|Many recent first-person shooters have taken the same re-treaded plot
of Quake and Quake II and simply doled out something that we've all seen before,
just with different graphics and a new box. Half-Life, the long-awaited first-person
shooter from Sierra Studios and Valve, is not just another retread. At first
glance, and especially after looking at the packaging, it might not appear
much different than any other game based on the Quake II engine. After spending
a few minutes with this game, though, you'll be hooked into its storyline and
fighting to make excuses to keep playing.
You play the part of Gordon Freeman, a research physicist, who's been selected
to participate in an experiment at a government lab. The game begins with an
extended, movie-style intro that gives you an excellent introduction to the
storyline and the game's setting. You're on a railcar that is entering a secret
underground research facility called Black Mesa. During the introduction, you'll
see automation moving things around, workers doing their jobs and security
personnel roaming the facility. After the railcar stops, you discover that
you're late for the experiment you're to participate in.
Before you can take part in the experiment, you have
to find out where the lab is, find and put on a Hazardous Environment Suit,
and, finally, then enter
the test chamber. While you're doing all that, various characters that inhabit
the facility will speak to you. By pressing the "USE" key, you can
engage their attention and hear little snippets of conversation that reveal
more clues to the game's storyline. There are scientists, security police and
engineers to converse with. Most can't seem to be bothered, and they will tell
you to leave them alone, but others will recognize you and talk directly to
you. These exchanges are quite a change-of-pace and something I've not seen
in a first person shooter before.
Of course, no game involving an experiment in a secret lab would have that
experiment go smoothly. True-to-form, the experiment does go horribly wrong
and causes a wide variety of alien life-forms to cross over from another dimension
(or something) and over-run the base. Because your character is wearing the
Hazardous Environment Suit, which acts like armor, he is protected from the
initial results of the experiment. As chaos consumes the underground base,
with aliens eating, mauling and shocking the base employees, you are selected
to get help by finding your way up and out of the base.
The wonderful thing about Half-Life is that it doesn't just include a background
scenario in the instruction manual and then plop the player down in the middle
of the goings-on. The game takes the time to set everything up, immerse the
player into the storyline, and then turn up the heat. Impatient players, who
want to get right to the shooting and killing, may want to look elsewhere for
their fun (or just skip the single-player game and go straight to the multiplayer
Half-Life isn't all about hunting and killing. It's more concerned with developing
an interesting background story, a movie-style setup, and an attention to detail
that's been missing from first person shooters for too long. Sure, there's
a lot of blood and guts in the game, but there is a lot of subtle humor and
quite a few well-constructed puzzles too.
Included in the game options is a training ground for beginning players that
teaches the basic moves, how to navigate different obstacles and how to interpret
different sounds in the game. Even if you feel you can dive right in and get
something out of the game, I recommend taking the extra 10 minutes or so required
to run through the training lesson. It provides a wealth of information vital
to solving a few of the more challenging areas of the game.
The graphics, especially with a 3D accelerator, are beautifully done. The
game is based on a hybrid Quake II engine, which not only runs very smoothly,
but improves on that game's color scheme by providing a vibrant palette of
colors, not just brown and more brown. While there's little variation in the
humans you come in contact with, the alien creatures are a widely varied collection
of beasties. Ranging from small, jumping rat-like creatures to much larger
and more violent monsters, there's little time to stop and admire them. Some
of the creatures will attack you directly, by physically assaulting you, while
others prefer to hurl bolts of electricity or globs of acid at you. In some
cases, the base itself is the enemy, as machine gun emplacements with motion-sensor
triggering mechanisms will mow down anything that moves in front of them.
However, the most challenging enemies are other humans. They're commandos
sent by the government to make sure that word of the experiment's apparent
failure never leaves the base. This means you're their target and they come
prepared to fight it out using the same weapons you have access to, like machine
guns, grenades and a much better sense of teamwork than your alien adversaries.
They're formidable, but not invincible.
rather play against real humans, the game does include support for LAN and
Internet games. Setting up and finding an Internet game was fast and
easy using the included interface. I did need to update the game to get the
multiplayer to work properly. Once the patch was applied, the game
searched for current games online and allowed me to choose the
fastest available game. Within approximately 2 minutes of downloading the patch,
I was blasting players online. Still, unlike Quake or Quake II,
Half-Life's single-player game intrigued me far more than the multiplayer game.
The game's control mechanism is fairly standard for a PC-based first person
shooter. Moving the mouse allows the player's perspective to shift, as if the
player were turning his head. The mouse button fires the selected weapon. The
keyboard provides the movement and weapon selection options, as well as the
ability to use items and converse with the inhabitants of the base. Of course,
the keys may be remapped to better suit a player's needs. I just left them
in their standard locations.
Sound effects provide clues to the location of enemies
and potential plot points of the game. The voice acting for the various characters
dead-on. The scientists and security guards all have some rather interesting
comments on the events taking place around the base. Weapons sound realistic
enough, with the appropriate "shell-casings-hitting-the-floor" noises
to accompany the rattle of gunfire. Many of the monsters have their own trademark
growls and squeals too.
I can't remember a recent game that's sucked me in to its world as effectively
as Half-Life has done, save for Resident Evil 2 on the PlayStation, and even
that was almost a year ago. With its immersive storyline, great graphics and
an attention to detail that has to be seen (and heard) to be believed, Half-Life has my vote for PC game of the year.
Half-Life requires a Pentium 133, 24 MB RAM, Super VGA video card with 16-bit
color, 2X CD-ROM, 400 MB Hard Drive space and Windows 95. Recommended: Pentium
166 or faster, 32MB RAM, and 3D accelerator card.
It was reviewed on a Intel Pentium II 233, 32 MB RAM, 32X CD-ROM, Best Data
Arcade FXII Voodoo 2 accelerator, AW35 PnP Soundcard, Logitech MouseMan mouse,
and Windows 98.