Retro Gaming 1: Half-Life (part 1)

You know, I often sing the praise of Half-Life 2 and its various episodes, I love Portal and I’ve read nearly every page on the Combine OverWiki. So how is it possible that me, a self-proclaimed hardcore gamer, has never played through the original Half-Life? I mean, it was quite literally the best PC game ever (at least until its sequel came out). Since I was spending the next two months at home (exams) I thought it would be a great idea to finally start up that copy of Half-Life: Source and play it from start to finish. Just an hour or two a day, a nice leisurely pace in between intense mental labor.

So why didn’t I play Half-Life? First problem: Half-Life came out in 1998. I was 10. Although I had by then already conquered Europe in Red Alert, built the Roman Empire in Caesar III and scared cows in Earthworm Jim (iTunes link), I had never played a first peron shooter. If I remember correctly, I originally bought Half-Life in 1999 or 2000 in tandem with a new pc. Strangely, that wasn’t my first encounter with Half-Life. I first saw Half-Life being played live (as in on a computer, in front of me) during the holiday season of 1999 (or was it 1998?). I was visiting my nephew (well, we call him my nephew even though he isn’t) and he showed me the very first chapter of Half-Life: “Anomalous Materials“. You can understand, at 10-11 years old, I was blown away. I assume this is how geeky college kids must have felt when they first saw Wolfenstein 3D in 1992. I think the memory of that first playsession pushed me to buy Half-Life in 2000.

Even then I didn’t really play Half-Life. To be honest I was scared out of my pants: the lack of a traditional soundtrack, the creepy science facility, the aliens, the dead scientists and guards. I only wish today’s games had as encompassing an atmosphere as Half-Life had in 1998. The other stumbling block was my lack of experience with first-person shooters. Half-Life was my first FPS. With it being so different from it’s contemporaries (Quake II, Unreal) and it’s advanced AI, it was a tricky baptism of fire. Suffice to say I gave up.

Flashforward to 2004: Half-Life 2 comes out. Although carrying on from Half-Life 1 and an incredible game in its own right, it was very different from its predecessor. Wide-open environments, lots of dialogue, completely new enemies, higher stakes, vehicles, physics, realistic NPC allies, etc. If you equate Half Life to DOS, than Half-Life 2 is Windows 95. Same rock solid gameplay, remade, enhanced with a nice user-friendly facade alongside a whole slew of graphical and gameplay innovations. Although chronologically I owned Half-Life before Half-Life 2, it was the sequel that drew me into the Half-Life universe.

Of course coming into Half-Life in 2009 is quite different than doing so in 1998. I’m playing this on a modern rig using the ‘remade‘ version running on the Source Engine. This means widescreen resolutions, modern water graphics, a new skybox, limited physics, full 5.1 surround sound, maximum AA & AF, etc. I will never have the experience of running Half-Life on a Pentium MMX with a Voodoo 2 at 800*600. I’ll never see low framerates or hear thinny audio. You could say that playing Half-Life: Source in 2009 is like watching the Star Wars: Special Editions (without the wimpy alterations). Same core game, polished to the extreme.

Up next part 2: The Good and the Bad. (will appear in some future blog post)

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