Recently, I was browsing Half-Life Library and on the frontpage I noticed a link to somebody called Kevin Bowen. I have to admit I had never heard of him, but I was curious. I read a little about him and followed the link to his Top Ten Reasons Half-Life is Still #1.
Having quite enjoyed the piece I felt it was time for me to write something similar. So, here are my 10 reasons why I love the Half-Life series of games.
Reason 1: Gordon Freeman, the guy we can all relate to.
Don’t get me wrong, Gordon IS a super hero but not in the traditional sense.
I was watching the trailer for Crysis 2 yesterday and thought how cliched it was. The Hero, I don’t even know his name, is standing there and it’s clear that the concept behind him is this kick ass, military guy. Gordon is a scientist for goodness sake, thrust into the hero role, not by choice but by circumstance. That profile fits at least 95% of all gamers. We are “wanna bes”; Joe public with goofy glasses.
During the game we use planning and intelligence, not just brute force. Sure, some of the weapons we have are very powerful but we only get them when we need them and that’s important. There’s very little overkill in the games or the characters.
Coupled with the fact that Gordon, although inadvertently, started the whole thing off, makes Gordon the playing character perfect. We threw the excrement that collided with the air modulation unit (“shit hits the fan“) and we have to clean it up.
Reason 2: We lost the 7 Hour War
Yes, we did. Humans suck against alien invaders. Face it and get over it. It’s hard for me to believe that aliens would travel all the way here and pick a fight with us if they didn’t think they could win easily (yes, there are probably lots of scenarios where that might not be the case but forget those). I find situations where humans fight against aliens and win unbelievable. If we don’t get our backsides kicked, it doesn’t seem real to me.
We lost and now we have become their bitches. There are a few underground resistance fighters left to uphold our moral ground, and that seems just about right in the circumstances.
The fact we are only just surviving makes our small victories even more sweet. We have a long way to go before we finally win. Don’t forget that the time between HL1 and HL2 is quite a few years, so humans have been fighting for a while.
Being part of the resistance is one aspect of what makes the story interesting. Not every civilian is against the Universal Union, so we have levels of co-operation and resistance. Actually, I would have liked to see a few citizens work against Freeman, simply because I feel that would be realistic.
Reason 3: The Gman
Is he good or evil? Does he really want to help Earth but is doing it in a way that is hard for us to see? What’s the significance of the briefcase? Those and many other questions have yet to be answered. This keeps us wanting more and I doubt we will ever learn the complete truth about him.
From a gaming point of view he could almost be considered a Deus ex machina. He can get Gordon out of situations that would be impossible otherwise (End of HL2?). Not only that but he provides an interesting twist by occasionally being helpful and sometimes not. Those sightings have become a minor but fun aspect of all the games.
He also seems to be more important as each game or episode is released. Will Episode 3 reveal even more details? Will his role be finally explained. Does he only have one suit?
Reason 4: The Enemies
What I love about the enemies that Valve throw at us is the depth of thought behind them. Actually, what I love is the idea of the headcrab. I’ve discussed it before but I love how they took the basic headcrab and zombie and evolved them into varying forms.
Not only the Xen ones but the Combine enemies are pretty damn cool too. The white padded uniform of the Elite Guards is a touch of genius. It’s basically saying “I am so bad ass I don’t need to hide. In fact I WANT you to see me coming!”.
Sure, every game has enemies, it would be pretty boring without them, but the HL enemies have enough variety to keep me interested, with the challenge being different for each one. In so many games I’ve played the enemies seem too “samey” and repetitive.
Reason 5: The HEV.
The HEV is often forgotten as we rarely see it due to the fact we are wearing it. It can zoom the vision (although don’t ask how, since there’s no helmet), it has a built-in flashlight, it protects from hazardous material, can inject morphine, is silver and orange (okay, not really important but it looks cool and geeky at the same time. None of that braided carbon stuff.), it talks to you. In short it’s the mother we wished we had.
Whilst I love it, I am surprised that nobody has made a mod with some new features. It seems ripe for adding a rocket pack or built in defensive weapons. Come Kliener, surely you could have come up with some Q-style gadgets by now.
That said, we wouldn’t want too much else we lose the feel that it’s the man not the suit that is the hero. The suit allows us, the player, to be non-military yet still have some cool abilities. It’s an under-rated piece of gaming genius.
Reason 6: Alyx.
Personally, I don’t like her but she allows Valve to make the time difference between his last apperance in Half-Life 1 and his first Appearance in Half-Life 2 more personal. She is also a wonderful story-telling device and a little eye candy at the same time.
Not only does she save Gordon’s ass right at the beginning (re-enforcing the idea that he is just a normal guy) but she is also pretty handy with a pistol too. In fact, she is a gentle introduction to the idea of squads.
Why the hell haven’t we had mods with her as the playing character I’ll never know.
Reason 7: The Locations.
Black Mesa was a complete dream for me; secret bases with industrial and science settings float my boat, there´s no doubt about that.
Walking out of the station into City 17´s main square was a joy and I kinda wish that Valve had not released any sort of screenshot or media for this. That way the shock and WOW factor would have been increased.
The beach areas of Half-Life 2 were gorgeous and also had great gameplay. The Citadel also brought back a feeling of grandeur that some of the sections of Black Mesa had. Large architecture also brings me joy, especially in gaming. Episode 2 was a delight with is forest and mountain region feel.
The locations change constantly and this keeps it interesting and fresh.
Reason 8: The Gravity Gun
It´s so versatile; you can open ventilations shaft covers, carry large and heavy objects and then not see where you are going, fling buckets of paint hundreds of feet into the air, skim doors across the sea, in fact almost anything you can imagine. Oh, did I mention you can kill enemies with it?
The Crossbow is fun for a while, the shotgun keeps you amused for melee zombiefests and the alt fire of the AR2 allows you to play breakout with Combine Soldiers, nothing and I repeat nothing, keeps you amused for hours like the Gravity Gun.
Hell, pretty much all the weapons in Half-Life are available but the GG won´t been around for a few decades at least. Honestly, put your hand on your heart and say you wouldn´t wet yourself if on your birthday you opened a present and found this puppy in the box.
In fact, I reckon that William from Podcast17 would wet himself if it was just a replica. Actually, so would I.
Reason 9: Portal.
How can I use another game as a reason to love Half-Life? Well, easily, really. Playing Portal reminded me of all those little details I love so much about HL. The posters, the graffiti, the non-nonsensical melons, the gnome from Amelie, the list goes on. Some of those details were in Portal and connected both games.
Portal 2 will take it to a new level and as long as it’s SP I will be the happiest man in my trousers.
Reason 10: The Maps and Mods
Last but definitely not least, the maps and mods! There´s little doubt I would adore the Half-Life games without the community maps and mods, but I wouldn’t run away with them to get married. They would be more like an illicit affair while I played on Na Pali or other Unreal planet.
Community made maps have changed my life. They changed a hobby; playing games, into a passion; running this site.
Some mods just remind me that some people are so creative and I aspire to have half their abilities. Some maps make me more excited than Christmas morning and other mods frustrate me more than I thought possible. But I love them all, even the crappy ones because they are all part of our community!
Well, there you have them. 10 Reasons why I love the Half-Life series of games.
I can´t imagine myself ever being so taken by a computer game. When the series dies then I will go from being a serious gamer to a casual gamer. I know many will have trouble understanding that viewpoint, but I can’t see myself doing what I do for any other game. If I ever learn to map I will probably be one of the few mappers still making mods for Ep3 in 10 years time.
I would love to hear whether you agree with my points or if you have other reasons of your own for loving Half-Life. Please be sure to post a comment.