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RETRO MONTH: Half-Life Review

Half-Life you may have heard of the game as you go through the forums on Valve’s forums. The name has been lost in time due to many other games gaining headway in the attention industry. For those of your that do not know what Half-Life is, I will give you a quick rundown.

Half-Life is a Sci-Fi FPS starring a Theoretical Physicist, Gordon Freeman. In the Black Mesa Research Facility, scientists are hard at work devising a way to open a window to a new dimension. As the test seems to go along smoothly, science decides to play tricks, and everything goes haywire. The window ends up during into a door and a plethora of baddies is released into Black Mesa. The ever so silent Gordon Freeman helped release this monstrosity, now he must send it back. With a crowbar in hand, he must survive.

There is your story, a man helped release an evil no one was prepared for. So now, he must end the madness before something worse happens. So you may be asking yourself, why should I care about Half-Life? What makes it better than the FPS titles I play? Well, let me tell you a thing or two about how the gameplay of Half-Life is the best part.

In the year 2011 there were 20 FPS titles released, while some were good like Hard Reset and Resistance 3. Most of them were the epitome of lazy development like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Bulletstorm. To really understand why Half-Life is so good you need to look at the FPS titles of present day. One thing that should be taken into account is that popularity does not make something good. I can safely say 90% of the people reading this hate Justin Bieber. If you have a comment that says, “If Call of Duty is so bad then why is it so popular?” That means you are calling Justin Bieber one of the most skilled musicians of this day and age.

A common element in games like Call of Duty and Halo is regenerating health. This is when there are no health packs in the game. So after you get shot, you duck behind a chest high wall or something that covered your body. Then you wait a few seconds and BAM full health. With regenerating health a constant in gaming as a whole, it makes the game play itself. If you can’t die from getting 4 rounds in the chest it sort of takes away from that whole challenge thing.

The next thing games do is have a linear map design. Now the typical rebuttal for this is, “It helps make the battles more intense and fast paced”. While this is somewhat true nothing says, “Oh crap I need to get to this tank, but where the hell do I go?” Linear map design + objective markers is some of the stupidest “innovations” in modern gaming. Not only is the map a glorified hallways with all the doors unlocked, but they are telling you to go forward. Like you had any other choice to not head in another direction other than forward.

I will combine two elements together on this one for the sake of length. Weapons make a FPS title. The more weapons you have with variety, the more fun you have. This is a video game after all, it isn’t supposed to be realistic. What if I want to carry more than a primary and a secondary, the answer to that is to not play a modern FPS. Games do not need to be realistic. If I want to feel like fighting in a war, I will join the Army. Besides only being able to carry two weapons the other irritating aspect about FPS games these days is ammo. Games these days give the player way too much ammo. How would you make a FPS more challenging? By making the player run out of ammo a lot. I have never run out of ammo in a Halo or CoD game, EVER.

Everything that modern FPS titles do, Half-Life does the opposite. Sad considering that the elements in Half-Life were standard for an FPS game. What makes Half-Life’s gameplay so well done is the challenge factor. There are health packs to regenerate your health. You can stay behind a wall all you want, your health will not fill up until you pick up a first aid kid or activate a healing station. You could carry all of your weapons because, why the hell not? Realism is for real life, this is a video game you should have fun.

The level design is also fantastic, graphics are purely topical and should never make or break a game. This game is retro, so the look seems a bit dated but it does not matter. You could get lost as the levels are not hallways but actual rooms. There are characters to interact with. If you are in a large facility there is going to be more than just one room. Every area is different and unique. Not interchangeable like Halo.

The game is challenging, there are situations where a certain weapon will be useless. Every weapon is different with ammunition that may not be easy to come by. The enemies also vary depending on your area. Some enemies are tougher than another. Some appear in swarms while others are more of a lone wolf. The events and fights do not feel scripted, and that is important when you are conveying a story. Missions are not always point A to point B, you may have to get to point D before you can get to point B.

My point is, Half-Life offers a way to play that doesn’t hold your hand constantly. There are no objective markers, and there isn’t a voice that tells you were to go or how to do things. It lets the player do what games are meant to do, play the damn game. That is what makes Half-Life a classic, it is a remnant of what FPS titles used to be, fun. Half-Life is a game that deserves a stellar 10/10.

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