Genre: First Person Shooter
Year: 1998
Developed by: Valve
Published by: Sierra Studios
Platforms: PC, OS X, PS2
Feeling Like: Half a life ago

Half-Life is one of the most influential games ever. It ushered in a new way of story telling, with scripted sequences replacing traditional cut-scenes and a level of immersion we hadn’t seen before. It spawned the massively popular spin-offs Counter-Strike AND Team Fortress, AND gave Valve the success it needed to begin their complete takeover of the computer game space with the marketplace platform Steam. If Half-Life isn’t a hit, maybe none of that happens.

Its impact cannot be understated. I see so many facets of gaming that owe their existence to Half-Life: E-Sports, Content Creators, Twitch, to the explosion in popularity of the free to play model. What kind of game could possibly have this kind of impact, 20 years later?

This kind!

You start off as unassuming physicist, Dr. Gordon Freeman. The “tutorial” is nearly non-existent; as soon as the game loads, you find yourself on a tram listening to a recording telling you where you’re going, where you are, what the external and internal temperatures are, and instructions on how to proceed safely. As the opening credits play unobtrusively in the lower corner, you’ll see various parts of the Black Mesa Lab that act as both establishing shots of the setting, and foreshadowing to what you’ll come across later on.

The first ten minutes of the game are so smooth, that it still doesn’t feel antiquated; I certainly see worse introductions in most modern games. This must have blown enthusiasts’ minds back in the day – well, I know it did. I was there. Sort of.

Hey, quick question – after all the accolades I’ve just laid upon Half-Life, why isn’t it higher? You’re telling me 373 games are *better* than this classic?


Nice try.

The 500 is not the best 500 games. It’s the top 500 experiences I’ve had, regardless of “quality” of the game, or impact on the industry, or how well it holds up. Truth be told, I played through Half-Life way too late, and wasn’t very good at it.

I’m more the tubby cop type than the world-saving scientist.

Dobbo subscribed to PC Gamer, which is still around today. In the late 90s, however, the monthly issues were hundreds of pages long and always had a demo CD. I would spend hours combing through his old copies of these pre-internet encyclopedias of nerdom, wondering if my crappy 486 PC could play Duke Nukem 3D and so forth.

One of the discs that came with the latest copy wasn’t even a demo; it was a mini documentary with interviews  and behind the scenes footage of the making of Half-Life. I’d seen something like this with the Donkey Kong Country VHS, but not since then. It hyped up our expectations and thrilled us to the breaking point. We had to play this. A magazine and a CD told us so.

Crowbars don’t run out of ammo.

Alas, since my PC at home wouldn’t run it, I was stuck watching my friends go through various stages . That didn’t make it any less enjoyable; the shooting sounded ferocious, the enemies were a cut above what we normally saw in First Person Shooters, the NPCs actually TALKED to each other and you felt like you were part of a world, rather than a series of hallways that were constructed just for your enjoyment.

Alien conspiracies, the G-Man, Xen and more awaited me when I finally did beat it on April 16th, 2011. I will admit, it’s difficult to go back to the original when I had already blasted through the sequel years prior; it’s a superior game in any way, and holds up even better than Half-Life. But we’ll get to that one eventually.

I was happy to finally go and see what the fuss was all about. Some of the puzzles were irritating, and a few jumping sections had me nonplussed, but it was, and is, terrific.

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