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Overview

Developed by Valve Corporation, the Half-Life franchise is a highly celebrated series of award winning first-person shooter titles which have consistently influenced future FPS development with their unique storytelling methods, such as a constant first person perspective, and gameplay mechanics such as Half-Life 2's Gravity Gun. Together Half-Life and Half-Life 2 have won over 100 Game of the Year awards and both have been named Game of the Decade by several publications. In April 2009 Edge Magazine named The Orange Box, which features Half-Life 2, the third greatest game ever made, after Ocarina of Time and Super Mario 64.

Half-Life

Half-Life
Released in 1998, the original Half-Life was Valve's first shipped product, and made a significant impact on the mixture of storytelling and action in subsequent first-person shooters.

Half-Life tells the story of Gordon Freeman, a theoretical physicist and MIT graduate, employed at the Black Mesa Research Facility , a private research and defense contractor working on applied mathematics, propulsion sciences, lasers, biotechnology, teleportation, and extra-dimensional travel. While Gordon is assisting in an experiment involving this latter field of study, an unexpected resonance cascade occurs, tearing holes in the dimensional fabric, jointly devastating the facility and allowing for alien creatures from Xen, a dimensional border world, to come through into our universe. Gordon subsequently must fight off both the alien invaders and an elite military detachment sent in to cover up the incident and eliminate any witnesses. Gordon eventually helps a group of surviving Black Mesa scientists close the dimensional rifts by traveling to Xen and defeating the alien slave master, the Nihilanth, who is ultimately the controlling factor behind the invasion of Earth. During the course of the game, Gordon is silently observed by an otherworldly man in a suit dubbed the G-Man, who eventually comes forward at the end of the game with a job offer. The game ends as Gordon accepts this offer.

Half-Life received critical acclaim, was praised for its complex scripted action sequences, real-time lip syncing and action-packed gameplay, and received over 50 Game of the Year awards from various publications. Its influence on future standards of quality in first-person shooters is still felt today. The original title spawned a series of future releases, including an official demo called Uplink with content not included in the final release, as well as three expansion packs produced by a 3rd party developer, Gearbox Software.

Half-Life: Opposing Force

Opposing Force
The first of three expansion packs for the original Half-Life developed by Gearbox Software, Opposing Force put the player in the shoes of Corporal Adrian Shephard, a soldier enlisted as part of the cleanup operation sent to Black Mesa by the United States military to fight back the alien invaders and silence any surviving civilian witnesses. Opposing Force had the player initially experience the aftermath of the resonance cascade disaster from the other side of the fence. However, Shephard quickly switches sides and joins the survivors in a bid to escape the devastated facility. Throughout the course of the game the player will encounter a new enemy, Race X, which seems to be hostile towards both humanity and the alien forces of Xen. Shephard eventually escapes the facility after the G-Man activates a nuclear warhead, obliterating what remains of Black Mesa.

Half-Life: Blue Shift

Blue Shift
The second expansion, Blue Shift, had players experience the Black Mesa debacle through the eyes of one of Half-Life 2's main characters, Barney Calhoun. Barney, a mid-ranking security guard at the facility, is trapped in a falling elevator at the beginning of the game, just after the resonance cascade occurs. He somehow miraculously survives the impact and must then fight through both aliens from Xen and soldiers of the United States military to reach the relative safety of the surface.

Half-Life: Decay

Decay
Developed by Gearbox Software, Half-Life: Decay was a PS2-only single-player and cooperative expansion to the original Half-Life. Players take on the roles of doctors Gina Cross and Colette Green as they fight for survival after the resonance cascade severely damages the Black Mesa facility. The goals of the players in Decay coincide directly with the goals of Gordon Freeman in the original Half-Life. They deliver the initial sample of crystal which Gordon uses to initiate the resonance cascade in the first place, and they must later prepare a rocket with a satellite on board (which Gordon launches). While they safely return from their sojourn to Xen, it is not known if the characters survive the nuclear explosion that decimates the facility.

Half-Life 2

Half-Life 2
Developed by Valve, Half-Life 2 was released in 2004 to enormous anticipation, and emphasized the effectiveness of physics implementation as a gameplay mechanic and as a useful device to establish realism.

Set a number of years after the first game, Half-Life 2 starts with the G-Man awakening Gordon Freeman, who has apparently spent the last two decades within temporal stasis, neither aging nor being made aware of the events occurring in his universe. Earth has become a dystopian world, conquered shortly after Gordon's defeat of the Nihilanth in the first game by an oppressive and powerful extra-dimensional army called the Combine. Gordon is returned to his reality as an operative of the G-Man, and is allowed to go about his business apparently unrestricted, with no knowledge of his location, situation, or the state of human society at the time. Taking place in and around the vicinity of the Eastern European-themed City 17, Gordon is soon led to the human resistance movement, which is attempting to secretly develop its own dimensional teleportation technology to strike back at the Combine. Through these events, Gordon is reconnected with colleagues and friends from Black Mesa, as well as Alyx Vance, the daughter of Dr. Eli Vance, leader of the resistance and one of the individuals inadvertently responsible for the original resonance cascade in Half-Life. Gordon is given an unorthodox anti-gravity weapon to use in the fight with the Combine, the Zero-Point Energy Field Manipulator, and the game eventually takes the player to the top of the Combine occupation's headquarters on Earth, a kilometers-tall fortress called the Citadel, where Gordon destroys the tower's dark energy reactor and initiates a massive explosion he has no hope of escaping. Fortunately, the G-Man is apparently a master of space and time, and plucks Gordon from the ensuing blast, presumably to drop him back into temporal stasis until his services are required once more.

Half-Life 2: Episode One

Half-Life 2: Episode One
While not a true sequel, Episode One was the first episodic installment of the franchise, and was still hotly anticipated by fans. Episode 1 picks up just as Half-Life 2 ends. Seemingly left to die in the explosion of the dark energy reactor of the Citadel, Alyx Vance is saved at quite literally the last minute by the human resistance's powerful Xenian allies, the Vortigaunts. Freed from slavery by Gordon Freeman when he killed the Combine's slave master the Nihilanth in the first game, the Vortigaunts fled to Earth to assist in defeating the Combine once and for all. Soon after rescuing Alyx, the Vortigaunts come to the aid of Gordon, currently powerless to fight the G-Man in the inter-dimensional void between universes. Gordon is pulled back to his reality by the Vortigaunts, and from there he must quest into the center of the Citadel with Alyx to stabilize its dark energy core, temporarily preventing an explosion that could destroy the entirety of City 17 and its immediate surroundings. With that done, Alyx and Gordon must then ensure the evacuation of non-combatant citizens and then themselves escape the city, before the core overloads in a dark energy flare. The episode ends as the core goes critical, with Alyx and Gordon caught on a train as it's struck by the shockwave of the explosion.

Half-Life 2: Episode Two

Half-Life 2: Episode Two
The second episodic installment of the franchise, Episode Two was just as highly anticipated as its predecessors, and was released simultaneously as a stand-alone title and as one of five included games in the Orange Box collection. Episode 2 picks up almost immediately where Episode 1 left off. With the Combine's Citadel obliterated in the massive dark energy flare of its overloading Core, Gordon and Alyx miraculously survive the ensuing shockwave, which derails the train they were riding. After contacting the resistance, it's determined that the remnant Combine forces in the area are heading for the base of White Forest, in an attempt to thwart a plot to launch a rocket equipped with a satellite that could very well put a stop to a Combine attempt to reestablish a foothold on Earth. Gordon and Alyx must make their way to White Forest and assist in the defense of the rocket and its critical payload.

Half-Life 2: Episode Three

Concept Art
Episode Three will be the final episodic installment of the Half-Life 2 series. Based on the storyline of Episode Two and early concept art, it is believed that the plot of Episode Three will involve the fate of the lost Aperture Science research vessel, the Borealis.

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