Half-Life is a game that’s considered revolutionary to PC Gaming and First Person Shooters. Released in 1998 for the PC and later ported to other platforms, the game starts Gordon Freeman over the course of a few days at Black Mesa Laboratories. Half-Life and its sequels are fan favorites of the FPS genre, but does the original game still hold up?
I first bought Half-Life for like a dollar on Steam during the Summer Sale in 2015. I had heard that the game was considered legendary, but I didn’t seriously play and beat it until earlier this year. The first thing I noticed when playing the game is how hilariously strange the voice acting sounds. Voice acting was super new at the time, and each character talks very awkwardly, almost like they’re in pain. The voice acting never improves, showing the age of the game.
The gameplay of Half-Life is interesting. The player controls Scientist Gordon Freeman from a first person perspective. As Freeman, the player starts what seems to be a normal day at Black Mesa, but soon after donning Freeman’s now trademark Hazmat Suit, a Portal to another dimension opens up after a failed experiment, and aliens invade. Grabbing a crowbar and any other weapon he can find, Freeman must fight his way through the laboratory, to the surface, down into the sewers, across the desert, and into the Alien Dimension, defeating Aliens and Military Soldiers sent to destroy all the evidence in 18 levels.
Gordon Freeman is essentially a one-man army, wielding a crowbar, bombs, guns, and even Alien weapons on his quest to escape from Black Mesa. The Aliens and Military Soldiers that Freeman encounters drop these weapons and ammunition. One of my biggest gripes with Half-Life is how poorly coded the enemies are. When shooting the military soldiers, they take so many bullets before going down, and they don’t recoil after getting hit, they only drop after they’ve been killed. While you’re shooting them, they shoot you as well, making it a game of “Who dies first?” This is a huge problem, since there are many more enemies than allies in this game. The aliens’ damage output is very inconsistent, sometimes dealing 30 points of damage, while sometimes dealing five. Health and a Hazmat Shield can be obtained through refill stations that only fill up around half your health and three quarters of your hazmat shield, while also being found through small refills found in boxes. The game was more frustrating than fun, with a lot of enemy filled sections only being beaten through trial and error. Half-Life can be too difficult for its own good at some points.
One of the interesting parts about Half-Life is that there’s no real beginning or end to any level. The title of the new level will pop up on the screen when Freeman gets to a certain area that signals the start of the next level. The level length can vary, with some lasting around 10-20 minutes, while some lasting over an hour. This isn’t a good thing, in my opinion, as it’s incredibly inconsistent. Since I went into the game blind, I had no idea when any level was going to end. Most of the time they’d end before I got overly tired, but there were three situations in which I got frustrated. “On The Rails”, an early level, took me well over an hour to finish. The game gives you next to no direction of where to go, as the level, while taking place primarily on rails, is super open ended.
The next level that gave me trouble is in my opinion the worst level I have ever played in any FPS game. “Surface Tension” takes place a little over halfway through the game, and could easily make up four levels with its length. Freeman goes outside the lab onto the cliffs, into the sewers, through a desert, back into the labs, and onto the streets, fighting several military personnel and aliens with no end in sight and an overload of enemies. This level alone took me almost three hours to beat.
Finally, “Interloper” the penultimate level in the game, takes Gordon Freeman through a huge factory in the Alien world. This level is super long, and I found myself constantly running low on health and ammo for my guns, which is annoying when the hardest enemies in the game are all over the place. This level took almost two hours to finish, and I had to take a break from it at one point. The other 15 levels aren’t super easy, but they’re all cake walks compared to the three I listed. Half-Life’s gameplay is just not good in 2018.
The controls of Half-Life aren’t great, either. I’m not a fan of Mouse and Keyboard controls, and the steam version of Half-Life forces them on the player. This was super frustrating to me, as many times during my playthrough I made mistakes as a result of me not being used to the controls, such as slipping off platforms or overcorrecting my jumps. The controls when swimming and climbing ladders were awkward as well. When swimming, multiple keys on the keyboard serve the same purposes, but at different speeds. Climbing ladders is difficult since Freeman moves in the direction he’s looking. I often fell off ladders accidentally since I shifted the mouse while climbing. The controls of Half-Life have aged horribly.
The music and graphics aren’t very notable. Half-Life looked great for the time, but isn’t anything special today. That being said, the game doesn’t look bad, but it’s a product of its time, with horrible character models, and bland graphics. The aliens do look cool, though. The music is completely forgettable, since I don’t remember any of it. I heard gunshots, explosions, and voices more than I heard music. Since I can’t remember the music and the graphics only have the alien models going for them, I’m going to say neither has aged well.
Half-Life in 2018 is not a good game, but I’m hard-pressed to say that it was ever a good game. I didn’t enjoy my time playing the game, and I don’t see myself ever replaying it. Half-Life has not aged well at all.