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2023-06-14 19:31:17

Half-Life 20 Years Later - An LGR Retrospective

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I've been meaning to cover this on L G R for nearly a decade , but I've continually put it off with it being such an established classic .

Well , no more excuses .

This is half life , one of the golden standards in first person shooters and an all time classic among games in general .

More specifically , this is the original release for Windows P CS developed by Valve software and published by Sierra on November 19th , 1998 .

And you can tell it's an early release not only due to its sizable gate fold box , but the fact that protagonist Gordon Freeman doesn't even have glasses here that changed by the time the 1999 game of the year edition came around with Mr Freeman Donning a respectable set of spectacles from here onwards .

We'll get back to some of the later releases in a bit .

But for now , let's stick to the original release inside the box .

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You get a dual case containing the game CD ROM sprinkled with rusty patterns and mathematical equations .

A registration card that was found bundled with both Sierra and Knowledge adventure titles , an ad for the original Half Life strategy guide .

The fall 1998 Sierra software catalog featuring full color ads for both half life and a stand alone version of half life editor , World Craft Pro A product that was canceled in March of 99 .

And finally , there's the owner's manual , a 40 page document featuring vivid orange highlights and piles of detailed gameplay information and concept art .

As well as an ad for the Falcon Northwest Mach Five man .

That company was all over the place .

Seems like there were Falcon ads for every major PC game release .

Back then half life begins with some logo videos including that iconic one from Valve , uh hazardous environments .

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Still one of the best intro themes around .

And at this point , you get the original half life main menu something I hadn't seen in ages subsequent versions of the game changed this menu around quite a bit before ditching it entirely .

Once Steam came along , one thing that didn't change is the default control scheme .

And for good reason , it's still pretty standard even decades later .

And this was back when default F P S controls could vary wildly from game to game .

But Half life was one of the very first PC games .

I remember seeing W A S D for movement control and shift for ducking and walking , E for interactions , et cetera .

And to this effect , Valve included a training room for players unfamiliar with this kind of first person shooter .

It's more or less just a practice where you can mess around with the controls , mechanics and weaponry , but you're also accompanied by a helpful holographic training guide .

Hello and welcome to the Black Mesa Hazard course where you will be trained in the use of the hazardous environment suit .

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I am your holographic assistant and even though the default controls are going to be second nature to anyone familiar with more modern FPs games .

I still recommend going through this hazard course due to a couple of the moves you need to master and half life , namely the crouch jumping and long jumping , two moves that are vital to navigating a significant chunk of half life but are pretty much nonexistent in newer shooters .

Once that's over , it's time to clock in for a day of work at the Black Mesa Research Facility .

And that begins with a leisurely tram ride making for a deliberately slow introduction to the vast half life universe .

The time is 8 47 AM .

Top temperature is 93 degrees with an estimated high of 105 .

And seeing this for the first time was mind boggling stuff to teenage me .

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This was an F P S game that began without the s nothing to shoot no guns or weapons , no one to talk to just a bit of exposition in the form of the computerized Tram voice and the text letting you know that you're 27 year old Gordon Freeman , an M I T graduate with a phd in theoretical physics and a level three Black Mesa research assistant assigned to the Anomalous Materials Laboratory who also happens to be running late to work morning .

Mr Freeman looks like you're running late .

It's worth noting that the gameplay you're seeing here is being captured using original retro hardware with creatives , environmental audio extensions enabled , makes quite a difference compared to sound cards without it .

Hey , Mr Freeman , I had a bunch of messages for you , but we had a system crash about 20 minutes ago and I'm still trying to find my files .

Hey , Mr Freeman , I had a bunch of messages for you , but we had a system crash about 20 minutes ago and I'm still trying to find my files .

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Some players may understandably prefer it turned off or using Ariel's a 3D mode instead .

But either way , Half life was one of the premier titles to make use of audio hardware enhancements back then .

And personally , it just feels right having E A X enabled Echoy audio or not though this starting section in Black Mesa is still crazy to me in a good way .

I love when games go out of their way to provide extraneous interactivity and half life delivered here with its locker rooms , hand dryers , soda machines , and microwave casseroles .

My God , what are you doing ?

And of course , this is where you get the hazardous environmental suit .

The H E V practically turns you into a superhero So that's convenient considering what's to come .

And that is , well , you're throwing signs at the wall here to see what sticks .

Imagine if Cern went the way of Stephen King's the mist .

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The latter of which has been directly cited by half life's developers as an inspiration turns out that shimmering alien crystals and anti mass spectrometers don't mix resulting in a massive quantum event known as the resident cascade .

Yeah .

Yeah .

So an interdimensional rift has opened up and lots of murderous aliens are flooding into the facility .

It's up to you to survive mostly though , unlike the rest of the poor souls in black mesa , you're equipped with a suit that largely protects you from all manner of attacks and hazards .

And thankfully , it's not long before you find half life's most recognizable weapon .

The crow bar uniquely clad in red paint and perfectly suited for bashing alien flesh and fragile objects alike .

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But even with these advantages for the most part , you're running scared like everyone else enduring attacks from face hugging head crabs , zombified former scientists and the sonically obnoxious hound eyes .

Luckily you're not stuck with the crow bar for too long with increasing enemy threats matched with increasing firepower , two different pistols , a combat shotgun and an S M G show up as do explosives like grenades , trip mines , satchel charges and a laser guided RPG .

There's a powerful crossbow that acts as your sniping option along with the towel cannon and gluon gun energy weapons that dole out incredible damage while constantly running low on AMMO , two organic alien weapons fill out the arsenal with the hornet and the throw snarks .

Each of which are a little odd but effective .

And despite the fact , Gordon can't actually speak , there's no shortage of talking in half life when you run across friendly survivors , mostly scientists and security guards .

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Freeman can interact with them and have a one sided conversation .

There are no objective markers or anything .

So this is the game's primary method of letting you know what's going on and what to do next .

Everyone's heading for the service .

But I think they're crazy not to stay put .

Someone is bound to come by and rescue us .

This also provides ways to unlock hidden areas and alternate paths .

Since each N PC can be asked to follow you around .

If you can keep them alive , they'll do things like open locked doors , provide health resources when you're hurt and even engage enemies in combat .

Typically not very useful combat .

But you know , the gesture is appreciated and considering the escalation and difficulty once the military shows up and I'll take all the gestures I can get .

Yeah , it rapidly becomes clear that Black Mesa is considered a lost cause by the authorities who have dispatched legions of grunts to clean up the mess .

It seems that you and your colleagues are considered part of that mess .

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So you're soon fighting both other worldly creatures and combat trained assassins wielding military grade hardware .

These guys do not mess around either with both aliens and the military displaying some impressive A I for 1998 ambush attacks , suppressive fire , flanking maneuvers , flushing out with explosives .

Even tracking you using sound as well as scent .

Yeah , as printed on the back of the box .

Enemies have a sense of smell .

So one misjudged farting , you're dead .

Emergency user gang eminence .

That's not to say half life is a nonstop flatulent shooting gallery .

Though more often than not , it's just you alone navigating Black Mesa with a flashlight looking feverishly for the next health and suit charging stations and progressing in a notably linear fashion .

More than many other shooters I was playing in the late nineties , make no mistake .

It's still a substantial 10 to 15 hour story with plenty of detours off the beaten path .

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But unlike Doom Duke 3d or even Unreal , which all often relied on a string of large maps with straightforward entrances and exits .

Half Life is a distinctly linear campaign .

You can't really go off the rails too much instead being funneled through each area with clear intentions rarely are you left wondering what to do next ?

As typically there's a clear obstacle to overcome in each map segment .

Often it's a puzzle with a logical yet slightly elusive solution giving half life an appropriately scientific quality when making progress maps also weave together in a way that was fresh at the time where one area loads directly into the next as you encounter it .

No key cards , exit switches or level ending stat screens here .

And you can even go back and forth between maps as well .

In many cases , making half life feel more like a large cohesive world rather than an assortment of loosely connected maps .

Just the overall atmosphere .

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It's pretty fantastic with rather minimal amounts of admittedly awesome music and a good mix of industrial atmosphere and creepy alien sound effects .

And each new area feels distinct in both theme and mechanics .

Always tossing out new puzzles , hazards and environments in order to test your skills .

Keeping in mind , this was using the gold source engine based on the quake code base .

This was quite impressive stuff graphically it was no powerhouse but half life is still more than impressed with its network of claustrophobic passages , ample storage facilities and ethically questionable laboratories .

Not to mention features like in engine cut scenes that were quite novel at the time .

And the numerous scripted horror sequences that do a stellar job of putting you on edge , morbid curiosity peaked by what further atrocities lie ahead .

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The Black Mesa research facility and its surrounding environments constantly keep you on the defense while unraveling the mystery of how to overcome the latest roadblock fixing power problems , manipulating water pumps , trouble shooting rocket engines , shooting a giant alien using remote missile launchers , even taking down attack choppers and then there's navigating tunnels using cumbersome rail cars .

Slippery first person platform , repetitious combat encounters .

I'm remembering why I got so annoyed at half life .

Once upon a time for every enjoyable challenge there is to solve .

You're presented with another that's either tedious or straight up frustrating .

Sometimes A I misses its cue and you're left reloading , save games until it works .

Sometimes A I does its job too well and you die cheaply from hit scan weapons with little to chance to react .

Other times you just fall off a ladder to your doom because the ladder climbing mechanic sucks .

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Or the game will just freak out because physics aren't always what they seem for all of its groundbreaking awesomeness .

Half life is occasionally waste deep in Wonkiest which can turn into a pile of aggravation if you're not adequately prepared for it .

This is especially true of the final chapter that take place on the alien border world of Zen .

Kind of a shame too because I dig the overall design of the place with its crazy gravity , funky landscapes and giant crabby sack monsters .

But by this point without fail , I am entirely ready for the story to be over with all the jumping puzzles , annoying enemies , spiky difficulty and unclear objectives .

And Zen didn't do it for me on my first play through and I have even less patience for it now .

Oh , well , at least the ending is Enjoyably strange with you finally .

Coming face to face with the G man up to this point , you only see him show up in silence with no explanation and you still don't quite get an explanation at the end either .

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But at least it's something that's why I'm here , Mr Freeman .

I have recommended your services to my employers and they have authorized me to offer you a job .

They agree with me that you have limitless potential at this point , you can either accept the G man's vague offer and you're teleported to who knows where preparing for the inevitable sequel or you can turn him down being teleported to who knows where preparing to die at the hands of an army of alien grunts either way , the credits roll and that's the end of half life .

Still an excellent single player F P S experience after all these years , though one that's also showing its age still , this was the developer's first game in 1998 .

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This truly was nothing short of unprecedented revolutionary and all the related marketing blurbs deservedly becoming the highest rated PC game of the year leading to the previously mentioned game of the year edition released in 1999 having won over 40 such awards from various press outlets .

It also came with some new content , most notably Team Fortress Classic already had 32 player death match modes , but Team Fortress class based multiplayer was much more nuanced and more enjoyable .

In my opinion , before this , it was a popular mod for ID software's quake .

But in what would become a go to business move for Valve , they hired the independent developers and turned it into an official product .

The next half life release came in the form of an expansion pack opposing force .

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But with Valve moving on to other projects , newcomer , Gearbox software was hired to develop this one opposing force is a fascinating idea for an expansion , foregoing a continuation of the main story and instead going back to revisit the same events from the perspective of the enemy soldiers .

You were so callously slaughtering .

You play corporal Adrian Shepherd accompanied on occasion by teammates which you can order around to complete objectives , new weapons , new enemies , new locations around the universe to explore .

It's good stuff .

The next major half life release was half life platinum hitting the market in the year 2000 .

This is one beefy package containing everything released for the series up to that point in time that included the half life game of the year edition with Team Fortress , the opposing Force pack and half life counter strike .

There has also got a standalone release of course and much like Team Fortress , it began as a mod and became an official valve thing .

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Once they hired the developer , nowadays , the half life prefix has been dropped in the series is simply known as Counter Strike .

With this one being updated several times and referred to as counter strike 1.6 .

Then a year later in 2000 came blue shift .

Once again from gearbox software .

This stand alone half life expansion pack puts you in the blue collar boots of Barney Calhoun black Mesa security guard extraordinaire .

Once again , you're revisiting the events of the year original half life .

But this time you're exploring the black Mesa facilities that are far less traveled and well kept as a guy with no special credentials at all .

You also end up dealing with your own set of emergencies with Dr Rosenberg and teleportation tech amidst all the other expected chaos , somewhat short and maybe not as good as opposing force but still worth a play through for its unique take on the base game story though personally , I'm not a fan of the H D P that it came with .

Sure it was a welcome upgrade at the time .

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But nowadays , I prefer to use the 1998 assets and keep the original look intact .

I understand wanting to update the polygon count and texture quality .

But why change the weapon models and overall aesthetics so much on top of that ?

You know , there's a ton more worth talking about when it comes to half life .

Of course , like the numerous high profile mods spinoffs and console ports to the impact it's had on game design to the and highly recommended remake known as Black Mesa to frequent ricochet ricochet man .

But yeah , half life if you were around to experience it when it was new .

There's no doubt it had a lasting impact .

And even if you've never played it , you've probably experienced its unspoken influence on more modern games .

Half Life definitely wasn't flawless and it wasn't the only game changing F P S in 98 either .

I'd say unreal and fif had a greater effect me personally at the time .

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But in retrospect , half life signaled a clear shift in first person game design , moving away from Doom and Quake clones and defining many of the mechanics still used today where scripted set pieces and logically connected levels are the norm while still providing just enough puzzle solving and storytelling to keep things mentally captivating .

Half life may be over 20 years old , but its lasting influence is timeless .

If you enjoyed this classic PC game retrospective , then you're in the right place .

Retro computer software and hardware is what L G R is all about .

I've got plenty more on the channel with new stuff going up every week .

And as always , thank you very much for watching .


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