Half-Life is a first person shooter that was released 25 years ago in 1998 by Valve. Here is why it was the revolutionizing cornerstone for every game that followed.
When looking at Half-Life, one of these late 1990s computer games, one of todays generation might find it hard to appreciate how advanced it really was for its time. To put this a bit more into perspective, 1998 was the same year:
- the american space shuttle flew its first part into orbit to build what should later be the most expensive human treassure: the International Space Station
- the indispensable search engine Google, with whichs help you probably found this website, was founded
- the most performant home PC processors the Intel Pentium II had about the processing power of a smart watch
Having this historicall context in mind really shows how early in computer development Half-Life was. The earlier mentioned Intel processor managed to get a Geekbench score of around 126. The IPhone 15 got a benchmark score of over 15.000… Having explained the general proccessing power conditions you can obviously expect not the highest end RayTracing graphics from Half-Life ;). Therefore when you read this review and I talk about revolutionary graphics you need to put this in the context of its time.
Half-Life is a game setting in a alternate history timeline where you play Gordon Freeman, a scientist who works at the Black Mesa Research Facility in New Mexico. One day, he participates in an experiment that goes wrong and opens a portal to an alien world called Xen. Aliens start invading the facility and Freeman has to fight his way out. Along the way, he encounters many different people and aliens, some friendly some evil, until he faces the root of it all…
The whole story is told through the NPCs you interact with and the environment itself and therefore has no need for long cutscenes.
The graphics of HL were really on a completly other level compared to its competitors at the time. Even when looking at it today you will find that the graphics have aged well enough to still play it in 2023. The whole game runs on Valves freshly developed Goldsource game engine which offered exeptionall variety in lighting and even implemented colorfoul iluminations which takes the immersion on a much more natural level.
Apart from the Graphics the sound design in Half-Life was so unique that it is still used today in the meme culture and definitely hasnt been forgotten in the last 25 years. As with the graphics, the sound design seperated itself from the competition by being really clear with complex dialog as well as stunning sound effects for explosions.
One of the most impressive aspects of Half-Life is its gameplay mechanics. Compared to its competitors at the time, HL had much more, storytelling to offer and therefore took the immersion into the game to a complete different league.
When your not involved talking to the scientist at the Black Mesa Research Facillity you fight different kind of aliens and hostile soldiers trying to cover up the incident. For fighting you get a vast spectrum of weapons compared to one standard pistole that was normal for the time. HL also mixes both storytelling and figthing very good so that it neither gets boring nor overwhelming.
Legacy and Conclusion
The impact Half-Life had can not be exegerated. Not only set it new records in the game industry regarding nearly every aspect that makes a modern game great but more than that: it became a cultural icon. The main character Gordon Freeman and the incredibly recognizable sound effects had been refrenced in many fan games, memes, TV shows, movies and internet culture.
To this day, 25 years after its release, Half-Life still remains a must-play classic for anyone interested in the history of gaming or just looking for a great game to play. Apart from the historical context, anyone calling themself a gamer should play the original Half-Life once in their life! On a side note: its also dirt cheap on Steam sales.
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