Even after so many years of its release, it’s easy to see what makes Half-Life such a revolutionary title.
Not only did Half-Life revolutionize the first-person shooter genre, but also video games as a medium. Its relentless action, terrific voice acting, variety of weapons and enemies, rich story, great multiplayer and cinematic feel make Half-Life one of the best games ever created. At least that’s what I thought back in the day. So after so many years of its release, one question remains: does Half-Life still hold up?
As most of you probably know, Half-Life puts you in the shoes of theoretical physicist Gordon Freeman, but suddenly, a terrible accident involving teleportation technology takes place in a secret research facility known as Black Mesa. The experiment goes wrong and you need to do everything in your power to leave the facility, but there’s a problem: there are mutants killing everything in their path and a special task force will make sure that no one leaves Black Mesa alive.
So what makes Half-Life such a unique FPS? First and foremost, the fact that you truly assume the role of Gordon Freeman. The camera never leaves the first-person perspective, it never cuts when a new chapter begins, you never see a “four months later” sign and more importantly, the character never speaks. For all intents and purposes, you are Gordon Freeman and nothing takes you out of the experience, which makes the game more immersive and personal. Everything in this game contributes to its cinematic nature: the camera, first-person view, the scripted events, the convoluted storyline and rich atmosphere make you feel part of this adventure. It also helps that the world of Half-Life is a beautifully constructed one.
In this universe, nothing feels contrived. The enemies, weapons, environments, atmosphere, constant sense of danger and variety of characters are some of the individual components that make Half-Life what it is and if you were to remove any of them, this would be a completely different experience. Luckily, everything is where it’s supposed to be and that’s why people keep talking about the game years after its release and why they’ll keep talking about it for years to come.
Half-Life’s pace is also something to behold, since the game combines platforming, puzzle-solving and traditional FPS combat in a delightful way. Not only is it important to have a variety of weapons, but also enemies that force you to think of new strategies to defeat them. Fortunately, the artificial intelligence is absolutely outstanding, since enemies take cover, attack, retreat, plan strategies on the fly, reload in safe places and so on. For the most part, most enemies are surprisingly smart, they analyze the situation and act accordingly and that’s more than you can say about enemies in most games.
Without a doubt, some players will find the platforming sequences antiquated, since this was a trademark of shooters in the 90s. Personally, I didn’t mind jumping over boxes so much because those sequences never interrupt the relentless action. What does get in the way of the action though are the frequent loading times that take place when you enter a new area. Although removing all loading times it’s probably too much to ask for a game that came out in the late 90s, they become irritating after a while and slow down the otherwise terrific pace.
The multiplayer portion of the game has aged as well as the single-player campaign. It’s great to see that hundreds of people are still actively participating in online matches every day. Although every server isn’t as populated as we would like, there’s a variety of modes and maps to play and we owe most of the most popular ones to modders who transformed regular levels into intricate and entertaining new modes. If some of the new modes aren’t interesting to you, you’ll be glad to know that the traditional deathmatch modes are still popular. So if you want to wreak havoc in random levels, you won’t have much trouble trying to find people to play with.
Even after decades of the game’s release, it’s easy to see what makes Half-Life so revolutionary. It’s cinematic feel, rich storyline, great voice acting, amazing AI, variety of weapons and enemies, relentless pace and solid multiplayer modes make Half-Life a game worth revisiting every once in a while. So does Half-Life still stand the test of time? The answer is an emphatic yes.