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SummaryBest game ever? Not any more, but still damn fine
The GoodThis game, with over 50 international "Game Of The Year" awards behind it, was something of a success for Valve. The company shot from complete nobodies to superstars in one game. People have been waiting for their next game for about 5 years and nobody seems to be complaining, Valve can do no wrong it seems.
This game has only a few major tricks behind it, the rest is nothing particularly special. However these tricks are implemented so well that it doesn't really notice, and it's very strange how still no other games company has taken on board what they've done and improved it.
Firstly, the AI. The intelligence of the enemies in this game has been talked upon at length before. While the aliens are characteristically not the toughest foes to beat; the human opponents are astounding. They certainly were back in 1998. The soldiers were extremely quick, effective at working in a team, able to throw grenades at you, able to scatter when you threw one at them, able to flank and outmaneuver you, and able to take cover behind objects. They were nearly as good at playing as you were. Then the ninjas: lightning fast, cat-like, they'd shoot you from behind and run off when you found them, a team could pick you off in a second. The AI still has not been beaten.
The second major trick is the use of set-pieces and, bizarrely, no game has ever improved on this. Half-Life was so full of set-pieces that it seemed like literally anything could happen. Lifts would go out of control, whole ceilings would cave in, people would get pulled into vents and eaten before your very eyes. It was so intense and so amazing, why there isn't another game like this is a mystery to me.
Anyone can name a "moment" from Half-Life, like first encountering that incredible tentacle beast in the silo, or stepping into the suspended cage and having it plunge into the water. The fact that one of these legendary moments would happen every couple of minutes was enough to make you scream with delight. These moments were heightened with the excellent use of sound. The faint tapping you hear when you're rooms away from the tentacle beast silo, gradually getting louder the closer you get, until you finally open the silo door and see the gaming world's greatest enemy smashing it's claws against the walls looking for people. - Just terrific. The sound of the head crabs sends shivers down my spine just thinking about it. It's pretty amazing really.
The rest of the game is nothing that special. The level design is quite good, so are the graphics. That's about it. But then who cares because you know this is the only game where you could turn a corner and see a room explode, or a person being eaten alive.
The game also cleverly lets you get accustomed to this world before tearing it apart, it sounds so simple and yet no-one does it. The first 20 minutes or so of the game involve you seeing how the building is run, walking around it, and only then does it throw a spanner in the works. This makes it all the more exciting because it's happening in your new world, not some place you've never seen before. Half-Life is still the best FPS currently around at the time of writing because it introduced so many concepts that have still never been beaten. Plus it has one of the most successful mods around in the form of Counterstrike.
The BadThere is a lot of platform jumping in between the moments of greatness. First-person platform jumping is the work of the devil. Xen is also looked upon unfavourably because it's taking the player out of the world he recognizes, and also because there is a lot of hopping about on islands. The game's trial & error philosophy is looked upon unfavourably by some, and with good reason. Although it's sometimes necessary as this game world seems so alive and it's almost a trait that anything can happen at any time, that's part of the fun.
The AI of your allies incidentally is dire, that is a bad point. The game is also pretty linear.
I also HATE head crabs. I can't play this game now because of them. They are the scariest enemy ever, and they're in an otherwise non-scary game. Which makes it pretty frustrating.