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Black Mesa Research Facility is an ultra-secret laboratory under government contract, conducting top-secret and extremely volatile experiments. The scientist Gordon Freeman a Black Mesa employee. This morning, as usual, he pits his way to the research facility for a run-of-the-mill experiment. However, when the experiment initiates, Gordon realizes that it might not be as ordinary as he thought. Odd things begin to happen as he makes his way to one of the Black Mesa test chambers. Even weirder things happen when he starts to move the test sample towards the antimass-spectrometer.

At that moment everything goes horribly wrong. Aliens from the planet Xen have suddenly invaded the facility, injuring or killing many of the employees. The Marines have come to the facility to kill off the aliens and the surviving witnesses of the accident. Gordon understands what that means: he will have to fight his way through aliens and Marines to get to the top of the Black Mesa complex and much beyond.

The story of Half-Life is told entirely in-game: everything is seen through the eyes of the protagonist. Most story elements unfold via scripted sequences, triggered by the player reaching a certain area. If other characters have information to reveal, they address the player directly. The Black Mesa complex in the game is not made up of distinct levels, but is mostly a continuous world, where it is possible to backtrack through large parts of the game.

The game's weapon arsenal is, to a large part, made up of realistic weapons like pistols, machine guns and explosives, but there are also futuristic energy weapons developed at Black Mesa as well as organic weapons acquired from the invading aliens. Most weapons feature an alternate firing mode.

Enemies fall into two categories: aliens and human soldiers. While most of the aliens are not very bright, the humans display some relatively advanced artificial intelligence: they seek cover, retreat when hit and try to drive the player from his cover by throwing grenades. Some of the alien enemies can not be killed by normal means. The environment must be used against them instead, going with a general tendency of the game to alternate the combat with environmental puzzles.


Half-Life Windows This scientist won't be able to hold on for long
Half-Life Windows My cool new biological weapon took care of all these creatures
Half-Life Windows More soldiers are coming...
Half-Life Windows The mysterious Lambda complex looks slick. I shoot some arrows at the truck

Promo Images

Half-Life Screenshot
Half-Life Screenshot
Half-Life Screenshot
Half-Life Magazine Advertisement


Alternate Titles

  • "戰慄時空" -- Traditional Chinese spelling
  • "半条命" -- Simplified Chinese spelling
  • "Quiver" -- Working title
  • "Hλlf-Life" -- Cover / in-game title
  • "HL" -- Common abbreviation
  • "Bantiao Ming" -- Simplified Chinese title

Part of the Following Groups

User Reviews

Still looks as fantastic as it was back in 1998 Katakis | カタキス (42875) 4.57 Stars4.57 Stars4.57 Stars4.57 Stars4.57 Stars
Pleased to make your acquaintance Mr. Half-Life, but haven't we met before? Zovni (10627) 4.14 Stars4.14 Stars4.14 Stars4.14 Stars4.14 Stars
We'll make an excellent team Ashley Pomeroy (233) 5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars
Best game ever? Not any more, but still damn fine Shazbut (167) unrated
An FPS that doesn't insult your intelligence MadCat (61) 4.8 Stars4.8 Stars4.8 Stars4.8 Stars4.8 Stars
Undoubtedly fantastic -- but why does it have to be impossible? Trixter (9115) 4.2 Stars4.2 Stars4.2 Stars4.2 Stars4.2 Stars
Indispensable FPS NeoJ (455) 3.57 Stars3.57 Stars3.57 Stars3.57 Stars3.57 Stars
Go take granddaddy down a peg lasttoblame (424) 3.83 Stars3.83 Stars3.83 Stars3.83 Stars3.83 Stars
The best PC game of all time. Period. Dragoon (107) 5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars
One of the best/worst games I've ever played. Ambivalent? Damn right. Tomer Gabel (4634) 4.2 Stars4.2 Stars4.2 Stars4.2 Stars4.2 Stars

Critic Reviews

GameGenie 1998 5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars 100
Game Vortex 1998 10 out of 10 100
All Game Guide 1998 5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars 100
Armchair Empire, The 2003 9.6 out of 10 96
Mygamer.com Sep 13, 2004 9.4 out of 10 94
Gamezone (Germany) Apr 26, 2001 9.3 out of 10 93
PC Action (Germany) Nov, 1998 92 out of 100 92
CD-Action Jan, 1999 9 out of 10 90
Just RPG Jan 07, 2005 80 out of 100 80
The Game Hoard Apr 28, 2022 5 out of 7 71


Topic # Posts Last Post
Narrative, wait what? 19 Donatello (463)
Jul 15, 2012
Sorry, Valve 10 Pseudo_Intellectual (64438)
Feb 12, 2009


1001 Video Games

Half-Life appears in the book 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die by General Editor Tony Mott.


Very early beta footage of the game, as well as interviews with some of the programmers, is available on the Diablo expansion pack Hellfire, released by Sierra a full year before the game ever shipped. Sierra already had advertisements for Half-Life in many of their products back then.

Cancelled ports

  • Half-Life, at one point, was completely finished for the Dreamcast console. Prima (the Official Strategy Guide folks) even had a Dreamcast-exclusive guide published. Unfortunately, the game wasn't published - probably due to the fact that SEGA announced that they would no longer produce new Dreamcasts. In certain circles of the Internet, a leaked copy can still be found and ran on a Dreamcast.
  • A Macintosh port was in the works from Westlake interactive and reached beta before being cancelled because of concerns about responsibility for tech support.


In its first finalized form, as it would have been published if the original release date was kept, Half-Life was nothing more than a total conversion of Quake with new enemies and levels. In the one additional year spent on development the game transformed into the form that led it to critical and commercial success.


Half-Life was released a full year after Quake II and it's a common belief that it was based on the Quake II engine. This is not true. It is based on the original Quake engine and it's more than fair to say that it was modified beyond recognition by the Valve team. Amongst the additions were built-in 3D accelerator support, skeletal systems and shadow casting (the latter didn't make it into the game). Valve now refers to this engine as "GoldSrc". This is probably how the "Source" engine from Half-Life 2 got its name.

German version

There is a special German version which features robots as enemies, green blood instead of red and innocent people cannot be killed any longer. The robot design was outlined by Sierra's Germany division, then sent to Valve in Seattle, where the artists created and implemented the tin soldiers. The changes in the game's code and art, together with the text and speech localization, served to delay the German version by full four months. By then, even casual gamers had already purchased the original version, which was freely for sale up to its ban. However, Half-Life proved to be so immensely popular that the German robo-version still sold over 50,000 copies, so the venture was ultimately successful for Sierra.

On December 16, 1998, the US version of Half-Life was put on the infamous German index by the BPjS. For more information about what this means and to see a list of games sharing the same fate, take a look here: BPjS/BPjM indexed games.

Gina Freeman

Apparently, Valve had written a part for Gordon's wife, Gina, to appear in the game, this idea got scrapped but she still made it to the game, her model was the one used for the holographic trainer.

id Software

When id Software saw what Valve was doing with their engine, they were reminded of their original idea for a seamless, story-based DOOM and thought it would fail. It didn't.


Half-Life was influential in many little ways, popularising several gameplay devices which have subsequently become standards, such as:
  • The between-episode text which appears, overlaid on the screen, before slowly fading out (adopted not just in other computer games, but in several different Linux windowing systems too)
  • A training segment which is presented as an integral part of the storyline
  • The practice of rendering cut-scenes with the in-game engine
  • Blood-splatters and other persistent stains
  • Semi-random NPC speech and 'interaction' in an otherwise straightforward action game
  • Weaponry which needs to be manually reloaded between magazine changes
  • Constant playflow: the levels directly connect to each other


According to Valve's Gabe Newell, originally Half-Life was inspired by Stephen King's novella The Mist. However the game evolved so much from the preliminary concepts that the only things that remained were the horror/technology combination and the designs for the Bull Squid and the blind tentacle.


Half-Life's lambda symbol is not the scientific symbol for half-life, but is instead the decay constant in the differential equation for exponential decay. The actual scientific symbol used for half-life is t1/2.


Counter-Strike was not a freak occurrence. Valve made the game editor immediately available, produced the mod Team Fortress Classic as an example of a finished mod, and also sponsored "Mod Expos", events where modders could present their work to other gamers and the press.


According to planethalflife.com: "the material that makes up the three green triangles protecting Nihilanth is the same as the crystal sample which you pushed into the beams to start this whole mess in the first place. Valve Software originally intended to make this connection more obvious but never did."


  • The security office is in sector 7G. Homer Simpson works in a sector with the same name.
  • The Gluon Gun was nicknamed "The Egon" after the Ghostbusters Character Egon Spengler. The Gluon gun projects a plasma stream similar to the ones used by the Ghostbusters.
  • The surnames on the lockers where Gordon goes to collect his HEV suit are of people from the development team. Gordon also has a book by Half-Life writer Marc Laidlaw in his locker.

References to the game

The game makes an appearance in season 1, episode 22 of Lost, a popular TV series. Some in-game action is shown, and the characters shortly discuss the use and the effectiveness of the crowbar as a weapon.


  • In 2004, Valve released a re-mastered version using Half Life 2's Source engine, called Half-Life: Source.
  • In 2012, a group of fans released a remake of their own, called Black Mesa. The team's goal was to provide a completely new and more modern version of the original experience, since according to them, Valve's remake "didn't fully live up to the potential of a Source engine port of Half-Life". In fact, most of the game's content remained unchanged: Half-Life: Source mainly added new water and physics effects, but didn't upgrade the game's textures or character models.


As of 2007, the game sold of over eight million since its release. (source)


There's a minor technical error with the shotgun. It's presented in the game as a double-barreled weapon, and the alternative fire mode shoots two shells at half the speed. However, the shotgun is modeled on a single-barreled weapon, the popular Franchi SPAS-12, which appears in several computer games. What looks like a second barrel is actually the under-barrel tubular magazine, which holds the shells.

Sound engine

Half-Life was one of the first games to utilize a software-driven environmental sound engine. Effects are applied in context of room size and surfaces of reflection. Reverb effects are calculated in realtime and applied on the fly as sounds are triggered.

University of Innsbruck

In the game manual, the first two pages contain a fictional letter from the administrative offices of the Black Mesa Research Facility to Dr. Gordon Freeman, concerning his upcoming employment. The address on the letter indicates that Freeman was a visiting fellow at the Institute for Experimental Physics, University of Innsbruck, before moving to Black Mesa. In contrast to the common practice of using fictitious addresses for storytelling purposes, the listed address is actually real. As confirmed by the official university website, "Technikerstraße 25, A-6020 Innsbruck" is the real-world location of Innsbruck University's Institute for Experimental Physics.


  • Computer Gaming World
    • April 1999 (Issue #177) – Game of the Year
    • January 2001 (Issue #199) – Introduced into the Hall of Fame
    • March 2001 (Issue #200) - #1 Game of All Time (Readers' Choice)
    • March 2001 (Issue #200) - #2 Game of All Time (Editors' Choice)
  • GameSpy
    • 2001 – #2 Top Game of All Time
    • 2012 – #1 Top PC Gaming Intro
  • GameStar (Germany)
    • Issue 12/1999 - #17 in the "100 Most Important PC Games of the Nineties" ranking
  • PC Gamer
    • April 2000 - #1 in the "All-Time Top 50 Games" poll
    • October 2001 - #1 in the "Top 50 Best Games of All Time" list
    • April 2005 - #1 in the "Top 50 Best Games of All Time" list
  • PC Player (Germany)
    • Issue 01/1999 - Best Game in 1998
    • Issue 01/1999 - Best Shooter in 1998
  • Power Play
    • Issue 02/1999 – Best Action Shooter in 1998
  • Retro Gamer
    • October 2004 (Issue #9) – #38 Best Game Of All Time (Readers' Vote)
Information also contributed by -Chris, Ace of Sevens, Adam Baratz, Ashley Pomeroy, Chris Martin, CrankyStorming, Emepol, Entorphane, Foxhack, Gargaj, Maw, MegaMegaMan, PCGamer77, phlux, Ronald Diemicke, Spartan_234, rstevenson, Sciere, Scott Monster, Silverblade, shifter, Xoleras, Zack Green and Zovni.

Related Web Sites

doj (39) added Half-Life (Windows) on Jun 06, 1999
Other platforms contributed by Sciere (789789) and Kabushi (257689)