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Half Life


Hello and welcome to the very first retro review. For a little context, my first gaming experiences were with the original xbox, so I’ve missed out on a lot of classics from the 90s. Now, for these reviews I won’t be heavily critiquing the visuals, unless I see something absolutely terrible. It's a bit harsh to compare them to today's standards, but graphics aren't everything either. As proven with the recent popularity of indie games such as Phasmophobia and Among Us. You can have just as much fun for the fraction of the budget of triple A titles.

This first game needs no introduction, but I’m going to give you one anyway. I can't be the only retro gaming newbie out there. Half life is a First Person Shooter developed by Valve, which was also their first release back in 1998 on Windows. Speaking of which, does anyone else feel that Windows 98 was windows at its peak? Anyway, it's the first in a series of games which also includes Blue Shift, Opposing Force, Half Life 2 (Inc episodes 1 and 2) and most recently Half-Life Alyx.

You play as Gordon Freeman, a scientist who must escape the Black Mesa Research Facility after it is invaded by aliens. And I might add, you'd never see this shit over at Aperture science. The core gameplay consists of fighting alien and human enemies with a variety of weapons and solving puzzles.

Half-Life received acclaim for its graphics, realistic gameplay, and seamless narrative. It won over fifty PC "Game of the Year" awards and is considered one of the most influential first person shooter games, and of the best video games ever made. By 2008, it had sold over 9 million copies. But, how does it hold up?

Our story begins at the Black Mesa facility where Gordon Freeman is assisting with an experiment at the Anomalous Materials Department. However, things go awry, of course, and before you know it you're facing off against all kinds of monsters and humans alike, whilst the G-Man judges you throughout various parts of the game. The premise is pretty straightforward. Escape the black Mesa research facility. After numerous puzzles, and eliminating countless aliens and soldiers, Freeman is eventually transported by a few surviving Lambda Team scientists to the alien home-world of Xen, where he manages to eliminate the alien "leader", the Nihilanth.

Upon recovering from his final encounter, Freeman is finally confronted by the mysterious G-Man, who has been observing Freeman from a distance throughout the entire game. He shows Freeman several locations throughout Earth and Xen, before finally offering him a choice: either agree to work for him and his mysterious "employers," or be left to die on Xen without any weapons and surrounded by hostile lifeforms. Not much of a choice really, is it? Half-Life 2 assumes that Freeman accepts G-Man's offer.

Having played this game for around 15 hours now, I can tell you that Half-life is easily one of the most frustrating games I’ve ever played. It is unrelentingly difficult, even when a newbie like me sets it to easy. There's nothing like struggling on easy to make you feel inadequate. Maybe I’m just too used to modern games though? Were games this frustrating back then? For me, the controls are where the game doesn't hold up at all to modern standards.
Running off the edge of things seemed to be a consistent issue for me. Your character doesn't just stop, he keeps on going! And what's up with this crouch jumping mechanic that you’re never told how to do. And while we’re at it, at one point one of the scientists tells you to practice your long jump, but the game doesn’t tell you how to do this, and it’s not on the list of keyboard commands either. Really?!

Other than blatant cheating using noclip and god mode via the console, the only way to become half decent at this game seems to be through trial and error and memorising where every lurking enemy is

Overall the level design was one of the highlights of this game for me. The continuity between levels really stands out and gives the game fluidity. There are no real cut scenes to move the game along, so the end of one level is the beginning of the next. I did have a few gripes with specific levels though

On A Rail seemed to be a never-ending loop of railroad tracks and I was glad to be done with that one. It was pretty boring. I had similar feelings towards the beginning of Apprehension. Getting stuck repeatedly just broke the flow of the game and left me feeling frustrated. What did we do before Google and YouTube walkthroughs? Also, Either I’m dumb or it’s not always easy to find where you need to go in this game, I can accept that it is quite possibly the former though. A spent a good 10 minutes riding around on these conveyor belts before I finally worked out where to go

There was also another scenario like this during Surface Tension. I was fairly sure I was going the right way, but it seemed to be blocked. Oh wait, I actually just need to go straight through this patch of nothingness. How silly of me

While we're at it, I also came across quite the quirk whilst playing the Blast Pit level. There was a part where I had to fall through a pipe onto a table, but with only 4 HP I couldn’t survive the fall. So ok fine, i loaded up a previous save and attempted it again with 44 HP. I died, again. So I took things a step further and decided to google my quandary. I found a helpful YouTube video showing me what to do. I followed this as best I could, and of course, I died again. In the end I seemed to make it past this section via blind luck.

I know I've spent the last couple of minutes moaning, but I still think the level design and environmental storytelling in this game is great. Every level feels like it’s connected and the game really feels like it naturally flows through the levels. I was particularly fond of the design and aesthetic of the Interloper chapter. Although this one is very tricky, especially if you’re struggling with the controls

I can't talk about a first person shooter without discussing the array of weapons available. You start off the game with no weapons at all, until you come across a crowbar. As I progressed through the game my arsenal increased nicely with a good selection of weapons on offer. I found that I rarely had issues with running out of ammo either. And even then, there's still the crowbar. The crossbow is my favourite though along with the rocket launcher. Each of the weapons were easy to use and your inventory is easy to navigate through. About the only part of the game I did find easy

As infuriating as I found this game,there's no denying that the storyline is tight and engaging. I just couldn't put it down and no matter how frustrating things got, I HAD to finish it. Apart from a couple of slower levels, the game had me gripped from start to finish. I found the story so intriguing I jumped straight into the other games in the franchise. Now I join the ranks of long-suffering half life fans, who are still awaiting Half-Life 3. As my main complaint of the game was the controls, which really don't hold up for me. I'm very much looking forward to trying the remake, Black Mesa, which benefits from a serious upgrade by using the Source engine. 

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