent hours and hours on most of them. You must go to FilePlanet.com and download these mods because they are super fun. HL1 also has a free hi-def pack that you can download to update the graphics a little bit. If you want to go even further pick up Half-Life: Source which uses HL2‘s engine to make things look more modern. I highly recommend the Source version for people who just can’t stand “old graphics”, but old-school shooter fans should just get the hi-def pack just for nostalgia’s sake.