Hello to all of our followers and newcomers. Here’s a special piece from our friend over at Wookiefragger Gaming.
The First-Person shooter is one of the most popular and enduring game genres, with a rich history that includes some of the most important video games ever made. In the 2000s, shooters would come to flood the market, and with each passing year, it became more difficult for the cream to rise to the top, but in the 1990s, the genre was marked by mighty classics that stood out like redwoods among the bushes. I’m referring to games like Doom, Quake, Duke Nukem 3D, Goldeneye… and Half-Life.
During that decade, realtime 3D graphics were going through some rapid growth spurts, and standing apart from the rest of the pack was often accomplished by trying out new ideas as the technology allowed, but sometimes, a game could distinguish itself by polishing ideas that were previously explored, but limited by hardware constraints, and Half-Life is pretty much the exemplar of this. Some of the greatest strengths of the first-person genre are its intensity, instant gratification, and its ability to immerse players into the mindset of the game, and Valve, the developers of played to these strengths by designing the game as one long, continuous environment, broken up only by the occasional loading screen. But never a level transition.
The primary setting of the game (the Black Mesa Research facility), is a fully realized setting, with dark secrets, strange quirks, and a cold, cynical logic in its design. Much like Shadow Moses Island in Metal Gear Solid, Black Mesa is a place where the left hand was never intended to know what the right hand was doing, and now that things have gone wrong, the powers responsible are still trying to manipulate events from the shadows, with the player caught in the middle.
In Metal Gear, this meant Solid Snake, but in Half-Life, this just means you. Well, technically it means Gordon Freeman, (Half-Life’s protagonist) but Gordon is a character devoid of characterization. A person seemingly with no voice, the character of Gordon Freeman only emerges through his actions, and with no morality -or lack thereof ascribed to him by anything other than the decisions of the player. While the game mostly only lets you interact with situations and people in terms of violence, not everyone in the game is an enemy, and the possibility for selfishness exists in these interactions with friendly non-player characters. Do you try to save the scientists, or just try to survive? Do you ask the guard to accompany you, or do you take his weapon for yourself? In terms of the greater plot, these moments don’t count for much, but, assuming that you finish the game, how you played it will have defined whether or not Gordon was a hero, or just a survivor.
Half-Life’s impact on first-person game design really cannot be overstated. The game made heavy use of scripted sequences in order to advance its plot as well as to shock, astound, or otherwise provide satisfaction to the player, and all of this without ever resorting to the use of cut scenes. While games at large wouldn’t ultimately treat in-game scripted sequences as an alternative to cinematics, their use became a staple of the medium in the years following Half-Life’s arrival, and these kinds of sequences are often among the most memorable parts of any game. It certainly -obviously- wasn’t the first game to marry the progression of a game’s story with the actual act of playing the game, and that’s not the kind of credit I’m trying to give it here. However, it did it all so expertly that once the game proved to be a commercial triumph, an entire industry snapped to attention and started taking notes.
When compared to the other classic shooters of its day, Half-Life didn’t distinguish itself through its technical or gameplay innovations. Instead, it was distinguished by its craft. A frantic and chaotic thrill ride with an eerie science-fiction yarn, and sold by detailed environments and intense scenarios it sparked positive changes in first-person game design. It is still a source of pure excitement for gamers, as well as inspiration for developers. Every part of what made Half-Life great could be seen in other games before its arrival, but collected and employed in the service of Gordon Freeman’s harrowing adventure, each separate element sings together in harmony. It is this culmination of possibilities that makes Half-Life a shining example of the genre, and to this day, it still stands as one of the finest testaments to the potential of the first-person shooter.
Thanks again to Wookiefragger Gaming! Subscribe to his YouTube channel for more if you liked what you read. And feel free to follow us on twitter @TehLunchboxPub!