Half – Life – Best Game Ever!

Publisher:- Sierra Studios
Developer:- Valve Corp. (My personal creative heroes)
Genre:- First Person Shooter (FPS)
Release Date:- November 1998
Windows Compatibility Platform:- Win 95, Win 98, Win 2000, WinME, Win XP
Minimum Specs:- P 133, 24MB RAM, SVGA (!) 16-bit (how low can a system get?!)
Recommended Specs:- P II, 64MB RAM, 3D accelerator 16 MB video RAM minimum. Higher res at 1200 x 1024 onwards require 64MB video RAM. Various patches and upgrades (HL Definition Pack) is advised. Older Open GL cards may require other hotfixes as the 3dfx drivers shipped with Half-Life is not very dependable.
Current availability:- This is one game never gonna run dry. Believe you me.
The mind reels when the list of accolades are piled on HL in 1999 and finally tallied at over 50 influential gamers publications with the unanimous verdict of ‘Game of the Year’. PC Gamer, the critical and (sometimes snobbish) gamers’ Bible crowned it 3 times at alternating occasions, first in November 1999, then also in October 2001, and as recent as April 2005 ‘Best PC Game Ever’. To be sure, these final verdicts are gushing with enthusiasm yet cleverly flattering, so as to accord praise for a job well done where it was demanded for.
To make any sense of all of these, I’ll make it easier by listing down all of the most possible reasons:-
1. Seamless storyline- I’ll leave this to Marc Laidlaw, Valve’s very own in-house author. The plot he wrought was not one of the most drastic or indeed, unthinkable as ‘Doom II’ by id Software has shown us that the human mind can be as twisted if you intended it to be.
Laidlaw’s approach, however has inspired his fellow developers to earnestly entreat the gamers to a visual eye candy such as rarely seen before. Half Life purports to ensure that the gamer is the one experiencing first hand the resonance cascade at the Black Mesa complex and the subsequent tragedy at the test chamber up to the end where the G-Man forces him to make a decision to work for his ’employers’ or to suffer the backlash of Xen alien creatures. There is no sudden break in the storyline, as the player is Gordon Freeman throughout the entire game and HL does not make any pretensions as to the fact that the player engineers Freeman’s outcome and minute actions.
The first impression of the game is that the storyline is straight-forward, but as further twists to the story occurs, it dawns on you that suddenly, you may not be able to differentiate who is the enemy and whom you should trust. Particularly noteworthy is the chapter where the Hazardous Environment Combat Unit of the US Army appears to be your saviour but turns out to be the ones to erase all those associated with the ill-fated experiment and to take no survivors.
2. Impressive arsenal- Most FPS prior to Half Life did indeed present an impressive array of weapons at the disposal of the gamer. ‘Doom II’ probably set the precedent for the most radical weapons ever made available to gamers but Half Life combines good old authentic weapons with other alien weapons like the hornet gun, as well as the innovative Tau cannon, the Gluon gun and Freeman’s mainstay, the ubiquitous crowbar.
That said, the fact that Half Life did so well to ensure that the gamer has a chance to use ALL of his weapons in his inventory, can be attributed to the fact that the level-design of the game in each of its long chapters is second to none. In short, every weapon at your disposal is your friend, if you use them wisely. When you’re supposed to let the enemy have ’em, give ’em hell and don’t hesitate. Single player training in HL has made me a better CS player, I reckon.
3. AI aggresiveness- Most FPS titles enjoy pitting you against more and more enemies for each difficulty you wish to bump up, with force in numbers playing a key role. I don’t think HL has changed this tradition much, since the skin of the baddies get thicker with each ascending difficulty setting. But HL has a then unique new AI code which enables them to attack smarter and to flank you in numbers and take refuge if beaten back and suppressed.
The first few encounters with the grunts of the HECU especially when they holler out ‘Movement!’ when they caught sight of Freeman is rather chilling. And they don’t attack you straightaway, not if the area is crowded with the usual crates and concrete pillars. Just when you thought you were safe in your vantage point, a grenade will land squarely at your feet and ready to blow up. They’re that good.
4. Compelling visuals- Spare a thought for dated Direct X 7 graphics. They were a milestone in the stunning visual effects the cards of today are capable of.
In Half Life, most of the Black Mesa complex world is anything but dour and boring. I mean, what can one science complex possible inspire the crazy developers of infinite possibilities for ideas. But they were at the highest point of their creativity level, when they input alien grunts, whose armor gleamed with a seductive inner light or barnacle creatures, whose long sticky tongues extend all the way to the floor and await the unfortunate victim who chanced there. The hi-tech weaponry also has its own visual effects but the most deserving acclaim should go to the cleverly drawn alien creatures who are likeably real and behave with its very own characteristics.
Most importantly, Half Life spared no details when dealing with the dead. Giblets and skulls fly everywhere upon impact with explosive material enough to kill, while alien blood (characteristically mustard color) disgustingly splatters around when hit with the crowbar.Barnacle creatures also spew bones of its kills and gorge out its entrails in a messy glob.
5. Ease of controls/interface:- How many times have gamers wish that every FPS can be as simple as this title and the sequel ‘Half Life 2’. Simple in this context means that there are no elaborate controls to tinker and every accessible key is within finger coverage from another. Most of the FPS titles have so many clunky controls and functions that the enjoyment is lost by just trying to redefine the keyboard controls to suit the gamer’s preference. ‘Unreal’ is one title at that time which is at the top of the clunk-o-meter and I don’t think having so many keys for so little function is the way to move forward.
6. Believable world physics:- We know that Half Life is not a title for those boring homebodies whose only real imagination is the desire to get married and have kids. In fact, the world of Half Life suddenly opens up a new dimension when Freeman enters the alien world of Xen. But the developers still manage to create a world so believable that every minute detail, including gravity and physics are painstakingly merged, and not try to be downright stupid like ‘Unreal’ or (sometimes) ‘Doom II’ where the game engine is in free-fall. Damage taken from falling from high places are also rather passable, while falling debris can also damage the HEV suit.
7. Immersive Puzzles:- Half Life is not about finding keys or mindlessly killing enemies and achieve close to 100% marksmanship at every stage. Every nuance of life in Black Mesa is fraught with danger and Freeman must negotiate past these obstacles and also deal with enemies at the same time.
Notable puzzles stages are the killing of the tri-tentacles at the rocket test chamber and the episode ‘Power Up’.
8. Near-total interaction:- Take a tram ride, climb ladders in unlikely places, jump off a ladder and try to land squarely on a suspended non-working elevator, leap on alien trampolines, snipe enemy soldiers, destroy Abrams tanks with rocket launchers, take control of a machine gun nest and mow down Vortigaunts, use anti-tank cannons to destroy alien grunts, detonate satchel charges to blow up land mines, duck a compound laced with laser trip bombs to avoid triggering off a catastrophe, gingerly throw snarks at unsuspecting enemy soldiers, lay traps with laser trip bombs for some fool soldier to walk into…and more!   
Quick guide to the enemies of the World of Half Life—-
1. Headcrab- Your first foe. Annoying at first, but later can be dealt with well-placed pistol shots right smack in their rotund bodies. Don’t bother wasting MP5 ammo on this pest. Commonly found at vent ducts’ corners as well as secluded office complexes behind crates. They’re pint-sized and easily spotted. Watch out for their pounce attacks. There are unfortunate scientists devoured in the head by these crab creatures and have turned hostile,once the headcrab takes control of them. Their only attack is at melee range but can do an obsene amount of damage if given the chance to do so. 
2. Vortigaunt- Now you won’t wanna mess with this quick-thinking creature. They walk at a leisurely pace even when attacking you, but their energy attacks can cover a lot of range and deal a decent amount of damage. Up close, they smack you with their claws and make you lose some degree of orientation with the weapon you’re wielding. They are so common, you should expect them at every chapter. They’re best silenced with a well-placed double shot shotgun at close range or MP5/M4 at long range. Above all, strafe at all times, taking cover and don’t lie there and make yourself an easy target. They are biped creatures, with a large red eye, green collar and electrical charges emanating off their bodies.
3. Bullsquid- I don’t find them menacing as they look real cute, with pitiful eyes. They have an amazing range with their corrosive acid spit and a fierce tentacle attack at melee range. When Freeman is close to being annihilated, the bullsquid whips its tail and finish the job. I find, yet again, the double shot shotgun to be an invaluable ally at close range while a pistol can subdue this violent creature at further distances.They look like spotted felines, but with a wobbly tentacled red mouth.
4. Barnacle- These hang up above the ceilings and do passive damage. Stay out of their way and they’ll be happy to do the same. Pistol fire is the best weapon although it is better to lure HECU grunts into its trap and watch these creatures do the killing for you. Simple rule of the thumb when get caught by a barnacle. Look up, choose the pistol and fire away at its core. If it’s too late, whip out the crowbar and swing away.
5. HECU units aka Grunts- Mistaken for US Army soldiers, these are the fictional special ops sent to clean up the mess left as a result of the resonance cascade incident at Black Mesa. In short, they want no witnessess of the tragedy to survive.
A common mistake at first is to treat them as a friend rather than as a foe due to the storyline until they let their weapons do the talking, at fellow scientists and you. They’re armed with the same basic weaponry as you do,ie shotguns, MP 5/M4s, grenades, but their real danger is their ability to coordinate attacks and to sniff you out in moments upon detection. Most of the time, they’re also well-entrenched in sandbag fortifications as well as manning well-placed artillery pieces which they’ll use against you.
Basic tactic of engagement is simple. Do not try to engage them head-on, if at all possible. Duck-walk to their vantage points, and let go a ‘cooked’ grenade (firing button held for at most 3 seconds). If out of grenades, a .357 Magnum shot to the head can dictate the story of their life 80% of the time. Or use the double shot shotgun to speak on your behalf. Just don’t let them gang up on you or throw grenades at you in tight spots.
6. Hound-eye- Not for dog lovers. (I’m not really one) They are real-life bulldog counterparts, with a compound eye and the ability to emit a resonance wave attack. But that is all. You can stop them from charging up their attacks by shooting them repeatedly. They are best killed with the shotgun or the crowbar up close.
7. Ichthyosaur- Water-based predator. Found at the dam area, the flooded shark cage area and the latter part of Black Mesa. Don’t bother swimming away from these creatures and don’t try to fire off any firearms other than the Glock pistol and the crossbow at them as they’re no good underwater. At the dam area, I first climbed up the ladder at the side of the valve hatch and readjust my position so that when in crouch mode, the shark creature can see me, but not close enough to snap at any digits.To conserve ammo, I used the crowbar at that stage. The sharks at later levels are not difficult to kill, especially with more swimming room and a host of options to eliminate it.
8. Tentacle claw- Usually exist as a puzzle-type situation and not killable with ordinary weapons. Throw grenades at their core to quiet them down and sneak past them. The rocket propulsion test chamber is the first encounter. These exist as a set of 3 claws clanging on the surface closest to any noise source. Duck-walk past them at all times. If you get caught, duck and slowly make your way to an area not ‘searched’ by the claw(s). Not as hard as first imagined.
9. Leech- Annoying pesky creatures found underwater. Not hard to kill, but they swarm at you in schools. Running away is the best option, if you don’t want the HEV suit shred to pieces.
10. Gargantua-Dangerous! First found at the ‘Power Up’ chapter attacking some HECU troopers. Its primary attack at close range is a powerful and vicious flame thrower while it can stomp the ground and emit a strange red wave attack at ranged attacks. Either way, it can deal punishment quickly. It’s impervious to bullets but can be killed with 4 RPGs and some direct grenade attacks which can take it down, but the best method is to engage it with ready-made resources at your disposal. It can be found in 4 levels and is a boss-level or sub-boss character. First-timers are gonna get a heart-attack when these creatures pursue them down the corridor leading to the power station.
11. Gonarch- Giant spider-like alien encountered at the ‘Gonarch’s Lair’ episode in Xen. Not really tough to kill, once its movements are predicted. Lots of patience and accuracy required. Watch out for the toxic spill.
12. Nihilanth- The ‘boss’ at the end of the game. It has two primary attacks:- electrical damages and one subsidiary attack (in a green electrical discharge) which teleports Freeman into alien infested areas to meet his doom. Survive all that and set up a chance meeting with the G-Man himself.
I was hooked on Half Life for 2 months in late 2000 (when I’d the free time to burn), finished it twice over at different difficulty settings during Xmas 2000 and there was not a part of the game which I didn’t remotely like.The sorriest part of all is the utter lack of sleep, but life is to be lived, not arranged.
Half Life has some quirks to deal with, among them, a faulty area where the ‘We’ve Got Hostiles!’ episode is unplayable at the elevator segment. (Some Half Life forums advocate jumping around in the lift during this sequence but I found this solution unworkable ) Either play the entire game through and save at all the hotspots or patch up to the 5th version, minus Hi-res definition pack et al. Saving games at unpatched versions can also be a thorn in the finger, since the screen may minimize to unplayable visual levels. Half Life’s D3d implementation are also rather poor, as most additional sprites would be missing ( ie bullet marks, animal hearts,etc). The workaround is to use the Open GL standard.
Technical defects aside, Half Life has long since reserved its rightful place as a ‘classic’ as well as a truly genre-defining title. Hail Valve Corporation! 

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