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Infinite Backlog - Half-Life Review and Blog-Type Things


Don't like reading? Check out the video review!

Developed by Valve
Published Originally by Sierra Studios
Released November 8th, 1998

Half-Life is a game I always find myself coming back to, whether it's to replay the game for the millionth time, or in this case taking another crack at reviewing it. I originally reviewed this game as my first video review for Infinite Backlog back in the summer of 2014 when I bought my first decent microphone and was still wrapping my brain around Vegas and editing software in general.

At the time I was fairly happy with the video when it was finished, but two years later I honestly can't even sit through five minutes of it. After feeling inspired from reading up on the development of the game and how they initially aimed for a 1997 release, only then to scrap the game and rebuild it from the ground up with what they learned from that year of development. I thought I'd attempt the same with this review and attempt to re-review it once more, with what I've learned in terms of editing and writing these past few years.

Starting things off, Half-Life does feature multiplayer. But as of this review it's fairly inactive. In my time spent attempting to play it, I was lucky to find a match with more than three or four people playing. So this review will be based purely on the single player content and campaign of the game.

In Half-Life you play as Gordon Freeman, a theoretical physicist working at the Black Mesa Research Facility. You're late for work in what seems to be another ordinary day (as ordinary as a day can get anyways doing “theoretical physics” I imagine.)

However an experiment goes completely wrong as a “resonance cascade” is opened up, creating a rift in dimensions all across the facility. Alien creatures suddenly start appearing all over the facility, the military is sent in to cover it up and kill everyone and attempt to keep things contained, and it's up to you – the player, as Gordon Freeman – to escape.

The Good

After having completed this game a number of different times, the one thing that still stands out to me that is so well done, is the method of story telling in Half-Life. It's a simplistic – yet great science fiction disaster scenario. Even more interestingly enough for the time, told through not cutscenes or walls of dialogue text (commonly seen in games of that era), but purely through the gameplay and through you as the player character and your own actions.

Gordon Freeman is simply a vessel for you to react with and interact with in this game, I wouldn't even say he's much of a character at all. It's what you do as him, as the player, that stands out.

The facility of Black Mesa itself and what's in it and how you navigate it, is the true star of this game. Which brings up what I love most about Half-Life's story – the atmosphere and build up. Half-Life achieves a very good balancing act of managing your expectations you have for action sequences and endless shooting galleries (common at the time from other shooters) and instead introducing you to a slow burn of atmospheric story telling and build up before unveiling its gunplay and action.

From the long introductory sequence of the game on the transit system, showing you things aren't exactly going too swell in the facility. Such as the radioactive waste spillage you see early on for example, to when things go completely wrong with the resonance cascade.

But even after the resonance cascade, the game takes its time introducing you to the tone and atmosphere shift in the disaster scenario around you, before throwing you into the gun-heavy action. From watching your fellow scientists die in horrific ways, fleeing from head crab zombies, learning and handling different weapons for the first time, to performing basic puzzle solving and platforming. The game finally reveals its twist – and in turn – the action we've been craving, in the form the military cover up.

From there, chapters such as We've Got Hostiles, Blast Pit, On A Rail, Questionable Ethics, and Surface Tension completely ramp up the action and unveil the incredible gunplay for the time found within Half-Life.

From the variety of different weapons you can use, such as your standard pistol and crowbar, to things like you'll expect such as an assault rifle and shotgun, to some bizarre and alien weaponry. Half-Life will gives you a hell of an arsenal to use and experiment with, and makes use of all of it.

From landing a head shot on enemies with your magnum, laying down laser trip mines, throwing grenades or using your alternate fire grenade launcher, or the crossbow for long range kills. Half-Life does a great job at making you utilize all your weapons to the fullest. I never felt like I was under-using a specific weapon, a lot of the weapons have their specific uses at specific times.

The enemy AI is also pretty intelligent for the time as well and give you a pretty decent challenge at times. They'll move when shot at and spread out and attempt to find or flank you, and they'll throw a barrage of grenades or use their grenade launchers at any given moment.

You'll also encounter plenty of solid first person platforming, especially early on. From chapters such as Office Complex, to later chapters such Residue Processing. Half-Life also has an interesting take on boss fights, almost all of the bosses you'll encounter in this game aren't your standard, find the pattern, damage until health is depleted style of boss.

The first major boss you'll encounter for example, will have you crouching to sneak past it numerous times and distract it with grenades (as it can only detect you through sound.) From there you'll have to navigate to two separate areas to activate specific things in order to turn on a test for a rocket launch, which allows you to kill the boss.

This ends up being a common trend in the game itself for a lot of the boss-like enemies you'll encounter. You'll have to navigate around areas to find a specific way of killing them. It was a fairly unique take on a standard boss fight for the time.

Now graphically speaking, for 1998 standards, Half-Life looked incredible and there was nothing else like it on the market at the time, Valve did a remarkable job retooling the Quake engine for their game. From the animations ranging from basic movement and facial animations, to the incredible texture work and environments. Half-Life set the bar at the time for what was expected from a 3d game.

But easily my next favorite thing about Half-Life is the soundtrack – but even more importantly, the use of it. For the most part when you're playing Half-Life there isn't any ambient music constantly playing in the background. Half-Life instead chooses to use the soundtrack at key or pivotal moments in the game, for example like when you first get into your HEV suit.

The soundtrack in Half-Life is one of my favorite sounds tracks in video games to this day.

The Bad

No game is obviously perfect and that very much includes Half-Life. Despite my positive bias and love of this game, whenever I feel the urge to replay it (which is often), there is always one negative memory in the back of my mind... That memory would be Xen.

Xen is essentially the final act and stretch of the game, taking place in what is known as a “border world” between dimensions ruled by a giant floating baby-dude and a “gonard”. But what gives Xen a bad aftertaste for me anyways, is the abrupt change in level design and tone. Now I understand they were aiming to make something feel truly alien, but it doesn't make it necessarily good.

The game shifts in pace from an extremely action heavy gunplay and linear focus, to suddenly a barrage of a little bit of everything in a very short time span, and in my opinion loses focus. One minute you're platforming in different gravity from platform to platform. The next you're activating random plant life, then you're dealing with numerous spawning enemies that just come off as annoying, to the final boss fight of the game... Which ends up being extremely tedious and for me, was the worst part of Half-Life.

The only other grievance I have on a gameplay perspective, would be dealing with the snipers. Thankfully there is only a hand full of times you'll encounter them in Half-Life, so it's not a huge issue. But personally I found every encounter with them just annoying as hell. You can only seem to kill them with grenades or explosives and throwing grenades up into the sniper nest was the bane of my existence at times.

The Opinion

Half-Life is easily one my favorite video games of all time, the atmosphere and gameplay are fantastic. Despite Xen being a bit of a change in tone and a bit all over the place in design, I still find myself plowing through it every time I've replayed Half-Life, mechanically it's still very playable.

Half-Life is without a doubt a game that would forever change the first person shooter genre and set a new heights for the genre itself. If you haven't played it yet – but are interested – I can't recommend it enough.

In Summary

The Good

  • Simplistic, yet great science fiction disaster scenario story telling with a great atmosphere and setting
  • Fun gunplay with challenging and intelligent AI for the time
  • Interesting take on boss fights
  • One of the best looking games from the period taking full advantage of the custom Quake engine
  • Incredible soundtrack
  • Bug and crash free, runs great on modern setups

 The Bad

  • Xen sucks
  • Snipers suck

I give Half-Life a Simpson's season 1-9 re-run episode out of 10, it's something I don't mind revisiting over and over again.

Blog-Type Stuff (You can totally stop reading now)

Still unemployed – but whatever, fuck normie job shit, right? I've been surviving off of the odd side jobs, such as landscaping and this August I'm gonna do some shingling at a cabin. I've also been doing some minor paid freelance video editing.

Speaking of freelance, I had a blast writing for GameSkinny in there “Journalist Training Program” and learned a great deal of stuff. I plan to continue to contribute/freelance there in the future when I'm needed or have a spicy opinion I wanna type up. Which does sadly mean I'm more obligated to do more modern game reviews over there, but that won't be too often unless I get review code for something, because I'm broke as shit and can't afford new games in general. But I do have a pile of older games to play. (Yay!) Seriously, almost half my PS4 collection is still in plastic wrap.

I also have some plans for the YouTube channel and branching out from reviews in general, I have a few ideas rolling around in my head such as doing an interview-style series of videos with industry figures, indie developers, and content creators in general. (Whoever I can really reach out to in general). Talking just over Skype, Discord or whatever they're comfortable with. Then record it and throw over some gameplay, discussing there game, or whatever is related, or just shooting the shit on whatever and asking them questions.

Me and my fellow Infinite Backlog boyz also wanna start podcasting (wow so innovative). We already have a name for it too – Trashmasters – and plan on recording later this month. Perhaps for now just once a month, shooting the shit on game news and things, more or less just for the hell of it. So maybe I'll throw that up here when I post my next review here, I'm not comfortable with the idea of just posting my podcast and two sentences as a blog post.

I also plan on starting a new series of videos taking an in-depth look at unique ports of games, ranging from DOOM on the Genesis and GBA, to other surprises I won't spoil. As well as a kind of “best of” segments from competitive games me and my fellow channel boyz wanna record. The loser having to review a game of the winner's choices. I think it would be a fun way to mix up reviews on the channel and to get new content on the channel going. We haven't thought up a name for it yet, but we'll think of something.

As for WRASTLETOID, I just haven't had the time lately to keep going beyond the first one I made back around Mania, maybe I'll get back to it in the future, but I doubt it. I wanna focus more on videos and just writing about games. NJPW Dominion was fucking insane though. I also wanna try and start vlogging (gasp) just to get myself comfortable in front of a camera in general, but I'll just stick to posting that on my personal channel.

Anyways, hope you guys enjoyed the review! Check out this convenient and awful Tumblr page I made to showcase all my written and video work.

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About Dan Roemerone of us since 4:38 PM on 08.30.2014

I've been enjoying and dabbling in Destructoid content since 2014. My goals are pretty simple as of late: Keep on keeping on.

Disclosure: I backed Shenmue 3 on Kickstarter.