HALF-LIFE / Valve / PC

Half-Life was a major advance for the first person shooter in terms of use of scripted events, atmosphere and just generally setting the bar for creativity. Scientist Gordon Freeman works at the Black Mesa research facility, one of those Roswell type deals out in the desert, and his work day goes horribly wrong when an experiment he's participating in spawns portals in space-time that allow all sorts of creepy aliens to wander on through. What's even better is that when the U.S. military is sent in, they're killing off scientists and security guards so they don't talk. So Gordon gets to work his way out of Black Mesa through aliens, armed Special Forces squads and plenty of environmental hazards as shit goes all haywire everywhere.

What's really significant about the game is that it was the first major FPS to move beyond the whole Doom/Quake era of flat, nearly plotless fetch-the-keycards design, and managing to integrate the story entirely into the game as it happens rather than pulling you out with non-interactive cutscenes. On that level, it's really fantastic, and worth playing for that experience alone.

Of course, you'll note the lack of Medal of Awesome for this one, and the reason is that while Valve's concepts and scenarios are great, and the game engine is generally very good, they weren't necessarily the best about level design. There's plenty of excellent and fun situations in the game, but nearly as many irritating jumping, swimming and ladder-climbing segments that are clunky and annoying. The second half of the game also leans on the old Duke Nukem technique of just throwing shit tons of instant death at you and forcing you to save constantly and reload the game 50 times per level to avoid the upcoming cheap deaths that can't really be avoided without foreknowledge. And then there's the "boss battles" and big enemy sequences where basically one mistake kills you, or you're expected to be using a certain weapon but don't necessarily actually have it ... well, let's just say the second half of the game isn't quite as flowing or immersive as the first and there's plenty of rough sledding.

This is offset by the fact that the game is very mod-friendly and if you get tired of how Valve shoots its Wads there's plenty of other stuff to download and play, much of which is designed in a much less clumsy-platform-jumpy and instant-death sort of way.

Relaxin' and maxin'

Links :

* Demo version
* Black Mesa Source - Recreation of this game in Half-Life 2
* Excellent academic examination of Half-Life

Videos :

* Gameplay Video

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