Half-Life changes the way you think about life; it’s not a normal first-person shooter. As someone who grew up playing Doom, the first time I played Half-Life I had one of the most important realizations as a child: you don’t need that much skill if you actually think, and running from problems is super useful and acceptable sometimes (one of the reasons that I also loved playing Resident Evil on my PSone back then, but it scared the hell out of me).
It was a sunny Sunday; I was about 4 years old, and my brother told me to go to the game store (yeah, like, physically walking there) and purchase Counter-Strike (it was the most popular game in Buenos Aires cybercafes). So I did it with my father. At that time, there were 2 Counter-Strikes available (normal and Condition Zero), so I brought both home, inserted the first disk into the computer, and a Half-Life screen came up.
I noticed that the CD box said “Half-Life Counter-Strike” and I was like, “What is Half-Life? Sounds fun! :)”
The (obviously pirated) CD actually included:
- Half-Life: Opposing Force
- Half-Life: Blue Shift
- Team Fortress Classic
- Deathmatch Classic
I installed everything and opened Half-Life first because I liked the aesthetics more. I started playing, and… A FREAKING TRAIN APPEARED. I’d never been on a moving train in a game before, and I love trains, so I liked it. The train took a lot of time to reach its destination, so I felt the game was chill about itself, and I loved that!
A couple of minutes later, the world goes to hell D:! But the aesthetics are nice :D! So I was there running as something of a scientist with a cool “Hazardous Environment Suit,” and IRL I was wearing a Spiderman suit, so I felt related.
I took a nice crowbar and pressed a button to call an elevator inadvertently causing a failure that killed a couple of fellow scientists :(
:((( What did I just do?
And then I started defending myself. In Half-Life, combats are a puzzle to solve; it’s not like those games where you have to die to know something and then retry it, like brute-forcing the game (I always wondered how you get to know those things without dying first). In Half-Life, you have to actually value your life and treat it like the most important thing you have.
You are a man of science, not an assassin. If you see a threat, you first run to protect yourself, then think about how to leverage your tools, environment, and knowledge against the enemy. If you don’t really need to kill anyone, you don’t, but if you do, now you have a plan.
The game has some interesting messages behind:
- You probably will kill life by accident.
- Your boss will run away if something really bad happens.
- The government will not save you, and you shouldn’t trust them.
- An individual can have a real impact on the world, so you are important.
- The world is chaotic, and many events are not planned.
- Nobody is really sure about what’s going on.
- Don’t expect someone to tell you what you have to do; think, try, and break stuff.
- When everything goes to hell, you may have your friends to help you, but if you don’t, you are alone with yourself and maybe beautiful weapons.
- Your search for freedom may never come to an end.
- Your worst enemy seems to be an inter-dimensional bureaucrat who wants to give you a job.
- Talking is not so important.
I’ve seen a lot of people having trouble playing Half-Life because they expect the game to tell them what to do, and if the game doesn’t tell them, they’ll do nothing! The game is all about curiosity and trying new ideas, and that extends to much more than the story.
The game is full of mods and a community trying weird shit, and Valve (the company behind Half-Life) allows and promotes that, unleashing a lot of artistic creativity and what-ifs. That’s why we have a lot of games based on Half-Life. I feel like a lot of that has been lost, and we’ve been enclosed in walled gardens.
If you didn’t play Half-Life, try it. The list of games is:
- Half-Life (there’s an amazing remake called Black Mesa)
- Half-Life 2
- Half-Life 2: Episode One
- Half-Life 2: Episode Two
- Half-Life: Alyx (VR game)
- Half-Life: Opposing Force (you play the HL1 story from the perspective of one of your enemies, a soldier. I particularly love this game for the aesthetics, weapons, and cool tanks and helicopters)
- Half-Life: Blue Shift (you play the HL1 story from the perspective of one of your friends, a security guard)
- Half-Life 2: Lost Coast (it’s just a short tech demo, and it feels like an out-of-context dream you had)