SirBryghtside Reviews: Half-Life

Disclaimer: This is my first review, ever. Don't flame me!

HALF-LIFE

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Half Life is an FPS in which you take up the role of silent protagonist Gordon Freeman as he tries to escape from a lab.

Or something.

The problem with Half-Life's storyline is that it is much, much too simple - and you never get the simplicity explained. While playing through it, I had the vague idea that I was a scientist, employed to do something which released aliens that I had to run away from. Then the military appear for no apparent reason - something about 'containment' - and before you know it, I'm going to the alien planet, right into the place I thought I was getting away from, before defeating a final boss for reasons still unknown to me. One of the main problems with this disorientating storyline is that it bleeds through into the gameplay - having no direction from the storyline, I felt I was aimlessly wandering from one linear air vent to another, having no idea where I was going, or indeed if I was going the right way.

I can't totally damn the storyline, because there are definitely good points - the G-Man arc, for instance, gave an air of mystery, and also giving you a chance to role-play (I was constantly trying to shoot him), followed by an amazing end sequence. So why was not knowing about G-Man better than not knowing about what was going on? It's because no one knew about G-Man. The storytelling, mostly being done by random soldiers and scientists, gets extremely frustrating - there where many times that I felt like pulling over a random person and yelling "WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?!" into his face, but the game just doesn't allow you to do that. This makes the scientists seem more clued up than you - worse, you feel like you should know more, as you worked in this place for God knows how many years![1]

But I digress. This game delivers in almost every way but the storytelling.

The atmosphere is one of the greatest I've ever experienced. The way that the short opening sequence, which is totally normal - there's even a person on the toilet - turns into the unspeakable horror that ensues, walls and floors covered in blood, people getting ripped apart by zombies and headcrabs - it's just plain creepy. This lessens as you go through the game, with many of the combine being replaced by the military, and the encounters becoming increasingly repetitive, but it still has its moments - the final stages on Xen are refreshingly surreal. It's also very easy to get immersed in the game, because of the lighting effects, creature noises, or whatever the hell it is that makes a game immersive. There are only 2 real problems with the atmosphere - because it's an old game (from 1998), the graphics are sub-par to say the least, and while I never particularly care about graphics, I must admit that they did detract a bit from the overall experience. The other problem is the lack of a soundtrack - this was minimal, and sometimes absent, the whole way through the game, when it would have made for a much better atmosphere overall if done correctly.

In terms of actual gameplay, it isn't exactly perfect, but it is pretty well done. The controls are pretty basic - WASD to move, SPACE to jump, click to fire, and R to reload. The real problem is in the weapon changing, which is frustrating to say the least. It revolves around a hotkey system, which is hard to use - so you mostly end up using the other method, the mouse scroll, which takes a long time to operate, as the weapons roster is extensive - not exactly ideal in a brawl. The actual weapons, although being reasonably generic, are actually very well balanced. The gradual increase from your trusty crowbar and a pistol to a whole array of deadly weapons is done perfectly - I particularly liked the twist half way through where you're thrown back to square one, with only the most basic weapons, relying on your skills alone. The weapons' ammo is done similarly well - weapons that one-shot enemies, like the magnum, have very few bullets scattered around, and basic weapons, like the SMG, have ammo littering the floors. The balance here is just right - restrictive, without being annoying. The only weapon which really doesn't seem useful at all is the Combine rocket launcher - it was meant to have lock-on missiles, but every time I fired it it failed to work. The combat itself is fun, too - mostly comprising of individual situations that you've got to shoot your way through, they are fast paced - and, due to the amount of cover, quite tactical as well. However, I would say that the main issue with the combat is the lack of tactics - weapons like the wall-mine and satchel pack rarely see any use, as there aren't many times when you can prepare for an assault.

I'll finish off this review by going over how the game is laid out. It comprises of multiple stages, most of which involve beating a mini-boss that you see at the start, and have to pull switches, find escape routes and generally work out what to do before frying it. The main problem with this is that it's never really obvious what you've got to do at any given point (partly down to the downright annoying storyline). This means that you can end up getting lost, falling down holes and backtracking before finally working out what you've got to do. I'm all for a challenge, but when there's only one solution, it helps to have some pointers. Last of all, this game doesn't know how to end. The amazing surrealism of the alien planet, Xen, is kind of dampened when you spend half a lifetime there, thanks to the long, confusing, and ultimately frustrating 'Interloper' stage. Don't get me wrong, the ending 'cinematic' is amazing, and well worth the struggle - but the lead-up just falls flat.

To wrap it up: Half-Life is a fun, albeit sometimes frustrating game, that is worth your time. The storyline may fall flat, but it's made up for by the great atmosphere, the fast-paced, tactical combat, and overall challenging gameplay.

Hey, not bad - for something that only cost 1.20.

[1] Another part not covered in the storyline

*Starts a slow clap*
Very good, Bryght! I haven't played the game-*Dodges chair thrown at me*-but I planning on it soon!

As I have recently bought and beaten the game myself, I've got to agree on most parts.

The story, I have to say is well done to be so lacking. The idea of the game is OMGWTFBBQ and hence trying to get your sorry ass out of there (as Freeman's Mind so tastefully shows). Having no idea what's going on makes it all the better. When an animal gets cornered, the only thing on its mind is escape, not why. Plus the curveball with the military makes you get a throwback since everyone's been going on about rescue.

But aside from that, I'm on board with everything else you said. Nice review, just put in a picture or two next time. They can help illustrate the point you're making.

-Totally a Valve fanboy

My only main problem with this review is it seemed to go backwards, starting with a conclusion. You said what problems are before you actually explain what's going on.

Palademon:
My only main problem with this review is it seemed to go backwards, starting with a conclusion. You said what problems are before you actually explain what's going on.

I must admit, I struggled to write an introduction, for some reason. I'm pretty sure it'll be easier if I do a more modern game, though.

Thanks for commenting!

Needs more putwey pictures...
Pretty good review keep up the good work.

The story is pretty simple, but I don't agree with the game's storytelling being bad. It's actually quite good, never taking control out of your hands for a cutscene.

At first, the main motivation is that you want to escape. There was an accident and you want to escape from Black Mesa alive, and this is brilliantly done at the beginning. But you soon realize it won't be so easy, with the military coming not to rescue, but to eliminate evidence (familiarity with some paranoid science fiction helps here; the government never wants to help, just to hide the evidence).

Also, there's an alien invasion going on, and the military are losing. A little thinking would reveal that just escaping Black Mesa but letting the aliens get to Earth would still be dangerous. So Freeman, after hearing something from a guard, decides to help by launching a satellite prepared by the lambda team to try to close the anomaly (resonance cascade or whatever). This fails, and Freeman goes to the Lambda complex. There, a scientist says that the only way to stop the invasion is to go to Xen and kill whatever is working to keep the anomaly up (which turns out to be the Nihilanth).

Why should Freeman go to Xen? Well, for this we have to think about who Freeman is at this point. (Incidentally, this has a lot to do with the Other M defenders saying "how do you know Samus is bold and independent?", well, by her actions in the games, of course). Freeman had, at the point he reaches the lambda complex, already deviated from the simple "escape Black Mesa" goal and convinced himself that the invasion must be stopped. Also, he obviously is incredibly resourceful and quite a warrior after escaping alive from the aliens, the military and the black ops. You can't question his courage, as he didn't try to hide in some place as the other scientists.

So I'd imagine that, after some consideration, he decided that going to Xen was the only choice, and that he should do it instead of waiting for someone else (that's exactly what he has done throughout the game).

I don't know, as I said, I find Half-Life's storytelling brilliant, because it's completely integrated with the game play. It's an interactive medium, after all. However, because it's told in this way and not through straightforward exposition (in text or cutscenes), you have to think about it and put the pieces together yourself.

I recently replayed half life and I enjoyed it more than last time except for one thing... the combat. The weapons felt weak and the soldiers were annoying to fight. But I suppose it was fast paced and tactical.

The funny thing is that for its time, Half-Life had a pretty damn good story. It came out in the Quake 3/Unreal Tournament era, what more could you expect?

Wow, loads of comments :D

But seriously? I made two more reviews, they're hundreds of times better XD

tautologico:
I don't know, as I said, I find Half-Life's storytelling brilliant, because it's completely integrated with the game play. It's an interactive medium, after all. However, because it's told in this way and not through straightforward exposition (in text or cutscenes), you have to think about it and put the pieces together yourself.

I agree that the storytelling style was good - it worked a dream in HL2 - but in that game, you have a good idea of what's happening at all times because Alyx, Eli, Kleiner and Barney are there telling you what's happened and what you need to do. The problem with HL1 for me wasn't that it required effort to piece the story together - I actually played it through twice before doing this review - but that half the pieces were missing, when there was really no need for that.

Ninjat_126:
Nice review. I found that the story needed some more fleshing out or at least some more dialogue to make keep players in the loop, but an occasional line about the Lambda Complex or Xen would make the story much tighter.

I hope that's fixed in Black Mesa:Source.

Source does look interesting - I wasn't aware that it would be updating things other than the graphics, though!

You may have just made me interested :D

ColdBlooded:
I recently replayed half life and I enjoyed it more than last time except for one thing... the combat. The weapons felt weak and the soldiers were annoying to fight. But I suppose it was fast paced and tactical.

Really? The soldiers seemed to go down in only a few shots for me, even on hard mode - much better than other games I've played where the enemies are tanks even on the easier modes (I'm looking at you, Halo :P)

Zer_:
The funny thing is that for its time, Half-Life had a pretty damn good story. It came out in the Quake 3/Unreal Tournament era, what more could you expect?

Yeah, that was pretty much what I was thinking the whole way through playing it. It's like the story wasn't praised for being The Shawshank Redemption, but because it actually had one.

And for a controversial epilogue to all this, I recently got Opposing Force and prefered it to the original.

So sue me XD

SirBryghtside:

Ninjat_126:
Nice review. I found that the story needed some more fleshing out or at least some more dialogue to make keep players in the loop, but an occasional line about the Lambda Complex or Xen would make the story much tighter.

I hope that's fixed in Black Mesa:Source.

Source does look interesting - I wasn't aware that it would be updating things other than the graphics, though!

You may have just made me interested :D

I think they're changing some of the features to make the most of the Source engine. It would make sense if they strengthened the dialogue.

SirBryghtside:

And for a controversial epilogue to all this, I recently got Opposing Force and prefered it to the original.

So sue me XD

OpFor's good. It's a bit derivative though, tends to copy-paste a few feature and bosses. Still, it's still fun.

 

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