The first game from Valve, Half-Life puts players into the role of Dr. Gordon Freeman, a theoretical physicist (and silent protagonist) who must navigate through a massive secretive complex (known as the Black Mesa Research Facility) after an experiment gone wrong. Donned with a special protective suit (the Hazardous Environment Suit, or HEV), Freeman must defend himself against not only alien invaders from another dimension, but also an elite detachment of United States Marine Corps soldiers (or robots in some versions of the game) sent to cover up the incident.
The game runs on a modified Quake engine (known as "GoldSrc"), and is known for using scripted sequences to advance the plot, rather than non-interactive cutscenes. Rather than breaking up the game into multiple levels (which was standard at the time), Half-Life uses a technique to separate one large "level" into multiple pieces, with level loading taking place between specific passageways in a seamless fashion (retaining the game's first-person immersion). Although this was invented with Quake II, Half-Life popularized the concept and Valve expanded on it with the game's 2004 sequel, Half-Life 2.
In addition to the main single-player component, the game features both a traditional multiplayer deathmatch mode (supporting 32-player servers and making use of the World Opponent Network service) and extensive modding support (allowing players to switch between mods instantaneously without reloading the game). The game's software development kit was used as the base for many mods at the time, some of which were sold as standalone by Sierra themselves (including Team Fortress Classic and Half-Life: Counter-Strike). Some of these releases also include the deathmatch portion of Half-Life (as Half-Life: Deathmatch) as a bonus. Valve have also included some of their official mods in later versions, including Ricochet and Deathmatch Classic.
Half-Life received two expansion packs by Gearbox: Half-Life: Opposing Force in 1999 and Half-Life: Blue Shift in 2000. Both of these expansions take place concurrently with the main campaign and is told from different perspectives (a USMC grunt in the first and a Black Mesa security guard in the second). The latter expansion, originally a campaign for the cancelled Dreamcast version, also features a "High Definition" pack that improves the visual quality for not only both expansions, but also the main game itself. The original game was also ported to the PlayStation 2 by Gearbox on November 11, 2001. Along with the main campaign (outfitted with the High Definition pack) and a two-player split-screen deathmatch mode, the PS2 version also includes an exclusive two-player co-operative campaign (known as Half-Life: Decay) and an unlockable "Alien Mode" allowing players to play the game as a Vortigaunt.
On February 12, 1999, the PC version of the game received a standalone demo titled Half-Life: Uplink, featuring a brand new mission showcasing the game's combat. It was made available for the PlayStation 2 as a bonus add-on included in the demo disc for Issue 57 of the Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine.
The original version of Half-Life was later digitally re-released by Valve for their Steam platform on October 6, 2004 (with Mac and Linux support added on February 14, 2013). The main campaign was also ported by Valve to their updated Source Engine on November 16, 2004. Titled Half-Life: Source, this port was included in some special editions of Half-Life 2 and, while not updating the original's assets in any way, makes use of the game engine's updated graphics and physics engines. The deathmatch portion of the game was also ported to the Source Engine as a separate product (as Half-Life Deathmatch: Source) on May 1, 2006. The original Steam version later received a major "25th Anniversary Update" on November 17, 2023, improving compatibility with modern computers while adding some additional content (including Half-Life: Uplink).
Half-Life did little new in terms of control improvements at the time, but there were still many aspects of the genre that it revolutionized at the time of its release. The largest of these advancements was the lack of cut scenes. The story was told through scripted sequences that took place in real-time, in the same environment as the player. This lead to an incredibly immersive experience that players at the time had never seen before. Another important advancement in the genre was the lack of specified stages.
In a sense the whole game was just one big world, not split up into levels. Load times were short and were placed between certain doors or passageways. This little detail allowed the player to feel immersed in the story and the universe, and since the game took place in essentially one location, it made sense that each area was connected to the next.
Half-Life features a host of both traditional and non-traditional weapons. The primary weapons that can be found throughout the game are as follows:
This melee weapon has inexplicably become synonymous with the Half-Life franchise. As a melee weapon, once guns are obtained it should really only be used as a weapon of last resort, and to save ammo when busting open crates and boxes.
A basic handgun that can be found in many first-person shooters. The pistol in Half-Life is modeled after a Glock 17, and is replaced by a Beretta 92FS is the graphical overhaul that came with Blue Shift. The weapon isn’t too powerful, although headshots will quickly down enemies. If, however, the player uses the alternative fire method, then the 9mm fires a quick burst of rounds at the expense of range and accuracy.
A revolver that packs quite a punch. While it can only fire single shots, the magnum has a zoom feature that can be accessed by pressing the alternative fire key. Using this zoom feature, the magnum becomes a medium to long range weapon and is far more effective then the 9mm at range. The revolver is modeled after a Colt Python .357 Magnum.
A weapon familiar to all first person shooter fans, the shotgun is easily one of the most powerful close range weapons in the game. Using its alternate fire discharges two shells instead of one, doubling the damage potential but increasing the time between shots. The shotgun is modeled after a Franchi SPAS-12.
A submachine gun with an attached grenade launcher, a versatile weapon. The MP5 is a rapid fire submachine gun which is great at short to medium ranges. Its alternate fire, a built in grenade launcher, can be devastating, though ammo is limited and the player will be injured by it if too close to the explosion. In the Blue Shift graphical revamp, the MP5 was replaced by an M4 Carbine.
This rocket launcher always hits its mark. The RPG in Half-life isn’t radically different from other shooters, but the special thing about this weapon is that its laser guided. This means wherever the player points the laser the missile will hit, making it a great weapon that’s also quite accurate, at the cost of making it impossible to "fire and forget", requiring the player to expose themselves to enemy fire until the missile hits its target. It does not feature an alternate fire.
(accessed by pressing the alternative fire key again) and by doing this the crossbow virtually becomes a sniper rifle.
The Gauss Gun is an experimental and highly unstable weapon. One of the weapons most important abilities is that it can shoot through walls, meaning no one is safe from its sights. The player can charge the gun up by using the alternative fire key and by doing this the gun will fire a more powerful shot, rather then several weaker shots.
Also known as the "Egon", this weapon is a product of Black Mesa’s Weapons Research Facility. The gun fires a constant stream of energy which destroys most things in its path. The weapon's negative point is that shares its ammo with the Gauss Gun, and uses its ammunition very quickly if fired for too long.
An alien weapon that basically unleashes swarms of hornets on the enemy. A good medium range weapon but weak in both long and close range. Its ammo regenerates after a few seconds, so it effectively has unlimited ammo.
These little critters are tossed at the enemy much like a grenade. If there are no enemies nearby, the Snarks will turn on the player, often resulting in a gruesome death. After a period of time the Snarks explode, and while this is a weakness, they are a great weapon partially because they are so much fun.
Basic frag grenades are included in Half-Life as well, and tend to be fairly run-of-the-mill. They have a five second fuse and possess no alternate fire, but can be "cooked" by holding down primary fire for a length of time before releasing. Be careful not to hold it for too long.
Satchels are essentially remote-activate explosives, which are set by using the primary or alternate fire initially. The player can either choose to detonate the placed satchel, or place additional satchels. Detonating after placing multiple satchels will destory them all at once.
These mines are attached to walls and, after three seconds, project a laser beam that causes the mine to detonate when the beam is broken, either by the player or an enemy. These mines can also destroyed if shot at directly, and are frequently used both online and off to block off paths and restrict player movement.
High-Definition Pack and Weapons
The High-Definition Pack changed several of the weapons in Half-Life, but the changes are mostly aesthetic improvements. However, a few weapons were actually changed into different guns, despite maintaining the same statistics; The MP5 was replaced with an M4 Carbine with an attached M203, the Glock 9mm Pistol was replaced with a Beretta 92F, and modeled the shotgun more closely after a SPAS-12.
Half-Life doesn't have levels per se, at least not in the normal sense of the word; instead, the player is given an on-screen title whenever a new area loads-- very much like in an interactive book. This apparently simple idea helped the player getting even more immersed in the Half-Live universe and story. Here's a list of those titles:
- Anomalous Materials
- Unforeseen Consequences
- Office Complex
- We've got Hostiles
- Blast Pit
- Power Up
- On A Rail
- Residue Processing
- Questionable Ethics
- Surface Tension
- Forget About Freeman
- Lambda Core
- Gonarch's Lair
- End Game
Half-Life shipped with a basic online multiplayer component featuring only one game mode (deathmatch, either free-for-all or with teams). Similar to the multiplayer in Quake, players can choose their name and chosen character model, the latter of which can be color-customized based on the model. In addition, players can choose a "spraypaint image" that can be tagged onto surfaces (the first game to do so).
The game supports 32 players in a single server. Versions prior to the Steam re-release made use of Sierra's World Opponent Network (WON) service, which was discontinued on July 31, 2004.
Some standalone mod releases (including the retail release of Half-Life: Counter-Strike) include this mode as a bonus "mod".
- barney (added in later versions)
- gman (added in later versions)
- recon (added in later versions)
- robo (added in later versions)
- zombie (added in later versions)
- Gordon Freeman
- Gina Cross
- Collette Green
- Security Guard
- crossfire (added in patch 184.108.40.206)
- frenzy (added in patch 220.127.116.11)
- gasworks (added in later versions)
- rapidcore (added in later versions)
Additional maps were included in the Half-Life: Further Data official companion CDs.
- Water Canal
At the beginning of the game Gordon Freeman, the protagonist, is on his way to work at the Black Mesa Research Facility, presumably late, which is apparently commonplace for him. That day he is required to participate in a special experiment in the Anomalous Materials Lab in Sector C, where he is to push a crystal into the beam of the Anti-Mass Spectrometer in order to study it. Instantly, this causes a resonance cascade, where a portal erupts between Earth and a world known as Xen.
Freeman reawakens, partially clueless as to what has just happened. Backtracking through the facility, he meets some scientists who brief him on what is happening. According to them contact with the surface is fragmented, although a rescue team is said to be arriving shortly. This later turns out to be the HECU, or the Hazardous Environment Combat Unit, who infiltrate Black Mesa not to rescue but rather to kill everyone involved with the project. Freeman then begins his long journey through the facility, hoping to reach the surface. Along the way, it turns out that the facility has become a war zone between the military and the Xen aliens. Freeman eventually learns about the Lambda Team -- who believe they have what it takes to reverse all this terror.
Along the way Gordon must launch a rocket satellite, with the intent of reversing the resonance cascade, by making his way through the underground, along a rail complex, to the satellite launch location. Gordon then redirects his path back to the Lambda Complex. At this time, the HECU begins to evacuate the facility, and commence air strikes. After that, Gordon no longer encounters military.
Finally, Gordon reaches the Lambda Complex. He has never been to this part of the facility, but learns a lot about the complex. This is where the technology to teleport to Xen was invented, and hopefully where the effects can be reversed. Though, Gordon learns from the few surviving scientists that the rocket satellite he has launched failed, and the only way left in order to reverse the effects is to go to Xen itself and kill the mysterious figurehead alien, Nihilanth. Gordon manages to get to Xen, and after a brief exploration through the planet, Gordon encounters the Nilhilanth. After destroying Nihilanth, Gordon is confronted by the mysterious G-Man.
G-Man can be spotted throughout the game, only briefly, to disappear around a corner and not be seen again. G-Man explains the situation through his fragmented English, stating his employers are interested in him, and that he believes Gordon has limitless potential. He then offers Gordon a job, which he may either reject or accept. If the player accepts, the G-Man is content with his decision, and makes it clear that this will not be the last time he will see him. If the player rejects, he is teleported unarmed to an area representing a place from Xen, surrounded by several Xen Grunts.
|Track No.||Title||Running Time|
Bass String (short)
Diabolical Adrenaline Guitar
Valve Theme ~ Long Version
Sirens In the Distance
Nuclear Mission Jam
Scared Confusion (short)
Drums and Riffs
Hard Technology Rock
Steam In the Pipes
Electric Guitar Ambience
Travelling Through Limbo
Dark Piano (short)
Sharp Fear (short)
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