By dankempster 4 Comments
The most recent impulse buy to find its way off the shelf and into the PS2 is Half-Life. The game needs no introduction; the exploits of Gordon Freeman have made him one of modern gaming's most famous faces. Based on this reputation, I bought the game from a local second-hand game dealer towards the end of last year, along with the sequel on Xbox. The games cost me £3 and £9 respectively, not a bad price for what I'd been told were two of the best first person shooters of all time. As was the case with those mentioned above, Half-Life went unplayed for quite some time. Then, about a week ago, for no conscious reason, I dusted it off and popped it into the PS2. I've been hooked ever since. I don't need to give you all the plot details or produce an essay on what makes the game awesome; this is a blog, not a review, and there are plenty of other sites on the net that can give you all that information. What I'd like to do is tell you how the game has impressed me, and convinced me that it's worthy of its mighty reputation.
The first thing that impressed me with Half-Life was the complete lack of cut-scenes. Everything plays out in real-time, with the plot details being delivered by NPCs without ever breaking up the game's flow. This may not sound like much of a big deal, but in practice it makes Half-Life a very different experience from other story-driven FPS games like Halo. The reason for this is that the action never stops, meaning you're always on your toes and never sure what's around the corner. At one point in the game, an NPC tries to warn you about something but is killed before he can finish his sentence. Because this happens in real-time, and isn't a cut-scene, you instantly go into defensive mode, wondering where the assassin's hiding. It's a small change, but one that gives Half-Life a relentless sense of pace.
Another thing that's really impressed me with Half-Life is the grenades. Usually, in an FPS, grenades aren't that important. They make a nice explosion, and can wipe out a few enemies in an instant, but it's very rare you feel you HAVE to use a grenade. In Half-Life, grenades are a necessity. There's one point in the game where you'll have to use grenades to distract an opponent and sneak by, which makes for one of the game's great moments. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the grenades, though, is how great the throwing system is. In a lot of FPS games, grenades are hard to throw correctly and are difficult to use effectively. In contrast, Half-Life makes grenades easy to use through an intuitive aiming system that let you ensure your grenades go where you want them to. It's simple, but so well implemented, I couldn't help but be impressed.
The last thing I'm going to mention that I was impressed by (and there are more than three, but I'm in danger of making this too long to look half-interesting) is how difficult the game can become when you're fighting a lot of enemies. This is largely due to the brilliant level design, which makes combat a very tactical affair. Enemies are intelligent, too; particularly the military guys you fight in the middle third of the game. They'll actively try to surround you, suppress you and sneak up behind you to take you out. Of course, this doesn't sound like a big deal because most modern FPS games employ similar artificial intelligence. What makes this impressive is that Half-Life is a 2001 port of a 1998 PC game. Ten years ago, this level of AI must have been unparalleled. At a time when most shooters encouraged the player to go in guns blazing, Half-Life taught the player to fear turning every corner and approach every new room with apprehension.
So that's my two cents' worth on Half-Life. I think I'm pretty close to the end now, and when I do complete it I intend to boot up the sequel straight away. I'll probably do this kind of thing on a semi-regular basis, whenever I pull something else off the shelf and give it a much-needed airing.
Currently playing - Half-Life (PS2)
UPDATE (13th August 2008): I finished Half-Life 2 a few days ago. I was absolutely blown away by the game, much like I was by the original. I'm not going to write a Discovering Gaming Greatness to go with it, because it wouldn't be too different to this one. I wrote a review of the version I played, which can be found here. Damn, I need The Orange Box!