|a game by||Sierra|
|Platforms:||Playstation 2 PC|
We had our first shot at an early version of Sierra's long-awaited first-person blaster Half-Life, and this clever game is on-target so far. The developer, Valve, has rewarded patient gamers with sharp environments, a good pace, and a well-thought-out design that'll suck you right in. It's one of the shrewdest mixes of action and brainwork that you'll find in a first-person shooter; as the complex story unfolds, you'll be involved in some heavy exploration and difficult puzzle-solving.
With a stunning interactive intro that has all the cinematic style of a cut scene, Half-Life sets the scene better than any shooter to date. You're a Ph.D. in the Black Mesa experimental materials facility in New Mexico, but after some serious trouble, your degree ain't worth the paper it's printed on. Moreover, you have to confront all sorts of mutated creatures that come fast and furious--yet, for all its smarts, Half-Life doesn't stint on action. The multiplayer options weren't implemented in our advance copy, but the early single-play missions are up to snuff and then some.
Get a Half-Life
Even incomplete, Half-Life's environments showed astonishing quality, and its killer sound is true 3D: Conversations and ambient noises rise and fade realistically as you move toward and past them. Half-Life also boasts an opponent A.I. that may rival anything you've ever played against, making Half-Life's action as fierce as its look is fine. Put this one on your must-have list for the holidays.
Half-Life has arrived and will hopefully mark the dawn of a new genre: the thinking-man's shooter. It's faster than Quake II, prettier than Unreal, and more satisfyingly logical than any other corridor-crawler on the market.
Blended by Science
Players are very firmly placed in the boots of 27-year-old Gordon Freeman, a scientist at the underground Black Mesa Research Facility. You're at ground zero when a mysterious interdimensional experiment goes awry, and after the project literally blows up in your face, you have to find a way to the surface, picking off otherworldly nasties along the way. But what will you find once you get there?
For once, you're not the only guy left in the world; there are other survivors of the accident, and you'll need their help to achieve your goals. Scientists will open doors and give you items, while security guards will help you splatter invaders across the wall. The presence of others makes things much more emotionally involving.
Half-Life's scientific world is one of the most logical ever created on a PC. Power-ups appear where you would expect-- ammo and guns lie next to soldiers' corpses, first-aid kits line the halls of the science labs, and so on. You won't find any floating shotguns in this realm. Furthermore, your actions and puzzle solutions are all dictated by your need to survive in such a situation--context is a surprisingly powerful thing.
Half-Life uses about 30 percent of Quake ll's engine--the developer, Valve, added its own enhancements for the rest--and it's quite an impressive overhaul with fast frame rates and excellent graphical detail throughout Unlike in other corridor-shooters, you won't find cookie-cutter stock effects here; the sounds are robust original, and often integral to your survival. A low-clutter weapons interface and superior A.I. complete Half-Life's impressive package.
A New Life Form
Quake II still wins the multiplayer war, but Half-Life's single-player adventure carries more weight than all the other thinly plotted shooters put together. With a perfect mix of brains and brawn, Half-Life stands as a breathtaking new achievement in gaming.
- Always ask the security guards to watch your back; they're good shots, and you'll need all the help you can get.
- Keep the scientists alive as long as possible-they'll gladly heal you for your trouble, and sometimes more than once.
- When these ugly critters stop moving and start whining to charge their power burst, that's the best time to blast them.
- These serpentine monsters can't see, but they'll attack anything they hear. Throw grenades to distract them and walk-don't run-past them.
- Listen closely to the soldiers' walkie-talkie chatter: you'll know if you're undetected or if you're about to get rushed.
- Don't kill this monster In the office complex until he's broken down the door for you. There's ammo for your pistol inside.
All the details have been considered. Hires textures and smoothly animated models give the world palpable realism, while special effects like lightning will floor you.
The music's cool, but you'll want to turn it off to hear the sound effects--otherworldly shrieks, walkie-talkie chatter, and perfect gunfire: Reverb and spatial effects make the game intensely immersive.
Any key can control any movement, plus Half-Life allows two configs to run simultaneously, enabling you to easily switch between the keyboard and the joystick.
It might sound too good to be true, but its not--Half-Life truly sets a new standard for first-person gaming in terms of quality, immersion, and narrative. You should buy it immediately.
A top-secret experiment gone wrong floods your hidden lab with extra-dimensional monsters. Your friends and co-workers lie dying on the ground. Only the Hazardous Environment Suit you were wearing has kept you alive thus far. Military troops have entered the base, intent on exterminating any evidence of their black activities, including you and your colleagues. Alarms are sounding, slimy monsters are drooling, blue-collar security guards are fighting to protect the scientists, and army goons are mowing down anything that moves. What we need is a hero, someone to sort out this three-way slug-fest with extra helpings of pump-action justice.
Unfortunately, it's going to have to be someone else because you just ran out of ammo and bent your crowbar on some toothy monster's skull. You’ll be lucky to get out of this alive.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
In case you haven’t yet heard, Half-Life is probably the best game of the year. It is, without a doubt, the best single-player first-person shooter ever. Period. It is so good for so many reasons. But most importantly, it is fun. I mean really fun. Realistic environments, challenging AI (but not overly so), stirring soundtrack, and a beautiful rendition of the Quake engine are only the frosting on the cake.
I don’t want to say too much, so I will only describe one feature that I love immensely: scripted events. In a game like Quake II, monsters behave according to their AI, and the environment behaves just as it is laid out. Monsters in Quake II do cool things like duck and run, but they never really do anything to surprise you. But in Half-Life, you may be crawling down a pipe only to have a commando roll back a grate, pitch in a remote DET pack, and close the hatch. Not only is it time to run, but you are genuinely surprised.
There are lots of scripted events in Half-Life; some advance the story, others are just cool. But Valve, the game developer, did an excellent job of only using each event once, thus keeping you on the edge of your seat and genuinely surprised throughout the game.
I really debated about going on and on here about what gameplay is like, but I found I was giving away too much of what makes the game fun. So I’ll leave that aside and move on.
I can’t believe this was built on the original Quake engine. For one thing, it's bright and colorful; for another, the lighting is great. The models look a little blocky, but still very professional. The skins on the models help round them out, but the low polygon count allows for lots of baddies to be on the screen at once. The textures in the game immerse you in whatever environment you are in. Special effects like lightning and smoke trails will make you call out, "Wow! Cool!"
The graphics are very intense in Half-Life. I highly recommend playing with 3dFX’s OpenGL mini-driver or in true OpenGL mode. Even with a good graphics card, the game can get choppy from time to time.
First of all, let me mention the outstanding music track on the Half-Life CD. The music comes on at just the right time and gets your juices flowing. However, I kind of wish there was more of it, but maybe if there were more, I’d be complaining about that. I’m not sure, but the music is cool; the ambient music is just perfect.
Perhaps more than anything, I appreciate the sounds in Half-Life. The monsters gurgle, bark, click and roar. Enemy commandos chatter on the radio, shout taunts and cry out in urgency when grenades are lobbed their way. Your HEV suit (armor) talks to you, giving you vital information about your condition. Perhaps best of all, Half-Life delivers the first truly satisfying weapon sounds since Doom. BOOM!
Windows 95/98 or NT, Pentium 133, 24 MB RAM, 2X CD-ROM drive, mouse and keyboard, 640x480 SVGA high color (16-bit) display, Windows-compatible sound device, 400 MB free hard disk space
Recommended: Pentium 166+ (this really is probably closer to the minimum), 32 MB RAM, 3D accelerator card (OpenGL or Direct 3D)
The documentation is a little sparse but adequate. Each command is documented and some background is given about your character. The game features a training course, which I strongly recommend taking even if you are familiar with first-person-shooters. There are a couple of unique moves you’re going to want to know.
If you don’t have this game already, run, don’t walk to the store to get it. You will not regret it.
Let's face it, crappy ports of PC games are just about the last thing any console gamer wants to see. Yeah, sure, it can be nice to check out PC titles you might've missed out on before, but if the port isn't good, most of the time it's not even worth bothering. The folks at Sierra know this and are taking the necessary steps to ensure that the PS2 version of Half-Life will be every bit engrossing as the PC original. They've given the project a healthy development cycle (over a year) and placed it in the hands of a talented crew (Gearbox Studios, made up by members who have previously worked on such titles as Duke Nukem 3D and Quake). What's more, the company is allowing Gearbox to develop a new multiplayer game that will take place within the Half-Life universe.
"Since it's being designed with the PS2 in mind, the new content and gameplay is focused on the experience people will have on the console," says Randy Pitchford, Gearbox co-owner. "The game design encourages people to get together in the living room and really enjoy the Half-Life type of quality experience as a team." Huge first-person shooter fans, Gearbox team members intend to deliver a split-screen multiplayer experience that rivals stuff we've seen from outfits like Rare.
As for how Half-Life translates onto a console, Pitchford is very optimistic, especially in the area of control. "I like the PS2 controller a lot. It's a nice combination of comfort and utility. My fingers always seem to be able to find the keys I want and none of the buttons and sticks feel cramped or out of the way." He proves this with an example: "Long before we even started real work on the project, one of our designers rigged a couple of Dual Shock controllers to work on the PC and used it to play against the rest of us in multiplayer games. The surprising thing was that right away, it was fun."
Rated with topnotch scores by possibly every PC game publication on the planet, Pitchford knows that he's sitting on a potential PS2 hit. "Nothing I could say could promote the Half-Life experience as well as what's been said by the people who have gone through it." He couldn't be more right.