Valve obviously spent a lot of time researching to see what the other first person shooter games have done in the past. They apparently took note that almost every single game in this genre is set up the exact same way -- go from level to level, pick up the weapons and power-ups strewn about and kill lots of mindless enemies. They decided to break this trend and in Half-Life, this fact is evident.
Instead of traversing from level to level, the game itself consists of one large, interactive setting. You start in the research laboratory and continue to progress through and out of the facility, reach the outside and even visit alien worlds. It is all done seamlessly and without any level progression at all (each portion is broken into segments that flow into one another). Because of this, Half-Life feels immense (in a good way) and you'll become immersed in the world from start to finish.
To protect a sense of realistic integrity, the weapons aren't just "laying around" like in other games. Instead, you'll have to be observant as the weapons are in more realistic places. For instance, you'll get a pistol from a dead security guard and you'll find an experimental weapon in a research laboratory or a dead critter. You can find ammo hidden within closets or lockers or even on dead soldiers. And instead of picking up health packets, you can head over to a bathroom or a construction area to find a health and armor recharger.
Another thing that is very predominant is a sense of story and overall gameplay and flow. The storyline seems simple and cliched (you're a guy trying to escape with his life intact) but the way it is told can only be described as impressive. Everything in Half-Life happens for a reason and that reason will be presented to you once you progress through the game (via scripted sequences).
As you proceed, you begin to uncover more of what really caused the sheer chaos that ensued after you ran tests on the specimen -- the result is bone chilling. Throughout the game, you'll have to interact with other scientists, which brings me to another point: the AI.
The AI in this game is amazing. Scientists act like real people and will help you if you help them. They respond to danger by running away and finding a safe place to hide. The enemies are the same way. If you hurt them, they'll run and find help or they'll set up traps and ambushes for you. This is very impressive if not only for the immersion factor. The monsters themselves are exceptionally terrifying and they'll make you jump out of your seat often. Does the word face-hugger mean anything to you? There are also marines, possessed soldiers and scientists as well as bug-like creatures.
It isn't everyday that you come across a game that totally revolutionizes an entire genre, but Half-Life has done just that. With its impressive and intricate world and texture design, downright scary monsters, settings and music, unsurpassed artificial intelligence and realism, this is a game that every PC owner should have. Half-Life is the real deal and the structure and design will be copied for years to come.
Graphics: Outstanding is the only word to describe the visuals. The textures are beautiful and capture the whole environment successfully. The ambient lighting effects really add to the scare factor and look great. Equally impressive are the character and monster designs. The humans are very realistic looking and the critters are downright ugly (in a good way) and freaky.
Sound: This game has one of the best soundtracks I've ever heard in a game. It's really ambient and dark and uses lots of creepy transform effects that really fit the mood of the game. The sound effects are equally great except for some of the speech. For some reason, dialog is a bit scratchy but in no way does it detract from the setting.
Enjoyment: Half-Life is easily the best first-person shooter to date (circa 1998). The environment is fantastic, it's scary, it's creepy and you really become immersed in its world. The game is also incredibly fun because of the excellent AI, fantastic weapons and monsters and a fabulous storyline.
Replay Value: Playing through the single-player game again is just as fun and challenging as the first time through. There's also some pretty good online support for Half-Life and with the right mods and a few patches, this game will be a dominating multi-player game for years to come.
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