I still remember with fondness the first video card I ever bought: the Voodoo 3. I saved up around $300 dollars to buy it (yes, this was a very long time ago) in order to play Half-Life. I remember seeing the intro to the game on my friend’s computer, and it instantly had me hooked. The (now infamous) hero, Gordon Freeman, is guided through a cinematic first-person tour of the Black Mesa facility, then jumps right in and starts an experiment with disastrous results. It soon had my heart pumping as machinery exploded and aliens jumped out of space-time rips to attack me, while I had only a crowbar to defend myself. It changed gaming forever.
Why it rocked:
1: The immersion- By today’s standards, Half-Life’s graphics look like cardboard boxes glued together. That’s why the level of immersion in this thriller was such a feat. The story, the environment, and the sound combined to create an adrenaline-driven nightmare. Head crabs jumped at your face in ventilation ducts, fluorescent lights flickered to reveal eerie flashes of zombies raising their grotesque claws, and the music always kicked in at just the right moment to tell you something horrible was coming.
2: The sequels- Half-Life is the father of today’s first-person legends. Of course, Half-Life 2 and its own sequels are a lasting legacy that revolutionized gaming with great plots, gorgeous graphics, and ground-breaking physics. But this series is just a small example of Half-Life’s influence on the gaming world. It spawned multiplayer titles like Counter Strike and Team Fortress, which are still some of the most played games at LAN parties. It influenced independent mods, like They Hunger, a brilliant zombie series. It even led to the creation of the Portal series, the most amazing and playable puzzle games I have ever laid hands on (and the mother of countless internet memes). I even bought the short expansions to Half-Life (Opposing Force, Blue Shift, and Decay). While lackluster as full games, they added to the legacy of Half-Life and created a depth of plot lacking in many modern titles.
3: It is the original first-person game- I know, right now people are saying, “What about Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake?” Yes, those are all beautiful games, and I have played them thoroughly, but Half-Life’s unrivaled brilliance forever changed the genre. No other FPS series has been as prolific and influential. None have had the same replayability. None can rival the level of nostalgia people like me have for it. Those of us that grew up on Half-Life see games like Halo and cringe. We can see the simplistic rip-offs taken from the Half-Life series, and shake our heads at the elements they have left out.
Half-Life created a generation of gamers and die-hard fans, and I am one of them. The silent protagonist, Gordon Freeman, is our role model. G-men put ice in our stomachs, and crowbars are our best friends. If you love Halo and have never touched Half-Life, I implore you to pick it up. I still dust off my copy from time to time, and it never gets old.