Special: That's DOCTOR Freeman you alien scum! Or do you want to talk to MISTER crowbar?
From the opening moments of Half-Life, I knew that first-person-shooters - nay, videogames in general - were changing forever.
Half-Life was a game that broke down the walls of tradition and reinvented the storytelling aspect of videogames. Conventional levels gave way to near seamless worlds that spanned the entire game while both NPCs and enemy characters, both human and alien, sported unique AI that gave the game an unheard of depth. Goodbye, days of settling for hunting demons in dark corridors. Hello, renaissance of videogame storytelling.
Join us as we talk a look back at the game that started it all, the expansions, the community and the sequel that set the bar for gaming as we know it.
Gordon Freeman is a nerd, no doubt about it. He's a scientist, a graduate of MIT and he wears thick, horned-rimmed glasses. What more do you want? As one of the top-ranking researchers in his field, Freeman is chosen to work at the Black Mesa Federal Research Facility, a decommissioned missile base. Freeman's job puts him square in the middle of a project so top secret that he doesn't even know what it's about. But, being a workaholic, he still comes to work every day, taking the long tram commute deep into the heart of the base to start the day's testing. Until something goes wrong.
One fateful day, Gordon is sent into the large test chamber to examine a mysterious crystalline specimen. After running a few tests, everything appears to be going fine. And then, all hell breaks loose.
God knows how it happened, but one of the tests on the object seems to have opened a portal to another world, as strange alien creatures begin appearing all over the base, killing scientists and security personal by the scores. And there's only one thing for Gordon to do...survive!
It isn't long before the government learns of the "accident" and soldiers are sent in to clean up the base, eliminating any possible leak of the incident, including Gordon himself. His only chance is to stop the alien attack at the source, heading to the alien homeworld and killing a giant space baby to stop the invasion.
It's only after the assault on the alien world of Xen that Freeman can finally breathe freely...or can he? Upon his return, Freeman is confronted by the mysterious G-Man, a government suit with a lisp. G-Man gives Gordon an offer he can't refuse: work for him or die. Gordon decides to work for him.
The most notable thing that Half-Life accomplished was telling a story in an action game. This was a notion that seemed lost in the mid to late-nineties and was a refreshing turn for the first-person shooter genre. Gordon Freeman's plight to escape the Black Mesa research facility was a compelling tapestry that was woven of mystery, science fiction and government cover-ups.
Of course, this tale was a vehicle for action, the likes of which we hadn't experienced before. Half-Life used this opportunity to introduce a whole slew of alien creatures, which, through unique behaviors, hinted at the world from which they came and emphasized the importance in stopping their invasion. Then came the military. Soldiers actually worked together to pin you down with suppression fire while their buddy flanked you. You couldn't count on the enemy to line up and be gunned down. You had to act to stay alive.
Luckily, you were not alone in the Black Mesa complex. Scientists were around to help you open security doors, but more importantly, security guards were around to be an extra gun in the fight to stay alive. Sure, they weren't going to save the world on their own, but the backup helped. As you moved through Half-Life, the idea of a conspiracy kept rearing its head with a mysterious G-Man showing up repeatedly; he was there, but always just out of reach. For whatever it was worth, he pulled Gordon from the aftermath of the game's ending, only to cryptically imply Gordon's role in the future of man.
The Half Life Legacy
Half-Life left an impact on the world of video games. Developers wanted to experience Valve's success, and gamers wanted more of the incredible experience that HL delivered. Valve brought a little bit of happiness to everyone with their two Half-Life expansions: Opposing Force and Blue Shift.
With Gearbox Software working within the world that Valve created, the gaming community was treated to two different perspectives on the Half-Life story. Opposing Force put you on the other side of the Black Mesa conflict. No, not as one of the invading aliens, but as a member of the government assault squad sent in to quiet the incident. Blue Shift gave us yet a third perspective on the story, this time through the eyes of Barney, a security guard at the Black Mesa compound.
What was unique about these two expansion packs was how they complimented the story already crafted with the original game. They showed the other side of conflicts you had already played and even had you interacting with Gordon Freeman. The best thing is that deep down, both Opposing Force and Blue Shift were Half-Life.
Also of note regarding the Half-Life expansion packs were the little "extras" that they brought to the table. Between the two retail releases and a free download, Gearbox added more multiplayer deathmatch maps, a capture-the-flag mode and enhanced player and weapon models for use in all three releases.
The Half Life Community
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Perhaps in the gaming world the same could be said for modding. If so, then Valve should be flush with embarrassment. The Half-Life engine has produced some of the most, if not the most, successful mods ever created. A lot of that is due to the support and tools that Valve was careful to provide to developers. The rest comes down to having a great product to work with.
Team Fortress Classic is a true testament to Valve's dedication to the fan-development community. Created so that Valve could test out the tools and code under development for the Half-Life modding community, Team Fortress Classic gave Half-Life a multiplayer mode worth playing. Class-based combat was the name of the game and the action was fast and intense.
Multiplayer combat remained the focus of the game with Counter-Strike, a retail-released mod that has also spawned a console version (on the Xbox) and a bot-filled single-player experience, Counter-Strike: Condition Zero. Counter-Strike emphasized team-based combat with a counter-terrorist unit squaring off with a terrorist organization. The goal of CS was to invoke a taste of realism into the gaming experience with real-word weapons and situations. There was also a goal-oriented gameplay twist. Sure, you could take out all of the members of the opposing team in traditional deathmatch style, but a true victory was achieved by rescuing that hostage or planting that bomb.
Day of Defeat kept the team-based combat going, this time in a World-War II setting. Day of Defeat pitted Axis vs. Allies. Like Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat enjoyed a retail release and like Team Fortress Classic, it was available as a free download.