Series-ous Talk – Half-Life

One of the Logos for the Series.

With the release of Half-Life: Alyx coming out at the end of this month, I thought that this series deserves the attention that it deserves. This series has always been one of my favorites in terms of the games themselves and the modding community it inspired. Without further adieu, let’s dive into this franchise that redefined the conventions of what an FPS stands for.

Screenshot of the original Half-Life showing Gordon Freeman facing off against Vortigaunts, a race that reappears throughout the franchise.

The original Half-Life was released in 1998 and was the first product to come from Valve, a studio that would later create one of the world’s most widely used video game distribution services, Steam. The gameplay itself revolves around Gordon Freeman, a scientist at the Black Mesa Research Facility, as he needs to escape following the events of a resonance cascade that causes aliens to enter our world. The game was praised for not only having many elements of horror and first-person shooter elements coupled with puzzle solving segments that helped it stand apart from other titles on the market, but it introduced scripted sequences and a unique, engaging story that helped the series develop a universe of epic proportions. The advances made with the GoldSrc engine, which was a modified version of the Quake game engine, allowed for better physics systems giving more realistic facial and skeletal animations, artificial intelligence, and a user-friendly map making tool. Valve would later release SDK tools that allowed for independent studios and developers to create their own games and assets, which resulted in the creation of Counter-Strike, Team Fortress, and Day of Defeat by these developers. The other releases during this period helped build a more rounded story, new characters, and different items that could be used. Even after being praised by critics and audiences alike, earning over 50 Game of the Year awards, and serving as a model for modern shooters, no one was ready for the next entry in the series.

Half-Life 2 (above) showed several improvements with lighting, textures, and models. All of these elements helped to create dynamic atmospheres and environments.

Despite having a large leak of the game and some delays, Half-Life 2 was released in 2004 and became quite a force in the games industry after release. The story continues with Gordon Freeman, 20 years after the events of the original release, as he must now fight the occupation of the Earth by the Combine, a race from a different dimension. This game presented the player to new environments that made use of better animations, graphics, physics, sound, AI, and narration due to the improvements of the Source engine. I would say that this game deserves to be called one of the greatest games of all time due to how it impacted the way the game industry sought to develop their games and the impact it had on the community. Much like the original game, the modding community upon the release of Half-Life 2 and the Source engine created a variety of unique assets and maps that would later become standalone titles, many of which have been cited as universal successes. The episodic release further cemented Half-Life as a game that went beyond just game mechanics, showing the power of visuals, narrative, and sound design as being important aspects to creating great games.

Screenshot from Team Fortress 2, a modification that was later adopted by Valve and turned into it’s own standalone release. The Source engine gave many developers access to useful tools that gave rise to various types of games and designs.

To anyone who has purchased the Valve Index to play the upcoming game in the franchise, which may I remind you has been over 13 years in the making, take some time to go back and play the games that started it all. Take the time to appreciate how far the series has come along and admire how these titles can still compete to modern day games.

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