Half-Life is a science fiction first-person shooter computer game developed by Valve Software and the company's debut product. First released by Sierra Studios on November 19, 1998, the game was also released for the PlayStation 2 on November 15, 2001. Valve, set up by former Microsoft employees, had difficulty finding a publisher, with many believing that the game was "too ambitious". Sierra On-Line eventually signed the game after expressing interest in making a 3D action game. The game had its first major public appearance at the 1997 Electronic Entertainment Expo. Designed for PCs running Microsoft Windows, the game uses a heavily modified version of the Quake engine, called GoldSrc.
In Half-Life, players assume the role of Dr. Gordon Freeman, a recent graduate theoretical physicist who must fight his way out of a secret underground research facility (Black Mesa), whose research and experiments into teleportation technology have gone wrong.
On its release, critics hailed its overall presentation and numerous scripted sequences, and it won over 51 Game of the Year awards. Its gameplay influenced first-person shooters for years to come, and it has since been regarded as one of the greatest games of all time. As of November 16, 2004, Half-Life has sold eight million copies. As of July 14, 2006, the Half-Life franchise has sold 16 million units. According to GameSpy, Half-Life is the most played online computer game (excluding MMORPGs), ahead of Half-Life 2.
Half-Life, a first-person shooter, requires the player to perform combat tasks and puzzle solving to advance through the game. Unlike its peers at the time, Half-Life used scripted sequences, which ranged from small events, such as an alien ramming down a door, to major plot points. While most contemporary first-person shooters relied on cut scene intermissions to detail their plotlines, Half-Life's story is put forth entirely through scripted sequences, keeping the player in control of their first-person viewpoint. In line with this, the player rarely loses the ability to control Gordon, who never speaks and is never actually seen in the game; the player "sees" through his eyes for the entire length of the game. Half-Life has no "levels"; it instead divides the game by chapters, whose titles flash on the screen. Progress through the world is continuous, except for breaks for loading.
The game regularly integrates puzzles, such as navigating a maze of conveyor belts. Some puzzles involve using the environment to kill an enemy. There are few "bosses" in the conventional sense, where the player defeats a superior opponent by direct confrontation. Instead, such monsters occasionally define chapters, and the player is generally expected to use the terrain, rather than firepower, to kill the "boss". Late in the game, the player receives a "long jump module" for the HEV suit, which allows the player to increase the horizontal distance and speed of jumps by crouching before jumping. This is used for platformer-style jumping puzzles in the later portion of the game.
For the most part the player battles through the game alone, but is occasionally assisted by non-player characters; specifically security guards and scientists who fight alongside the player, assist in reaching new areas and impart relevant plot information. A wide array of enemies populate the game including alien lifeforms such as headcrabs, bullsquids, headcrab zombies and Vortigaunts. The player also faces human opponents, in particular HECU Marines and black ops assassins who are dispatched to contain the alien threat and silence all witnesses.
Half-Life has a large array of weapons the player can use. The iconic weapon of the game is the trademark crowbar which can be used for melee fighting as well as a tool for clearing obstructions and breaking apart vent gratings. The game also features numerous conventional weapons, such as the Glock 17 pistol, SPAS-12 shotgun, MP5 submachine gun with an attached grenade launcher, Colt Python .357 Magnum revolver, and rocket launcher as well as abnormal weapons ranging from a crossbow to alien weapons such as Snarks. Two experimental weapons, the tau cannon and the gluon gun, are built by the scientists in the facility and are acquired by the player late in the game. With the installation of the High Definition Pack, the weapons' appearances are substantially updated, mainly due to a larger number of polygons in the models. Although their appearances have changed, they perform exactly the same as their original counterparts in terms of gameplay. The Glock 17 and MP5 are the only two weapons to drastically be changed in appearance, being replaced by the Beretta M9 and M4A1 assault rifle respectively.
Most of the game is set in a remote desert area of New Mexico in the Black Mesa Research Facility, a fictional complex that bears many similarities to both the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Area 51, during May 5 to 15 (as seen on calendars in the game and on the second page of the owner's manual) of 200-, meaning it takes place sometime between the years 2000 and 2009. The game's protagonist is the theoretical physicist Gordon Freeman, a graduate of the Institute for Experimental Physics and the University of Innsbruck, in Innsbruck, Austria, (and also received a Ph.D as a theoretical physicist from MIT) and a survivor of an experiment that goes horribly wrong when an unexpected "resonance cascade" – a fictitious phenomenon – rips dimensional seams, devastating the facility. Aliens from another world—known as Xen—subsequently enter the facility through these dimensional seams (an event known as the "Black Mesa incident").
As Freeman tries to make his way out of the ruined facility to find help for the injured, he soon discovers that he is caught between two sides: the hostile aliens and the Hazardous Environment Combat Unit, a United States Marine Corps Special Forces division dispatched to cover up the incident by eliminating the aliens, as well as Dr. Freeman and the other surviving Black Mesa personnel. Throughout the game, a mysterious figure known (but not actually referred to in-game) as "G-Man" regularly appears, and seems to be monitoring Freeman's progress. Ultimately, Freeman uses the co-operation of surviving scientists and security officers to work his way towards the mysterious "Lambda Complex" of Black Mesa (signified with the Greek "λ" character), where a team of survivors teleport him to the alien world Xen to kill the Nihilanth, the creature keeping Xen's side of the dimensional rift open.
The game's plot was originally inspired by the video games Doom, Quake (both PC games produced by id Software), and Resident Evil (game published by Capcom), Stephen King's short story/novella The Mist, and an episode of The Outer Limits called "The Borderland." It was later developed by Valve's in-house writer and author, Marc Laidlaw, who wrote the books Dad's Nuke and The 37th Mandala.
Gordon Freeman rides a tram from his dormitory deep into the heart of the Black Mesa Facility, on his way to the Anomalous Materials Lab to begin his work. He arrives at the lab and has the front door opened by a security guard. Inside, Freeman learns that a computer systems failure has complicated communications between the Black Mesa scientists and that he must acquire his Hazardous Environment suit (or H.E.V suit) before proceeding to the test chamber, where he is to assist the more senior scientists with an experiment. Freeman reports to the Anomalous Materials Lab, where he is tasked with pushing a "specimen" into the scanning beam for analysis. Following that, he inadvertently causes a time-space catastrophe called a "resonance cascade," opening a portal between Earth and a bizarre world called Xen. Freeman is sporadically teleported there and catches glimpses of various alien lifeforms, shortly before blacking out.
Freeman awakens in the ruins of the Anomalous Materials lab and stumbles through the wreckage, strewn with the bodies of scientists and security personnel. After discovering survivors, Freeman learns communications with the outside world are down, and decides to gradually make his way to the surface for help, in the process sidestepping Black Mesa's structural damage and defending himself against hostile aliens randomly teleporting in from Xen. The survivors, including Eli Vance, initially claim that a rescue team will be arriving shortly, only to discover that the Hazardous Environment Combat Unit, which has taken control of Black Mesa, is killing both the aliens and the employees there as part of a government cover-up. Freeman fights the Marines before finally reaching the surface of Black Mesa, where he learns that the secretive Lambda Team may have the means to solve the problems brought on by the cascade. Gordon must then reach the Lambda Complex at the other end of the facility to assist them.
The player is subsequently faced with several tasks, such as killing a giant, rapidly growing tentacle creature, riding across the facility on a railway system in order to reach a satellite rocket that must be launched in order to reverse the resonance cascade and fighting a group of mysterious Black Ops, before being captured by Marines and dumped in a garbage compactor. In Half-Life: Blue Shift, the protagonist, Barney Calhoun, saw Gordon being captured by the Marines. Gordon escapes without being crushed and makes his way to an older, secret part of the Facility where he discovers an extensive collection of specimens collected from Xen long before the resonance cascade.
Gordon again reaches the surface, which has become a warzone. The Vortigaunts, along with Alien Grunts and a giant monstrosity, have begun fighting the Marines, who are beginning to lose. They call in reinforcements, but it is not enough to turn the tide. The player must scale cliffs and navigate bombed out buildings while avoiding both sides. Finally, Gordon reaches relative safety underground.
The Marines begin to evacuate Black Mesa and airstrikes begin. At one point, the player must use the military equipment to call an air strike to re-enter the base. Gordon navigates underground water channels and tries to avoid scores of alien soldiers as they pick off remaining Marine stragglers. After much struggle, Gordon finally reaches the Lambda Complex, which is revealed to be the location where scientists developed the teleportation technology that allowed them to travel to Xen in the first place. Gordon reaches the handful of surviving personnel, who are holed up in a small stronghold, and discovers that the satellite he launched failed to reverse the effects of the resonance cascade because an immensely powerful being on the other side of the rift is keeping it open. Gordon must kill this being to prevent the Xen aliens from taking over completely. The scientists activate the teleporter and Gordon is relocated to Xen.
On the strange border world, Gordon encounters many of the alien species that had been brought into Black Mesa, as well as the remains of HEV-wearing researchers that came before him. The player engages in one of the game's few boss-style battles against Gonarch, a giant headcrab with a huge egg sac. After fighting his way through an alien camp, Gordon arrives at a huge alien factory complex, which engineers and builds the Alien Grunt soldiers. After fighting his way through mysterious levitating creatures, he finds a giant portal and enters it.
In a vast cave, Gordon finally confronts the Nihilanth, the creature who was maintaining the rift, and destroys it. As the creature dies, it explodes in a giant green blast that overpowers Gordon's senses. Gordon awakens unarmed in the presence of the G-Man. Both are transported to various locales around Xen, while the G-Man praises Freeman's actions in the border world. The G-Man explains that his "employers", believing that Gordon has "limitless potential", have authorized him to offer Freeman a job. The final teleportation takes the player to the original tram car, which is depicted as flying through space. If the player refuses the job offer, the G-Man teleports him to a location in front of a considerable number of alien enemies, stating, "No regrets, Mr. Freeman," as the screen fades out, saying "Subject Freeman. Status: Acceptance terminated." If the player accepts, by stepping into a portal, he finds himself floating in nothingness and hears the G-Man's voice one last time: "Wisely done, Mr. Freeman. I will see you up ahead." At this point it says "Subject Freeman. Status: Hired. Awaiting assignment."
The original code name for Half-Life was Quiver, after the Arrowhead military base from Stephen King's novella The Mist, which served as early inspiration for the game. Gabe Newell explained that the name Half-Life was chosen because it was evocative of the theme, not clichéd, and had a corresponding visual symbol: the Greek letter λ (lower-case lambda), which represents the decay constant in the half-life equation. According to one of the game's designers, Harry Teasley, Doom was a huge influence on most of the team working on Half-Life. Subsequently, according to Teasley, they wanted Half-Life to "scare you like Doom did".
The first public appearances of Half-Life came in early 1997; it was a hit at Electronic Entertainment Expo that year, where they primarily demonstrated the animation system and artificial intelligence. Valve Software hired science fiction author Marc Laidlaw in August 1997 to work on the game's characters and level design. Half-Life's soundtrack was composed by Kelly Bailey. Half-Life was originally planned to be shipped in late 1997, to compete with Quake II, but was postponed when Valve decided the game needed significant revision.
In a 2003 Making Of... feature in Edge, Newell discusses the team's early difficulties with level design. In desperation, a single level was assembled including every weapon, enemy, scripted event and level design quirk that the designers had come up with so far. This single level inspired the studio to press on with the game. As a result, the studio completely reworked the game's artificial intelligence and levels in the year leading up to its release. At E3 1998 it was given Game Critics Awards for "Best PC Game" and "Best Action Game". The release date was delayed several times in 1998 before the game was finally released in November of that year.
The demo for Half-Life was released on February 12, 1999. Entitled Uplink, the demonstration featured many of the weapons and non-player characters in Half-Life. Set 48 hours into the game, Uplink's levels are heavily revised variations of levels cut during Half-Life's development phase, and are not present in the end version of the full game.
Versions for the Dreamcast and Macintosh were essentially completed, but never commercially released. The Dreamcast edition was eventually leaked onto the internet. The Dreamcast version uses the same models as the Half-Life High Definition pack.
Gearbox Software was slated to release a port to the Dreamcast under contract by Valve and their then publisher Sierra On-Line near the end of 2000. At the ECTS 2000, a build of the game was playable on the publisher's stand, and developers Randy Pitchford and Brian Martel were in attendance to show it off and give interviews to the press. However, despite only being weeks from going gold, it was never commercially released; Sierra announced that Half-Life on Dreamcast was cancelled "due to changing market conditions" onset by third-party abandonment of the Dreamcast. That year Sierra On-Line showed a PlayStation 2 port at E3 2001. This version was released in North America in late October of the same year, followed by a European release just a month later. Around the same time, Half-Life: Blue Shift, which was intended to be a Dreamcast-exclusive side story, was released on PC as the second Half-life Expansion Pack.
Blue Shift returns the player to Half-Life's Black Mesa timeline once more, this time as Barney Calhoun, one of the facility's security guards. The expansion was originally developed as a bonus mission for the canceled Dreamcast version. Blue Shift came with the High Definition Pack, that gave the player the option to update the look of Half-Life, Opposing Force, and the new Blue Shift content. Blue Shift had relatively little new content compared to Opposing Force: aside from a few variations on existing models, all content was already present in the original Half-Life.
Half-Life: Decay was another expansion by Gearbox, released only as an extra with the PlayStation 2 version of Half-Life. The add-on featured cooperative gameplay in which two players could solve puzzles or fight against the many foes in the Half-Life universe.
In 2000, a compilation pack titled the Half-Life: Platinum Pack was released, including (with their respective manuals) Half-Life, Counter-Strike, Team Fortress Classic, and Half-Life: Opposing Force. In 2002, the pack was re-released under the new titles Half-Life Platinum Collection and Half-Life: Generation. These new iterations also included the Half-Life: Blue Shift expansion pack. In 2005, Half-Life 1: Anthology was released, containing Steam-only versions of the following games on a single CD: Half-Life, Half-Life: Opposing Force, Half-Life: Blue Shift, and Team Fortress Classic.
To experience firsthand the processes mod-makers would have to go through with the new engine, Valve ported Half-Life (dubbed Half-Life: Source) and Counter-Strike to their new Source engine. Half-Life: Source is a straight port, lacking any new content or the Blue Shift High Definition pack. However, it does take advantage of vertex and pixel shaders for more realistic water effects, as well as Half-Life 2's realistic physics engine. They also added several other features from Half-Life 2, including improved dynamic lightmaps, vertex maps, and a shadowmap system with cleaner, higher resolution, specular texture and normal maps, as well as utilization of the render-to-texture soft shadows found in Half-Life 2's Source engine, along with 3D skybox replacements in place of the old 16-bit color prerendered bitmap skies. The Half-Life port possesses many of the Source engine's graphical strengths as well as control weaknesses that have been noted in the Source engine. Half-Life: Source is available with special editions of Half-Life 2, or separately on Steam.
Half-Life Source has been criticized for not fully utilizing many of the features of the Source engine found in Half-Life 2, as it still uses textures and models from the original game. Due to this, a third-party mod remake called Black Mesa is also under development.
On June 10, 2005, Valve announced through their Steam update news service an upcoming port of Half-Life Deathmatch, the multiplayer portion of the original game, much in the same fashion as the earlier released Half-Life: Source. No exact release date was given, simply the words "In the coming weeks..." On July 2, 2005, Half-Life Deathmatch: Source was released.
An SDK for Half-Life has been released and is being used as a base for many multiplayer mods such as Counter-Strike. Other multiplayer mods include Team Fortress Classic (TFC), Day of Defeat (DOD), Deathmatch Classic (DMC), Action Half-Life, Firearms, Science and Industry, The Specialists, and Natural Selection. TFC and DMC were developed in-house at Valve Software. Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat, and others that began life as the work of independent developers (self-termed "modders"), later on received aid from Valve. There was even a free team-based multiplayer mod called Underworld Bloodline created to promote the Sony Pictures movie Underworld.
Numerous single player mods have also been created, like USS Darkstar (1999, a futuristic action-adventure onboard a zoological research spaceship), The Xeno Project 1 and 2 (1999-2005, a two-part mod starting in Xen and again including spaceships), Edge of Darkness (2000, which features some unused Half-Life models), Half-Life: Absolute Redemption (2000, which brings back Gordon Freeman for four additional episodes and another encounter with the G-Man), They Hunger (2000-2001, a survival horror total conversion trilogy involving zombies), and Poke646 (2001, a follow-up to the original Half-Life story with improved graphics).
Some Half-Life modifications eventually landed on retail shelves. Counter-Strike was the most successful, unexpectedly becoming the biggest selling online game to date and having been released in five different editions: as a standalone product (2000), as part of the Platinum Pack (2000), as an Xbox version (2003) as the single player spin-off, Counter-Strike: Condition Zero (2004), and the newest addition, Counter-Strike: Source, which runs on Half-Life 2's Source engine. Team Fortress Classic, Day of Defeat and Gunman Chronicles (2000, a futuristic Western movie-style total conversion with emphasis on its single player mode) were also released as stand-alone products.
Half-Life was critically acclaimed, earning an overall score of 96% on review collection website Metacritic. IGN described it as "a tour de force in game design, the definitive single player game in a first person shooter." IGN has also respected the game as one of the most influential video games. GameSpot claimed that it was the "closest thing to a revolutionary step the genre has ever taken". GameSpot inducted Half-Life into their "Greatest Games of All Time" list in May 2007. In 2004, GameSpy held a Title Fight, in which readers voted on what they thought was the "greatest game of all time", and Half-Life was the overall winner of the survey. In the November 1999, October 2001, and April 2005 issues of PC Gamer, Half-Life was named "Best Game of All Time"/"Best PC Game Ever". The popularity of the Half-Life series has led way to an array of side products and collectibles. Valve offers Half-Life-related products such as a plush vortigaunt, plush headcrab, posters, clothing, and mousepads.
The immersive gaming experience and interactive environment was cited by several reviewers as being revolutionary. Allgame said "It isn't everyday that you come across a game that totally revolutionizes an entire genre, but Half-Life has done just that." Hot Games commented on the realness of the game, and how the environment "all adds up to a totally immersive gaming experience that makes everything else look quite shoddy in comparison. Gamers Depot found the game engaging, stating that they have "yet to play a more immersive game period".
Despite the praise that the game has received, there have also been some complaints. The Electric Playground said that Half-Life was an "immersive and engaging entertainment experience", but cited that this only lasted for the first half of the game, citing that the game "peaked too soon". The Cincinnati Enquirer complaints focused on the problems stemming from the puzzle-oriented gameplay, saying that "on several occasions, you'll be forced to make almost impossible jumps" and that "the frustration distances you from a story that should have absorbed you.
Guinness World Records awarded Half-Life with the world record for "Best-Selling First-Person Shooter of All Time (PC)" in the Guinness World Records: Gamer's Edition 2008.