Anthony's Film Review

(Video Game, 1998)

A shooter game that, for numerous reasons, is just too good to miss...

Ever since Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, the first-person shooter genre has become one of the biggest, if not the biggest, genre of video games the world has ever seen. Who knew a simple concept of looking through the eyes of a gun-wielding character, interacting with objects in the environment, and shooting enemies out to destroy you would be explored in so many different ways? There have been shooter games involving aliens, demons, soldiers, and whatever else. Yet, in the first several years of existence, there's a degree of repetitiveness with these games. The genre would become boring and perhaps disappear if the game formula didn't change. A few games have taken the genre in new directions, but one game would truly help the genre see a renewal of interest. That breakthrough game was a 1998 shooter called Half-Life.

Developed by Valve Software, Half-Life reinvents the genre by altering its traditional style of storytelling and game mechanics. Imagine a shooter game where, instead of starting in a place designated as Level 1 or Stage 1, you ride a monorail tram in a top-secret government research facility called Black Mesa. You, a scientist named Gordon Freeman, are free to move and look around during the ride as the opening credits are displayed simultaneously. And once you get off and enter a hallway, you're not carrying any weapons at all. The game starts as a typical day at work where you get your HEV protective suit before entering an experimental chamber. You simply do what you're told. Everything goes well, until the experiment goes terribly wrong, killing the other scientists and destroying everything in sight.

That's just one way the game has its own style. The game is still divided into levels, each with a different name like a chapter title. But there are no separate screens in between levels to indicate that you've completed a level, about to start a level, or whatever else to distract you from the game. The game loads a section of the 3D world you're entering. When you enter another, the game freezes and says "LOADING..." for a few seconds. Once the new section loads, you continue the game. If you're starting a new level, the level name will be displayed briefly.

The result is a seamless gameplay experience. Besides appreciating every place you move through and seeing it all connect, you also appreciate the flow of the story. You, as Gordon Freeman, are trying to escape and seek help as creatures from another dimension enter this world after the disastrous experiment. You finally encounter the military, who instead of arriving to save the personnel are there to silence the facility, gunning down every living thing, human or otherwise. Now you find yourself with an objective that does not seem to suit you, but you have no choice.

Speaking of creatures, they come in a variety of forms, including jumping crab-like thingies that could take parasitic control of a human corpse, hound-like beings that can explode sonic waves, barnacle-like aliens hanging from ceilings and pulling up unsuspecting prey with its long tongue, and a giant blue robot/beast with deadly flamethrowers. And Half-Life scores bonus points for its advanced artificial intelligence. Instead of enemies programmed to simply shoot when you are in their sight, they have the ability to hear, make quick decisions to hide or attack, work in teams, and even sneak up on you. This makes dealing with the military an especially scary, yet exciting, challenge.

All of this talk about enemies brings us to the weapons in the game. They include your usual pistols, machine guns, grenades, and rocket launchers. They're all cool weapons, especially the more advanced ones you'll see later. There is a great deal of realism with finding weapons and sources of health. Traditional FPS games put weapons, ammo, health items, and power-ups in random places, including dead ends. In Half-Life, you find such things where you expect to find them, like supply rooms and near dead humans.

So with all of this plus intensely realistic graphics, Half-Life is easily one of the most exciting and awesome gaming experiences I've ever had. It's no wonder that it's ranked #1 in PC Gamer magazine's Greatest Games of All Time and won over 50 Game of the Year awards in publications all over the world. This is a game no shooter-game fan could miss. It's a really fun game no matter how many times you play it. Half-Life is a true classic among first-person shooters. It's THAT good.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about Half-Life, visit the Internet Movie Database and Moby Games.


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