I liken Half-Life
's place in video games to Citizen Kane
's place in movie history: it's the old trendsetter that still manages to be current, long after its release. Only time will tell if Valve's debut will hold up so well five decades later, but it's safe to say that it remains immensely enjoyable and impressive over a decade later. Playing it again for the first time in years, you might be surprised to find less of a trip down memory lane and more of a return to values and concepts that even the most recent, progressive games fail to touch upon.
You measure a game like Half-Life
, the first of its kind, by "oh shit!"-moments. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
was full of "oh shit!" moments, while BioShock
had only a few but they were potent enough to leave an impression on anyone who played it. Half-Life
's credits scene on the tram, initial encounters with the marines, and various monster encounters might not have the element of surprise anymore but they still retain a level of class and polish that will always stay with the game and be its strong point. Xen and the final boss encounter stand out so much in the eyes of the game's detractors not because these sections are genuinely bad, but because they are the only part of the game that fails to meet the intro's pedigree.
engine mod aside, Half-Life
has a distinct world and feel that might not have the strongest visual pull but applies a presence of space on the most masterful level. The outside environments in the game are minuscule now, but retain a release and awe solely due to how well Valve makes you feel claustrophobic earlier on. All the models, guns, and environments are well constructed and have a logic to it that clicks immediately. Solving puzzles and platforming in Half-Life
doesn't only work well, but adds variety and depth that no FPS displayed before it and practically none have since.
I expected to go back and forth with Half-Life
, but I failed to consider how immersive and addictive this classic is -- beating it over the course of two days. Doom
kept you invested because the core mechanics failed to get old -- Half-Life
offers another level to the FPS: you keep playing because you need to see what comes next. Seeing a scientist operate a microwave, catching a glimpse of the G-Man, and trying out new strategies on the marines opened a new door in video games. Half-Life
was the turning point when place, pace, and atmosphere dictated a successful title as much as debugging, core mechanics, and graphics. Will Half-Life
blow away a newcomer, now? No. Nevertheless, it will consume them for the day or two they compulsively play through it. At the end of it, they'll wonder why polish, innovation, and originality are so rare -- and it took a 10+ year-old game to bring this issue to light in their minds.