Have You Played… Half-Life?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

You read the headline and the tea spurts from your mouth. “Have I pla–!?” Half-Life! The gall of it! To suggest that not every PC owner has already experienced Valve’s formative first-person shooter. The frivolity of it! To give space to those who have might enjoy reminiscing or celebrating a game long loved but no longer frequently discussed.

I know – I’m just a mess about it myself.

But if I were to ever get round to writing about one of the games wot made me, Half-Life would have to be near the top of the list. Heck, here’s the closest I’ve come. I first played the game shortly after release in 1998, but didn’t get on with it till the next year when a friend played it, loved it, and wouldn’t stop talking about it. We ended up playing through its singleplayer in tandem, speaking on the phone each day to discuss our progress. ‘How did you get past that bit with the tentacle monsters?’; ‘Have you reached the bit with the air strikes yet?’; ‘That wobbly testicle alien that fires mini headcrabs at you is a bit rubbish, isn’t it?’.

When we’d beaten Xen’s floating spacebaby to death, we turned our attention to deathmatch, hosting our own listen servers on 56k modems and battling it out on the map CrossFire. I think even at the time I knew it was poorly suited to the mode when compared to the likes of Quake 2, but that map had a big button that nuked the entire level and killed everyone not safely tucked inside a fallout shelter.

I could hardly ask for more – but when I did, there was a modding community waiting for me. Exploring custom singleplayer and multiplayer maps allowed me to extend my time spent exploring Black Mesa, a place that possessed my adolescent brain. It also led eventually to writing about those maps and other mods for various Half-Life fan sites. It’s not far to go from there to here, my career and life owed to Vortigaunts and crowbars.

Strip away my personal connection with it and I think there’s plenty still left in Half-Life that makes it worth playing today. It’s a tight, schlocky escape movie, and its level design didn’t just establish principles for the next fifteen years of first-person shooters, it also set a benchmark in areas not all of which have since been surpassed. Here’s Alec explaining, back in 2008, why Half-Life 1 still holds up even in a post-Half-Life 2, post-everything else world.

69 Comments

  1. Chuckleluck says:

    I bought Half Life: Source and I really tried to enjoy the game. But even with the HL2 engine, the game feels terribly outdated.

    • welverin says:

      Half-Life: Source does not use the Half-Life 2 engine. It runs through source and makes use of some water effects and the like, but is still basically the same game, including the majority of the graphics (models and textures).

      If you couldn’t get through it because of that, give Black Mesa a try.

      • The Dark One says:

        That’s an interesting understanding of the word “engine.”

        • MadTinkerer says:

          Thanks to Valve’s multiplicity of Source Engine versions, he’s technically correct, though. Half Life Source doesn’t use the Half Life 2 engine.

    • Mman says:

      Source dates the game far more if anything. The physics make certain parts more clunky and difficult than they were ever supposed to be, and stuff like the much more “realistic” water doesn’t fit the aesthetic of the game at all (not to mention problems like most mods not working).

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      Grizzly says:

      If you play the original original Half Life with the DaimonD pack, it looks far less dated then the source version:
      link to moddb.com

    • El_Emmental says:

      Black Mesa Source!

      Black. Mesa. Source.

      Really, Half-Life 1 is probably my favorite game of all time and I LOVED BMS.

      It is a 100% free mod for Source carefully recreating Half-Life 1 in its smallest details, and you do -not- even need to own a Source (like Half-Life 2) game to play it, as the Source SDK Base 2007 is free for _everyone_ since 2011 (source: link to rockpapershotgun.com ).

      You can turn off the “modern” feature you do not want in the game’s Options: View Roll, View Bob, Ironsight, Always Run, Train auto-stop, etc. I recommend removing the View Roll (quite nauseating in my opinion), the rest is really down to personal preference.

      Rise and shine, Mr Freeman… link to blackmesasource.com (3.8 GB)

      [minor spoiler] nb: BMS ends at the portal to Xen. That second part (on Xen) is currently being completely remade and is not yet part of the BMS mod. Given how poorly Xen worked in the original HL1 (when compared to the rest of the game), you’re really not missing anything.

      ( ! ) Warning: some parts involving jumping on debris/furniture might be too difficult if you do not master the “crouch-jump” move. You will have to press “Jump” and “Forward” to propel yourself toward the obstacle, then almost immediately after that press “Crouch” too (= 3 keys pressed at once) to avoid hitting the edge of the obstacle.

      If this proves to be too difficult, you can increase the height of the jump as explained here: link to wiki.blackmesasource.com
      (!) To find the Skill.cfg file, go to the BMS install folder (…Steam / steamapps / sourcemods / BMS / cfg )

      PS: if you’re like me and love large ammo pools (so you can use the weapons you want whenever you want), edit the following file:
      …Steam / steamapps / sourcemods / BMS / cfg / Skill.cfg

      Search the line: “// MAX AMMO” and change it to your favorite settings.

      My recommendation:
      // MAX AMMO
      sk_max_9mm “200” //original was 150
      sk_max_357 “30” //original was 18
      sk_max_buckshot “80” //original was 64
      sk_max_grenade_mp5 “5” //original was 3
      sk_max_grenade_rpg “5”
      sk_max_bolt “20” //original was 10
      sk_max_energy “100”
      sk_max_grenade_frag “10”
      sk_max_grenade_satchel “5”
      sk_max_snark “15”
      sk_max_grenade_tripmine “5”
      sk_max_grenade_hornet “8”

      • Razumen says:

        BMS was great, but it doesn’t really replace the original IMO. They removed too many parts of the game and changed a lot of how enemies act – especially the marines (they somehow made them less fun to fight against.) That and the fact that pretty much everything needs the crouch jump to get over is just ridiculous, the original was never that reliant upon it.

  2. Stellar Duck says:

    I have.

    Played it on my old Pentium 100Mhz around the time of release. Along for the ride were my brother and a mutual friend. We all took turns at playing and were generally stunned by the game and what it did.

    For me Half-Life was a transformative game in that it showed me what games can also do. It hasn’t really be surpassed by any games other than its sequels. The Metro games come close though. Most others tend to overdo the scripting so as to make it hamfisted and limiting for the player. Half-Life, crucially, never felt linear despite it being so. In contrast, I was swearing at CoD4 from the moment the game put me in a ditch in the dark and I couldn’t, being as SAS chap, climb out of the ditch or scale a tiny fence at the end. The game only got worse from there.

    Many devs seem to have looked at Half-Life and figured they’d dial it up to eleven. That’s the wrong way to do it. Valves games work because the grip on the player is so light and you mostly don’t even notice that you’re being funnelled in a certain direction. Listening to the commentaries it’s clear how much thought went into making it that way.

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      Well said :) I struggle to explain why this game is so important to me. You put it in better words than I can muster.

  3. Perjoss says:

    I’ve dabbled a little with mods for Skyrim and Fallout 3 / New Vegas, but I’ve not been hugely into things like total conversions or even creating my own (pretty average) single player levels and multiplayer maps since Quake 2 and Quake 3. I wonder if Half Life or possibly Half Life 2 might be some of the most modded games in history. I remember downloading more user created content than I’d ever have time to play, and it was only a fraction of what was actually available to download if you knew where to look.

  4. Freezern says:

    I have played Half Life, didn’t care for it.
    I made it pretty far I guess, but then the boredom and tedium broke me.
    Linear manshooter with the same moveset as every other linear manshooter.
    With some monsters sprinkled in.

    Half Life did one good thing: It helped birth Natural Selection!

    • Barberetti says:

      Yeah, same here. I actually made it to the end, but wish I hadn’t bothered. One of the few moments I still remember is finding a scientist just after the shit had hit the fan. I had a pistol at this point, so I saved the game then shot him in the knee. Watching him hop about going “ooh ah ah oh please stop” was pretty amusing. So much so that I reloaded the save and did it again.

      Shame that was the best part of the game.

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      Phasma Felis says:

      I really don’t get people who spit “linear” like it’s the worst slur one can level against a game. The majority of all games ever, including some of the most fundamental titles in history, have been linear. Can you imagine someone in 1984 playing Super Mario Brothers for the first time and snarling, “Ugh, it’s so linear!

      Linear is not a problem. I feel like I need to say it again, louder: Linear is not a problem. The problem is in games that sloppily make their linearity obvious, that show you other directions you might clearly prefer to take and then don’t let you take them. The Half-Life games were linear, but the direction they were herding you in almost always seemed like the best direction to go. Open-world games are fun and I like them, but not every game needs or benefits from the option to flip the bird at the plot, throw down all your weapons, and go become an investment banker.

  5. waltC says:

    Half-Life is the game that started things for Valve. The source version is the only one I’d recommend today…and it is still a lot of fun to play, imo. Yea, it’s difficult to believe that humans exist who haven’t played the game–I wish Valve would “source-ify” all of the HL expansions, which I own and still have installed, along with HL2 complete.

    • ThricebornPhoenix says:

      It’s not so hard. In Half-Life’s heyday, I didn’t even own a PC (or know anyone who did). Even after I got one, I remained primarily a console gamer until the last year or so. Now, I know that a lot of older PC games, even those that make all the ‘best game ever’ lists, are often some combination of archaic and arcane. I have played Deus Ex, which I believe is contemporaneous with HL, but nearly gave up a few times first (it was the title screen music that drew me back each time). And with so many interesting new games coming out, I am – understandably, I think – not eager to repeat the often-frustrating experience of acclimating to outdated design.

      That’s how I’ve never played Half-Life. I believe I am human and am fairly certain that I exist.

  6. malkav11 says:

    I have played it, but I think I needed to have played it around the time it came out to understand why everyone seems so hung up on it. It seemed like a perfectly fine shooter – one that held up better than some others from that era – but not particularly special in the wider scheme of things. Shooters before it did more (and more interesting) things with narrative, had cooler gameplay systems (some of which have never been entirely replicated since), etc. Ones since then (including its own sequel) have looked better, played better, done more and more interesting things with narrative, been far more experimental with gameplay, etc. And most of them have way fewer (mostly, no) irritating platforming sequences.

    I was actually more impressed with the expansions, because it was such a novel idea to come at the events of the main game from the perspective of other players in those events. You do sometimes get opposing viewpoints in strategy games with campaigns for multiple factions, but often those aren’t the same events seen from a different side (because, after all, one side typically wins those campaigns and why would you want to play the losing side?), but mirrored versions where your side wins because you’re on it. Not quite the same thing.

    • Stellar Duck says:

      What shooters did narative better than Half-Life before it was released? Quake? Doom? Unreal? All that springs to mind is Dark Forces, really.

      • Anthile says:

        Dark Forces and Shogo.

      • malkav11 says:

        Pathways into Darkness, Marathon, Marathon 2, Marathon Infinity. System Shock. Arguably things like Strife and CyberMage. Of course not Doom or Quake – those are like, the poster children for the functionally plotless FPS.

        I could see arguing that System Shock and Strife are more of a genre hybrid than strictly FPSes (although I think they’re close enough to count), but the Marathon games certainly are full on classic FPS design and do tons of things in 1994 to 1996 that were well ahead of the general FPS market. Of course, they were also Mac games.

        • Stellar Duck says:

          I don’t know. I love Dark Forces but the narrative was separate from the game play most and was just cut scenes. When playing the game itself the story might as well not be there.

          I think what Half-Life did was bring the narrative into the game itself instead of having it in a box of its own, visible between levels.

          And System Shock is a good example but also one that don’t quite fit. You mention it yourself in saying that it’s hybrid game. Half-Life was a shooter. That was it. Not dialogue trees, no general RPG trappings. It was a shooter with a narrative and a superbly well crafted world, that at the time seemed very impressive. Consider the lack of discrete level (no sewer level followed by the water level). Just a continuous string of environments that by and large were believable in the setting and made sense if you compared them to how we build facilities in real life (more or less).

          • Josh W says:

            Half Life and the FEAR series; the best offices.

          • malkav11 says:

            It doesn’t really bring narrative into its levels, though. It scarcely even has a narrative. (And frankly, I’m not that impressed with the idea anyway – it might make for better immersion, but it makes for crappier storytelling and/or effective cutscenes that can’t be skipped precisely because they’re not separate from gameplay.) Marathon had tons of thoughtful, interesting story and although it was conveyed primarily in text on terminals, those terminals were all over the place during levels and as your transition between them both. And, I mean, yeah, System Shock was a hybrid, but I’m not sure that really matters. Does the fact that Half-Life doesn’t have a few of the mechanics System Shock does somehow make its (minimal) narrative more impressive than the latter’s? I don’t think so. Honestly, that’s what bugs me the most about the pedestal HL1 gets put on. A lot of people seem to be basing it on its reputation for story, and while it certainly does more on that front than things like Doom or Quake, which reserve their plot for a page in the game manual, it’s a very minor part of the actual game and there’s really nothing particularly exceptional about the story itself.

            What I think Half-Life does do, and quite possibly to a previously unprecedented degree, is sell Black Mesa as a more or less convincing coherent environment to explore. I still think it’s probably been surpassed on that front since, but I don’t recall any prior FPS, hybrid or not, attempting that sort of level design or world simulation. And honestly, I’m not coming up with all that many since, either.

          • ResonanceCascade says:

            I cannot even fathom ranking the Marathon games ahead of Half-Life. To each their own, but damn. No fucking way. They were above average Doom clones.

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            gritz says:

            If you don’t think Half-Life’s narrative is built into the gameplay and woven into the levels themselves, I’m just not sure you really understood what you were seeing.

          • malkav11 says:

            I think you may be remembering Half-Life incorrectly. Play it again. There’s very, very little story in it, and what story is present is simple and mostly there to justify combat encounters or puzzles. It’s a pretext for shooting things. Which is fine, and you really don’t need more than that in a shooter, per se, but to put it on a pedestal for the quality of its narrative? I just can’t see any justification for that.

            And considering I thought Half-Life was a very average shooter, above average shooters (with great stories, probably the thing I value most in games, and tons of mechanical innovation) would easily rank above it. But I think they’re even better than that. Still possibly the best games Bungie ever made, for my tastes, although I might well put Myth above them if I were better at RTSes.

          • Thankmar says:

            HL1 does not have much of a story besides Get Out, but it clearly has a lot of narration in the architecture of the levels and the scripted scenes. A lot of lovely anecdotes and setpieces in a very simple story, like an action movie.

          • Stellar Duck says:

            But it’s the relative scarce story that’s a main reason HL is so good. It’s a ligth touch and it doesn’t hammer the player with boring exposition as games are keen to do.

            That was the reason I stated the importance of not looking at it like you would System Shock. HL isn’t primarily about the story. The story, such as it is, is woven in to keep the player moving and to make sure there is enough reason to move on. That’s a lot better than cut scenes a la Dark Forces.

            I’ve not played Marathon as they’re on the Platform of Heresy but as far as I can determine it doesn’t look like I’m missing a huge deal.

            I’m not sure how you define an average shooter. At the time it certainly didn’t feel average in the least and the stuff the AI was up to was mind blowing. Are you talking about that wretched term ‘gunplay’? Because that’s the most useless way of talking about anything in the history of ever.

        • Kaeoschassis says:

          …I remember Cybermage.
          I remember Cybermage being great. Very, very vaguely. Am I falling victim to horrible nostalgia here?

          • malkav11 says:

            I could never get it to run, but I’ve heard good things.

  7. Monggerel says:

    Nah, but I did play through Black Mesa.
    It was passable and forgettable. The one standout memory I have of it is the firefight in the atrium, which was hilariously unfair. So of course I cheated.

    Honestly? After STALKER, it would appear that I cannot really enjoy FPS games anymore, the only exception I can think of being Blood Dragon. And I get upset when a game doesn’t let me put away my weapons (not limited to shooters). It’s like removing the taunting from Jedi Outcast (a game which, incidentally, did let you put away your weapons).

  8. DrGonzo says:

    Still love the first more than the second, which I think has dated worse because of it’s physics bits. Still my favourite. Yes the graphics have dated, but gameplay wise no one topped Half Life 1 yet, it was the last time I played a game and was completely wowed, felt like a huge breakthrough in world design and story. I wasn’t moving from level to level getting points any more, I was Gordon Freeman making his way through Black Mesa.

    In many ways now it’s gotten worse, now you play a level until you hit a cut scene!

  9. JimmyG says:

    I was 11 or 12 when I first played it. It was Thanksgiving or Christmas Day, one of the two, at my elder brother’s house. I found myself in the basement, in his office, with the desktop PC and the shiny red guitar in the corner, and he booted up Half-Life for me (I spent younger, more formative years sitting in his lap and watching him play DOOM with a flightstick). I played through the tutorial. Just the tutorial. Testing out the hazmat suit, crouching with CTRL, jumping around. I was only familiar with my Nintendo consoles. The only PC game I had, besides some educational stuff, was Warcraft 2. But playing through Half-Life’s tutorial was like realizing that there was music beyond what got played on the radio.

    Then I forgot all about it until I was 16, actually, and one of my friends bought some Steam starter kit to play Counterstrike. I watched him bounce off of Half-Life 2, borrowed the discs, and tried to get through the first Half-Life. Got stuck trying to restart the generators, where there’s a bunch of radioactive sludge and the elevator falls with you inside. I think I just got lost in Black Mesa.

    Then, after another 3 years, got the Orange Box on my Xbox360. Beat every bit of it. Got a laptop the next summer, bought the Orange Box again, and finally went back to beat the first Half-Life after that.

    So, yeah, I guess I’ve played it three times total. So … Half-Life 3 confirmed. The ARG begins and ends with this comment. Potatoes.

  10. LionsPhil says:

    Poke 646 was a very good mod-community singleplayer campaign, if memory serves.

    And OpFor is underrated.

  11. elderman says:

    I only played it for the first time earlier this year, and found it a stomping good time. I admired the environmental story-telling, the rhythm of the game play, the atmosphere, the variety of the environments, the enemy design, and well just everything, really, except the graphics which are obviously of its time.

    Unlike some of the other commentators, though, I personally enjoy the FPS style of the 1990s.

    I don’t think there’s any shame in coming late the party. Still an excellent game.

  12. Fenix says:

    I got a copy right after it came out from a friend, but unfortunately for 12 year old me my dad walked in on me right as I was shooting a scientist in the balls with the glock (because hey that was my idea of hilarious when I was 12) and decided the game was EVIL AND BAD and had me return it. I got it again a while later and played through it secretly, was sweet as.

  13. mpk says:

    I played through it in software mode on a, ooooh, 486 something or other. This was the game for which I bought my first 3D card and wasn’t that a revelation and a half at the time.

    It’s still in my top X* games of all time, and probably always will be.

    *where X is an entirely arbitrary number, depending on context.

  14. mattlambertson says:

    I have never played it. I don’t particularly intend to. I might if a third game was announced. Am I a bad person?

  15. melnificent says:

    This was the first game I ever put on my backlog. I will play it one day

  16. Caelyn Ellis says:

    Half-Life is kinda like the Citizen Kane of the FPS. A lot of the things that were remarkable about it are commonplace now and I can understand people playing it now and not getting the significance of it. At the time, however. Woah.

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      Yeah, if I came to it as a blank slate and played it today, it wouldn’t have nearly the same impact.

  17. MadTinkerer says:

    I used to hate Half Life.

    So what happened was that back in the early 00s to 2007 I had been stuck with a computer from late 1999 and a dial-up connection. Our family situation had changed from one where I got computer upgrades on a regular basis and was too your to pay for my own, to a situation where I got no more computer upgrades and wasn’t allowed to spend any of my full time salary on computer upgrades (until 2007). I just loved hearing about how some rich fuckers could afford good enough internet connections to play shooters online and how online multiplayer was the future and no one wants single player anymore.

    So anyway, in 2002-ish people had stopped making sufficiently low poly games for my then-current hardware to handle, so I decided to go back and try out Half Life again. I had briefly played Counter-Strike over LAN before (though few of my physically-adjacent acquaintances at that time even knew what LAN meant, much less were technically competent to set one up with me), and had enjoyed a demo of Half Life from what must have been three years prior at the time. Since my computer was from 1999, I knew it could easily handle the Half Life Platinum collection, so I got it.

    Counter-Strike and Team Fortress Classic turned out to be busts because I wouldn’t get an adequate internet connection for another five years (you rich fuckers), but I was left with three classic Quake Engine based single player campaigns and all of the custom maps I could find with my Netscape Navigator browser. I wanted to play through them “in order”, so I started with Half Life.

    First few levels were great. I adored the slow train ride and talking to NPCs and very Dilbert-meets-Mad-Science vibe of the peaceful bits. It was almost like an adventure game! (Why the FUCK has no one made a first person non-violent adventure game in this kind of environment, oh wait I forgot for a moment that EA is EA and Activision is Activision. But Valve is Valve! They don’t have that excuse! But I digress.) Then the action / puzzle bits started and I was totally “digging” it even though I was born in 1979 and shouldn’t use the word digging in that context.

    Man, I loved about 2/3 of Half Life. For more on that experience and how much I loved it, go read anything anyone else has written about their Half Life experience, but stop at the Xen parts because I never got to Xen.

    So then I got to that desert level. The one where you meet the giant tentacles again and have to crawl around and can’t see where you are going and need to find the exit while crawling. I don’t remember how many hours I spent crawling around and around and reloading an earlier save because I thought I did something wrong. Then I decided to resort to noclipping, which was the final straw. I’m still not 100% sure what I did wrong, but somehow I couldn’t find the exit in that level in that version of Half Life even with noclipping.

    I almost took a hammer to the CDs. But I didn’t.

    Instead, I put them to the side and never installed it again for four-ish years. My hatred for that one level, which I spent almost as much time crawling around in circles as I has playing the entire rest of the game up until that point, made me forget that the parts I loved about Half Life were actually Half Life levels. Somehow I ended up remembering most of them as unconnected custom Quake levels, though to be fair I was playing a lot of custom Quake and Doom levels at the same time.

    And that’s how and why Valve failed me forever and I ragequit Half Life so hard I forgot the parts of it that I liked. That’s the only time I’ve done that, and to be fair I found out later I was suffering from severe Sleep Apnia (the one where your body says to you “Sleep or Oxygen? What’s it going to be tonight? You can’t choose both!”). I didn’t blame Half Life 2 for what happened with Half Life 1, though. Those previews in those magazines looked pretty sweet. I sure wouldn’t mind trying it if my 1999 computer could handle it. Oh well. At least Warcraft 3 worked. (Spoiler: Warcraft 3 was the last commercial game released that worked on my 1999 computer.)

    Epilogue: Eventually I got a new computer and The Orange Box and a decent high speed internet connection. At first I was reluctant to even use this “Steam” thing for more than the Orange Box, but then I realized I could put in the CD codes for Half Life Platinum collection and why did I even stop playing the Half Life Platinum collection? I love Half Life 2! I love Portal! I’d even started playing multiplayer shooters because that sort of thing wasn’t just for rich fuckers anymore! What was my problem with Half Life again? Well whatever, put in the CD key and let’s install the latest versions on my 250 GIGABYTE hard drive!

    Oh, hey there’s a sale on Half Life Source? What’s Half Life Source? Oh, it’s the Half Life levels ported to Source, of course! Let’s try it out! I’ve been wanting to try Half Life for ages, and now I can try it in a new engine!

    Oh. Wait, this level was from Half Life? I don’t even remember this being from Half Li- THIS level was in Half Life!?! How many Quake Engine levels I thought were disconnected are actually from Half Life? Why did I hate this wonderful gam- Oh. OH. THE FUCKING DESERT. Not this desert level, this desert level is fine. Keep going- HERE WE ARE! THIS FUCKING CRAWLING AROUND ON ALL FOURS WITH THE INVINCIBLE TENTACLE MONSTER TRYING TO FIND THE EXIT!

    IF I CAN’T FIND THE EXIT WITH NOCLIP THIS TIME I AM GOING TO FIREBOMB THE VALVE OFFICES-Oh wait. I found the exit. Okay then, let’s keep going! Do dee do… Oh wow, Xen. The Headcrab Queen! The evil telepathic mastermind controlling the Vortigaunts! Have some grenades! G Man! An offer I can’t refuse! Okay, let’s go through that portal and start Half Life 2 (which I already finished)!

    Man. I love Half Life. I hated it for so long because of one broken level. I even love the Xen levels. I love Opposing Force and Blue Shift and Azure Sheep (the fan mod where you can shoot your boss in the face before the invasion begins) and Counter Strike and Condition Zero and Condition Zero Deleted Scenes and several fan made campaigns which I can’t remember their names. I don’t love Team Fortress Classic because I got into TF2 before I ever played TFC and it’s super hard to go back to TFC after you’ve played TF2. But everything else about the Half Life Platinum Pack and everything that needs a version of Half Life to run, I just love.

    EXCEPT THAT ONE BROKEN LEVEL

    • elderman says:

      I read your whole response, you might like to know, and was glad I did. That one place with the alien tentacles in the sand mystified and frustrated me, too. It was one of two moments in the game (the other being the climactic fight with the Nihilanth) that I had to turn to the internet for answers. I don’t know what I would have done without fan wikis and walkthroughs. I probably would have rage quit the game, too.

    • Razumen says:

      Huh, I actually don’t remember that level, either I blocked it out of my memory or I just didn’t find it that hard – it’s a shame that it put you off the game for so long though. Half-life had a lot of ‘creative’ sections like that which were kind of frustrating and not that fun (Xen) but I still admired the game for it’s willingness to try out new things, even if they turned out so-so. That’s not something you really see in big games these days.

  18. kwyjibo says:

    I played it when it first came out, possibly before it first came out – because I got my hands on a dodgy pirate leak in the days when piracy meant stuff on CDs (yeah, I was hardcore). It was missing all of Xen after the Headcrab boss fight, and all the Xen textures, so the Xenlike stuff I saw before was textured the default missing texture yellow-and-black checkerboard. And I thought, “this is the coolest most alien looking shit ever”.

    Another annoying thing about the release, was that the assassins were armed with motherfucking magnums. Yeah, that was a bit of a bitch.

    • neckro23 says:

      Before the game came out there was a demo version called “Half-Life: Day One” that was meant to be bundled with new Nvidia cards or something. I pirated the hell out of it.

      IIRC it ends at the part where you first reach the surface with the Osprey and the mortars, well before the assassins show up, so I guess it wasn’t the one you played.

  19. somanycats says:

    I played Half-Life long before my computer could handle it. I poured many hours getting halfway through the the game anyways, until one day my dad saw an ad and decided the computer needed to be reformatted completely. I was sad, and then I did it ll again. And then my dad got an email he found suspicious and reformatted completely. The third time I made it all the way through, went through all the epic later levels (as much as Xen does not hold up, traveling through the truly alien and dangerous world was a happy surprise for me), and went out and bought Opposing Force the next day and played through that too, amazed that this full length game experience was considered an expansion!

    Soon I had a computer that could run HL no problem, so I played it again. I’ve played it at least once a year since. The movement, the enemies, the Gauss gun! To me, Half-Life is the best fast-paced FPS, with System Shock 2 and Deus Ex being the only first-person games that would contend with it for my favourite shooter ever. PC Gamer’s mod guide made certain that I would get my value out of the package for years and years, both through single-player fun like They Hunger and Poke646, and defining multiplayer for me entirely with popular games like Team Fortress Classic, Counter-Strike, and Day of Defeat. I ended up competing at Day of Defeat for years, and met lots of cool people through it, and one of our favourite things to things to do was just try some of the many cool, lesser-known mods. Some favourites included Science and Industry, Vampire Slayer, Firearms, The Battlegrounds, Scientist Hunt, The Ship, Frontline Force, International Online Soccer, Zombie Panic, and Natural Selection. The sheer variety presented by the passionate community was absurd, many of these mods provided experiences which are still unique to me, and despite how many I played, there’s still more that I never played that I would hear different community members rave about.

    So basically Half-Life might be the greatest game ever for me. With all the mods, I’ve literally (and sadly) poured thousands of hours into it. I still play through the original game every once and a while. It only takes around 3 hours now, but I still love it. Yes, it even handily beats HL2, which was an outstanding game itself. Half-Life is the game that made me completely leave my consoles behind, and led me to the greatest multiplayer experiences I’ve ever enjoyed. I’d recommend it to anyone, anywhere.

  20. Haborym says:

    I have. Beat it too, although just barely really. Played like a tiny bit of the OF expandalone, never touched the BS one.

  21. someloser says:

    I bought this way back in late ’98 and played it and played it and played it.

    Then I played USS Darkstar, then They Hunger, then any mappack that arrived on magazine coverdisks.
    Then I nuked bots in DMcrossfire.

    Then, years later, I used the serial-code on the CD-jewel case to register my copy on Steam.

    • Razumen says:

      They Hunger! Now that was a hella-good custom campaign. There is a patch too to make it Steam compatible too.

  22. Oski says:

    I got my first proper PC in 1998 after being told by the missus that we “needed” one, after growing up on a diet of Atari 2600, Commodore 64, Amiga (later expanded to 1Meg!) and PS1 and losing interest in games for a while. Casting around for a game. someone recommended Half Life, I had not heard of it and had no idea about PC games but decided to give it a go. I began to play and was thoroughly enjoying the intro section right up until I put the sample in the beam of light thingy and it all went pear shaped. I remember the screen going black after lots of explosions and lightning and stuff and I thought my new PC had broken until I noticed the heartbeat and heavy breathing and realised this was part of the game and I was absolutely stunned by it. I remember finding the mod scene later on and playing a lot of single player mods as well as multiplayer and being amazed that these things were available for nothing. Going to have to reinstall and have another play through now

  23. WiggumEsquilax says:

    If you’ve ever played Half-Life and wondered what Freeman was thinking, then boy are you in luck. Behold, Freeman’s Mind!

    link to youtube.com

    IMHO the best long running machinima series, and by a large margin. Absolutely Hilarious, and has been since episode 1, seven years ago. Episode 63 is up.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      As a Red vs Blue fan, I really hope I’m the only one of them who frequents RPS, for your sake…

      • Hmm-Hmm. says:

        I sincerely doubt it, especially since it’s pretty good. I stopped following RvB after a while, though.

  24. scottyjx says:

    Ah! I hadn’t realised that with the relatively new RPS writers we’ll get more Gaming Made Me’s!!! Get to that Graham, Alice, and Pip! They’re always so very interesting to read.

  25. AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

    I have played. I’ve found it a brilliant opening sequence followed by a below average linear shooter with a crooked difficulty ramp.

    • Premium User Badge

      gritz says:

      What’s that, a super reductive post about Half Life using the terms “average” and “linear”? *monocle pops off*

  26. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Half-life? Nope. As a primarily mac gamer I had other games to spend my time with. Not sure what that was around 1998, though. Marathon, I suppose. It’s always a good time to play Marathon. Dark Forces, perhaps?

  27. Jason Moyer says:

    Nope. Played HL2 and the Episodes when the Orange Box came out (which I purchased for TF2 and Portal), didn’t care for it much, and when the original came out I was making babies and playing Quake I/Hexen II, both of which still interest me more. Not really big on the influence the game had on the FPS genre, either.

  28. Untruth says:

    I genuinely feel like criticism of Half Life is lazy revisionism.

    At the time it was released everyone in gaming I knew was consumed by being dragged through a story in utter discomfort as they battled with a horrifically difficult game that had more environmental effects than most games had ever even been able to do. I don’t recall anyone being anything but amazed by it, self included.

    The problem was, within months of release, map makers, etc, the secret sauce was spilled and everyone could do so much better themselves, not to mention all the games influenced by it that did a small part of HL better. Just, none of them did it all better.

    Like Goldeneye that sat alongside it, it has eventually aged fairly severely but the first impression on loading HL was just awe for me.

  29. Timberwolf says:

    I’ve always thought the multiplayer of Half-Life 1 was underrated. Maybe it’s that it was a bit more of a measured experience than its contemporaries, or maybe it was simply a casualty of being hosted in the same game as the truly excellent Team Fortress Classic, not to mention the plethora of other mods.

    Valve tried to make the maps themselves interesting adversaries. You had the big button to set of the scramble for the bunker as mentioned, but another good map was the one with a train running round it. Some good times on that map when the “unassailable” player roaring around on the train at full speed suddenly realised how easy it was to booby-trap something with a predictable route. (I may have been that player more than a few times.)

    • Razumen says:

      I tried HL1 MP awhile ago, when I was a LAN party, bored and waiting for everyone to finish setting up. Maybe it was just the server I was on, but there were WAY too many people for the size of the level we were playing on that it just turned into a chaotic mess. Or I’ve just become too old for those kind of chaotic messes. Maybe a bit of both.

      I’m sure it can be a fun experience, but you’re right, the single player levels and mods, as well as counterstrike and natural selection always overshadowed HL1’s one MP modes for me.

  30. Coops07 says:

    Thinking about the great times I had with Half Life now….

    ..almost brings a tear to my eye… ;P

    ‘Oh Mr. Freeman…. what wacky adventures will you get us into next…’

  31. Scandalon says:

    I played the demo, it was mind blowing at the time.

    I watched my co-worker show me the intro – it was mind-blowing at the time.

    Later on my roommate had it (and a computer that could run it), so I sat down to play it. Got stuck coming up a big elevator (I think there was a gunship helicopter waiting for me), it would always load the level glitched.

    Then the Dreamcast version was announced – complete with upgraded graphics! It looked great. I waited for it eagerly, then it was completed, and cancelled.

    The Mac version was announced – it looked great. I waited for it eagerly, then it was nearly completed, and then cancelled.

    Eventually Black Mesa was announced, screenshots came out – it looked great. Eventually, it was released in it’s current state. I played it. It was…okay. (I don’t even remember if I got as far as they have completed or not.)

  32. GomezTheChimp says:

    1998: My first PC. Prior to this I`d owned every incarnation of the Amiga, many ZX Spectrums, Consoles from Intellivision to Atari Lynx and beyond.
    I bought this Voodoo 2 graphics card because Quake 2 looked worse than the games on my Amiga, all pixellated and nasty. So I managed to fit the card and installed Half-Life, the game EVERYONE was raving about.
    That intro, the one which every bloody FPS and 1st Person RPG seems to have emulated since was one of those – literally – jaw dropping gaming moments that rarely happen. I phoned my mates, the ones who had yet to experience the wonderfulness of proper graphics and told them they simply had to see this. They were equally gobsmacked as they leaned over my shoulder as they watched Gordon`s trip to work on the tram.
    the thing is, you had experience the game at the time to fully understand the impact it had on all gaming subsequently. Yes it was flawed, but when it was good, it was magnificent and so much better than anything that had been produced previously. Like punk, or Jimi Hendrix, you just had to be there…