Living the Half-Life [Half-Life]

I am Gordon Freeman, a recent Ph.D. graduate of MIT in theoretical physics, with an entry level position in a desert research facility owned by Black Mesa, and despite being ridiculously smart and disciplined enough to earn my Ph.D…. I am almost an hour late to work with no good reason why. Go figure.

A little over a week ago, I came out of my posting funk and hit it off with a poll of what you, my fantastic readers (You look really nice today, by the way. I love what you’ve done with your hair), think I should be playing. The reasons behind this are three-fold. One, it forces me to play something I’ve always wanted to play, but it never made the tops of my priority list. Two, it forces me to write by making me accountable to my previous decisions, thus giving me more practice at this whole writing fiasco. And Three, readers are more inclined to read an article they already have a vested interest in, such as by participating in a vote, so people will read this , and thus feel they have an interest in my blog in general, which then prompts me to write more. Consider this a social experiment and if you couldn’t tell, I’m big on the social experiments (and I hope you are, too!).

Winning by a very slim margin was, kind of a surprise to me, Half-Life, the 1998 award-winning sci-fi shooter that put the current-day behemoth Valve on the map.  And no, I wasn’t referring to Half-Life 2, I was specifically referring to the original Half-Life. I may get to 2 eventually, but I wanted to get through the story to the first game… well… first.

I started a game on Medium settings. I ain’t no hardcore, but I imagine my skill is above any easy modes, and with that, I found myself on a tram car. The tram was being taken through an underground desert facility, presented in as blocky an environment as could be. I know at the time, now 15 years ago, this was graphic intensive, but as a current-gen gamer it’s not the easiest on the eyes. However, I do hope the story could still stand the test of time. Seeing as how they have made a sequel with multiple expansions and spin-offs, my guess is it will.

After the long and intricate tram ride through the facility, I come to my stop, exit the tram car and proceed to mosey into work, pushing being almost an hour late. Man, my ego must be huge. After strolling in, having a few scientists scold me, seeing some of the guard crew to whom I am buddies with, I make my way to pick up my awesome EV suit. Being late doesn’t seem to phase me much as I stop by my locker, check out some personal effects, and finally meander my way to where I’m supposed to be.

Once locked inside the testing chamber, I’m told to head on up to the top and activate this giant machine. Cool… but odd considering it couldn’t be activated from the outside, If it’s so dangerous I need to be wearing an EV suit for it, why isn’t the ON button on the outside? No matter. I press it, watch as it bursts to life, and then am told our sample for the day, something very important, is waiting for me to clumsily push it into the path of the testing beam. We’ll just start with the entire sample. Sure, just shove it all in. No idea what it is. Are we sure these are real scientists? This does not sound like proper scientific method here. Ah well, I’m just the grunt. Who am I to argue.

And then all hell breaks loose.

An explosion rocks the facility to it’s core, a green energy burst with lightning bolts rips around the room. The world goes black. Suddenly I’m in an alien swamp. Black again, I’m chilling with some green dudes. Black again, then back to the facility where I have, miraculously, survived. Making my way out, the calm research facility is now in shambles, and escaping is the only option. I must find my way to the surface and get some help. Even if I get there, in the desert this may be easier said than done.

Running my way through the facility, I pick up what appears to be the godsend of all weapons, a grail of awesomeness, the crowbar. I know I’m wicked smart and all, but the alien face-jumpers I keep coming across, the mutated scientists, and green dudes seem to have a weakness to a good throttling with this bad boy. Brains I got in spades, but braun it shall be.

As I run through the facility, I keep spying a dude who looks awfully smug and quite satisfied with what has transpired. It has hints of X-Files, with a shadowy, suit wearing guy watching the progress of the travesty befalling the facility. Along with X-Files, Fringe, The Secret World, and many other forms of entertainment have that same suit-wearing shadowy corporate menace backing a disaster feel to them. It’s a trope that works, playing to the conspiracy parts of our minds that we are just pawns in a much larger game we aren’t aware of. Paranoia is something we all have to differing levels (except those with pronoia, of course), and when made manifest strengthens our mistrust of the huge powerful corporations. As they say, beware the power you give to the soulless.

Finally, I make my way closer to the surface, and am told the military is on their way to assist… only to find them gunning our scientists down. Welp, a crumbling facility behind me, and a gun-toting army in front of me. Looks like the only way to go is forward. I finally make it topside only to see helicopters dropping off more troops and a huge bullseye on my forehead. It looks like a higher-up gave the order to cover-up whatever is going down here, but I won’t give up without a fight.

I played a decent stretch and made it half-way through Chapter 5. I love that there doesn’t appear to be any stopping point in between levels. No loading screens, no wait, no cutscenes. This gives the game a very fluid motion, one that I am in full control of. Even during scripted events, I am still in charge, capable of running around as they talk. This leads to a very heavy immersion level. Not once has my complete control of the character been taken away. Seeing as this is 15 years old, and our immersion is still being pulled away to load screens, this feels revolutionary. I can see why it won the awards. Finding a stopping point is tricky, like having a continuous book with no chapter points, but that’s okay. What’s not okay is my inability to jump on small boxes.

Seriously, just pick up your damn feet, Freeman!

// Ocho