This is the game that literally changed my life. Although that may sound a bit dramatic, playing Half-life changed the level of my interest in PC gaming from occassional to serious, ultimately resulting in the creation of this gaming website. This recent playthrough is my third or fourth and many video games later it's starting to play and look a little dated, but when I first played it many years ago, I was blown away. It was my first venture into first-person shooters, a genre that now remains my favorite. Half-life is known to be in the top games of all times and has won many awards. As such, it has influenced the design of first-person shooters for years. If you consider that this game was released in 1998, you can appreciate how ground breaking it was.
The Half-life story centers on the now iconic Gordon Freeman, a research associate specializing in theoretical physics at the Black Mesa Research Facility. During testing of some unspecified sample, something goes seriously awry causing massive damage to the entire compound and trapping Gordon and the scientists underground. As Gordon is wearing a hazardous environmental suit, he is asked to find a way to reach the surface and call for help. Easier said than done. Normal passages are often blocked and it seems that the accident has opened some kind of rift in dimensional seams and alien creatures known as Xen are teleporting into the facility. Not only must Gordon battle these, but also as the military moves in, he discovers they have not been sent to help but to terminate the scientists and staff. It's left to Gordon to sort out the mess and close the dimensional rift. Throughout it all, a mysterious man seems to be monitoring his progress. This is the infamous G-man who remains a mysterious figure throughout the Half-Life series.
Given this game is thirteen years old, the graphics are starting to age, but they still stand up pretty well. It certainly looks better than the original trailer suggests. The only oddity is how the scientists and security personnel all look and act like clones. I have a sneaking suspicion this may have been a touch of humor on the developers part. Other than that, Half-Life doesn't fall into the repetitive trap and there's always something new as Freeman pushes forward to his goal. Black Mesa is a huge facility with its own rail system and we are taken through a variety of its environments including offices, labs, vents, and maintenance areas and eventually to Xen.
There are no cut scenes and plot development relies on meeting up with the occasional scientist and security cop. Gameplay employs many types of interaction. If it didn't, such a huge game would get boring, so we see a combination of puzzle solving, platforming and shooting. Gordon has no special powers to worry about, so the controls are very easy and limited to what's necessary. I think it's what makes him such an appealing character. He's just an ordinary guy taking extraordinary measures under the dire circumstances. He certainly becomes a very painful thorn in the side of the military units and you will hear then speaking about him and leaving messages on walls like "Yore Dead Freeman."
Many of the weapons are of the standard shooter variety, but a few of them include prototypes developed by the scientists as well as a couple from Xen. One of these latter is more like living parasites and you can hear them chattering away in Gordon's inventory. Some weapons are more effective than others, but the magnum is one of the most powerful. Unfortunately, ammo is scarce. In addition there are grenades, pack bombs and motion sensor explosives. The most notable piece of equipment Gordon carries is the famous crowbar, used to clear barriers, break boxes for supplies and club headcrabs.
Half-Life basically took the gaming world by storm and its sequels were highly anticipated, but it took almost five years for Half-Life 2 to be released by its developer, Valve. In the meantime, there were two expansion packs, Opposing Force and Blue Shift, which are parallel stories with entirely different characters. They do take place in the Black Mesa facility during the same time period. Half-Life 2 Episode 1 was released two years after Half-Life 2 and Episode 2 a year after that in 2007. Although Episode 3 was announced, it has yet to materialize all these years later and fans fear it may never see the light of day. It's become the butt of many jokes, but this only speaks to its popularity, as people want closure on the Half-Life characters and in particular Gordon Freeman. Valve has been silent on this while moving on to developing other games.
"Half-Life: Source" is a digitally re-mastered version that includes physics simulation and enhanced effects via Source engine technology. There are diverse opinions among users about which version is better and you can read about this in the Steam forum. It sells for the same price as the original. Users have developed hundreds of mods between this and Half-Life 2 and a group of volunteer developers are remaking Half-Life under the title "Black Mesa" which will be distributed for free. It also has suffered from many delays.UPDATE Oct 2015: All Valve games on disc prior to Half-Life 2 will not work and must be activated and downloaded from Steam. Do not discard the disc as you will need it for proof of purchase or the CD key to add it to Steam.