Poll Question 064 – Which Half-Life game has the best start?

4th January 2008

Single Player First Person Shooter Maps and Mods for Half-Life 1, 2 and Episodes 1, 2 and 3

This question contains spoilers regarding ALL the half-life series games.

I recently played Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and was partly impressed by the start and partly disappointed. I’ll discuss each game’s start in a moment but first this week’s poll question.

Which Half-Life game has the best start?

When I say “start” I’m thinking about the first ten minutes or so. Allow me to give a brief introduction to each game, along with my personal views on it. You may wish to vote before reading the rest of this article.

Single Player First Person Shooter Maps and Mods for Half-Life 1, 2 and Episodes 1, 2 and 3

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, from the moment that silky-voiced announcer started telling me the temperature on that now famous tram ride I was hooked. I thought the start to Unreal was great (And I still believe that) but this was even better. It started like an interactive movie; credits rolling, information given, both visual and textual, and yet I could still move around. I had some control over where I looked. I saw the basic setting of the game that made the whole thing seems almost real.

Then I get off the tram and am allowed total control over where I roamed, people to kinda interact with, places to see. Finally my task is outlined and off I go to do what I am apparently trained to do.

“But wait, this isn’t supposed to happen, what have I done. It’s not my fault, surely.”

Too late Freeman, you are now responsible for whatever happens. Only one thing to do and that’s get help. And so starts my journey, both within the game and metaphorically to this site and this poll and this sentence!

The first ten minutes of this game changed my life and I love it. I make no bones about it, this is the best start to any game I have ever experienced.

Single Player First Person Shooter Maps and Mods for Half-Life 1, 2 and Episodes 1, 2 and 3

The macho b*llsh*t often seen in many games doesn’t interest me in the slightest. The characters are complete clichés but apparently the game-buying public like them so here they are!

The creators’ desire to make me feel part of a group worked though, and whilst I don’t like these types of characters I did feel part of their team. The opening sequence of Opposing Force tried to recreate that initial journey and scene-setting but definitely didn’t reach the heights that Half-Life did. However, it does a great job of making the player feel part of something and also of continuing the story.

After the crash, the player has little time to consider his position because straight away there are objectives to achieve and in this way the flow is excellent. I immediately became immersed and any thoughts of comparison are gone because I am in the think of the puzzles and actions. A good start to a game and if it weren’t for Half-Life I would have loved it.

Single Player First Person Shooter Maps and Mods for Half-Life 1, 2 and Episodes 1, 2 and 3

I have a confession to make. I actually had to go back and replay the first few minutes becasue I had completely forgotten how this game started. That in itself is not a good sign but that could be more my fault than the game’s.

Anyway, the player once again starts on the tram system of Black Mesa but this time the thrill of discovering is missing. I already know about Black Mesa and the various security zones etc. It follows the same pattern as Half-Life in that you have the tram ride, the free form exploration and finally the “disaster” in the form of the elevator failure.

However, following the same formula isn’t a bad thing except it’s a little too “samey”. Perhaps a different form of transport at the beginning might have sparked my interest or even 90% outside journey may have been enough to separate the two games. As it was I just have the feeling that it’s a copy.

The elevator section is very good and again sets the scene, as the player is instantly aware that they are in some deep trouble! However, that is not enough to drag this beginning up enough to warrant a “great” rating.

Single Player First Person Shooter Maps and Mods for Half-Life 1, 2 and Episodes 1, 2 and 3

Ok, so now we are back to playing as Gordon Freeman and this game has the advantage over the three previous ones of having incredible graphics. You could argue that the 3 previous games had great graphics for the time and they did but we are making a direct comparison, so it’s hard to balance that out.

The G-man has always been a mysterious character and this game only adds to that mystery. Not only are the graphics exceptional they are used to great effect with a close-up of the G-man, his facial expressions, lip movements and eyes, all had me transfixed. The voice and the words themselves are perfectly matched. So far, so good. The screen fades to a train carriage, no doubt a homage to Half-Life, and again the player has the feeling of a movie intro; credits, scene setting and some freedom of movement.

Once off the train we are allowed to wander for the most part but are still eventually force to go the way the Combine (Valve!) want us to. This section introduces the use of physics, but not too much, just enough to get us both accustomed to the technique required and also get us excited as to the possibilities.

Luckily we are met by our old friend from Blue Shift, Barney Calhoun, and this is a clever piece of game production because it connects us to the previous games but also allows us to have a familiar story-telling device.

Once past Barney, we have some great views of the new environment and a chance for some action. Within a few minutes we are knocked out but low and behold, a “female interest” appears in the form of Alyx. Now we have everything set for the next roller coaster ride.

Single Player First Person Shooter Maps and Mods for Half-Life 1, 2 and Episodes 1, 2 and 3

You awaken to find yourself at the base of the Citadel with Alyx and Dog looking for you. The view is a dramatic start to what I consider to be a mediocre game. However, we are not talking about the whole game, just the beginning, so back on topic!

Once you find your bearings and are given an update to the story, it’s time for one of the highlights of the game; the leap across the gap. You and Alyx sit in a car while dog manages to show his strength and skill.
(I presume it’s male otherwise Alyx would have called it bitch, don’t you agree?! Ha! Now that has to be a start to a new game if ever I heard one. Dog and Bitch: The adventure Continues!)

Back on topic, damn it! Of course the throw/leap or whatever you want to call it doesn’t go exactly to plan and boy do you get more than you bargained for. It’s a great ride and you suddenly find yourself not exactly where you want to be. It’s fun but I got the feeling that it was added more because it was fun than anything else.

Not the worst start to a game but I happily saved the game and came back to it later.

Single Player First Person Shooter Maps and Mods for Half-Life 1, 2 and Episodes 1, 2 and 3

Onto the latest and greatest. This game has a completely new feel and starts with a proper episode recap in cinema mode of what’s recently happened. It’s great but I can’t help feeling it had include the whole story from Black Mesa to now. Of course that’s because I love the whole thing!

Once the show is over it’s time for action or more likely recover from yet another disaster. And he is where I am starting to feel a little jaded. Too often I seem to have to extricate myself from some disaster right and the beginning. The games should be called yo-yo because that’s how it feels.

Without doubt the highlight of this game is the view of the citadel and the bridge of marching Combine. If that doesn’t get a player going then few things can. I have the scene set, along with a clear objective.

I’m trying not to let my enthusiam for the game cloud my judgment of the opening ten minutes and I don’ think I have. It’s beautiful, functional but lacks the emotion of Half-Life.


Unlike other poll questions where I detail the choices, here I have been very clear with my opinions. I could have easily just stuck to descriptions of the opening sequence but chose not to. I wanted to express my thoughts and I did.

I suppose I would have preferred to have waited for the release of Episode 3, but there’s no reason why I can’t run this poll question again after is has been released. Perhaps restrict it to the 3 episodes, who knows.

Next week, I’ll look at the game endings.


Here are the links to the Wikipedia entries for each game. I am linking to these because I find these very concise, however you may find the resource on half-life.wikia.com useful, I haven’t made a comparison.

The Poll


  1. MikeS

    In the late eighties I owned a Commordore Amiga and played games constantly. Then I got married, the Amiga was sold and I didn’t return to gaming until 2005, and Half-Life 2. I still remember my first sortie outside the train station…wow! And then wow again when I saw the water in the canals and raced around in the airboat. Games had come a long way since 1989! Few things in gaming have given me that same thrill so I have to say HL2 has the best start for me.

    But if we sidestep out of the HL universe (sort of), I’d say Portal gives it a run for its money with its haunting music and GLaDOS’s voice.

  2. Luke L

    HL1 will always have a special place because it was just brilliant and unique compared to a lot of the other FPS from that era. The beginning of HL2 was a real disappointment for me, having to wait at a loading scene every 5 minutes. It was a beautifully crafted world, but that constant break ruined the immersiveness. Ep1 was good but the ride went almost too fast, you could barely make out what was going on and all to soon you were back in the action. Ep2 which I’ve yet to finish, I’ve got to the last strider battle but haven’t had any time since to complete, is amazing. It is easily my favourite of all the recent games, the wide open spaces, epic battles, it’s all just brilliant. So yeah, HL1 for sheer nostalgia, but ep2 for modern day goodness.

  3. Tough one.I really liked the EP2 opening because of the graphics but HL1 was the same back in the day as it’s graphics were excellent for its time.Gonna have to think on this one.

  4. Fight between HL1 and BS in my case. In the long run though I would pick BS.

  5. Just a reminder people we voting and discussing the START not the whole game.

  6. Zockopa

    I admit I like HL2EP2 a lot and the opening is
    stunning but still I choose the introsequence of
    HL1 because its a “cool” intro in my opinion.

  7. el_espaniol

    Many at all…:-)…;…but ” Azure Sheep ” is one of the best…

  8. Matthew

    I have to say Ep2’s beginning was a dissapointment to me. Sure the graphics where great but I just didn’t like the way it dropped me into immediate action. In HL1 you were confined in the train and all you could do was look. It got you settled into the game nicely. Ep1 kept you in that small area for a short while which was good. I wasn’t so keen on Opposing Force because you couldn’t move at all and had to listen to the soldiers” babble (like the reviewer said).

  9. Hmmm. Though one.
    I like HL 1 because of the freedom it gave you and the resonance cascade.
    I like HL 2 because of the citadel in the plaza and the atmosphere it convaid.
    And EP 1 because of what happens both plot wise as the “car ride” (I feel the actually type quote unquote with that one).
    Need a bit more time.

  10. symple

    Prefer HL2 beginning.

    If I made a game my starting sequence would be the hero in a foggy environment behind sandbags with a powerfull machine gun. Some team members shoveling orders like, dont let them enter the perimeter or something like that. Then loads of zombies would come for about 1,30 minute with no signs of stopping. Then suddenly a chopter comes and sprays the evil zombies with bullets. Death from above! Hurray, youŕe saved. The screen fades to black and then you see yourself making the cleanup. Transporting bodies to a pile to make it burn. Suddnly the zombie you and your buddie are carriing wakes up and bites him in the arm. You draw your sidearm and you have the choice of shotting the zombie or just wait for your team to react. then your commander gives you the order to shoot your teammate that was infected. If you kill the guy you play with the zombie squad. If you let him be, you would be expelled from the army and play as a survivor in a zombie infected city. What do you think?

  11. Buried beneath rubble then to get rescued by Alyx and Dog,got to be the best start for me.

  12. Half-Life 1, as well as being revolutionary as an opening when the game first came out, I still think it’s the best of the series (although the rest aren’t far behind). HL2’s is kind of similar but doesn’t capture the random pissing people off and other such happenings in HL1’s opening (throwing physics objects gets a response, but it’s always similar and very little’s optional, unlike the various little events you can trigger in the HL1 opening).

    Episode 2’s opening seems the hardest to define; is it until the effects show at the start, or is after the “event” with Alyx (not the shack, the other one 😉 )?

  13. Ol" Kenny

    I actually think the best really is Half-Life 2. Good examples are the time there are dialogs in Episode 1, to situate the player (beginning of course), the impact caused in HL1 with the tram ride and resonance cascade factor and Op. Force innovative character with it’s situation (he is wounded and get’s help by BM science team… Should play if you still didn’t).

  14. Ol" Kenny

    By the way, where is the voting pool to that one?

  15. Ol" Kenny

    Nevermind, found it (sorry for all the posts!)

  16. Manual_Monaro

    Half-Life 2. Except for the Uplink demo, I played through HL2 before HL1, so it had a larger impact.

    At the time, I thought that G-Man scene at the start was ‘the best thing ever” or something like that. Then I was captivated by the detail I saw in the world, the way the citizens, glum looking, swaying about slightly as the train plods along.

    The immersion I felt as I stepped of the train was immense. Dr. Breen was intimidating, appearing upon the large screen welcoming me to this bleak city. The oppression just gave that sense of emotion.

    When you leave the station to be greeted by the square, with another Breen-screen sitting in the foreground, with the Citadel’s intimidating stature towering in the background for the first time… It was such an amazing spectacle.

    I’m getting a bit over myself here, but I just loved it that first time. When I bought HL1 a few months later, I admitted to myself that the intro was indeed amazing — But it didn’t have the same effect as HL2.

    Other than that, I liked the intro to Episode 1. The scene with the vortigaunts whisking you away from the G-Man’s grasp was mesmerizing… it’s nothing like HL2’s G-Man speech, but fairly good nonetheless.

    What I love most about this intro is when, as you fade to black, streaks of light appear through the darkness as you hear both Alyx and Dog scrounging around. Dog removes a few rocks and pokes his head in before lifting you out. As he lifts you out, you’re given a first-hand look at the aftermath of the Citadel’s dark fusion reactor destruction, which is a sight to behold.

    And yes, the van jump was bloody good fun!

    My least favourite intro is, in fact, Episode 2. As much as I love this game, the intro started off VERY abrupt. Yes, there was the little video recap, but I ignored that as being ” part” of the ” true” intro.

    Yes, I loved the vista of the destroyed City 17, the portal storm, the collapsing bridge, the communiqu with White Forest and especially the tense scene leading up to Alyx’s attack by the Hunter and the Vortiguant’s retrieval of her etc. etc.

    But, as I said, it started off way too abrupt. No G-Man, no brilliant set-piece, no trippy effects, no revelations… But the aforementioned actions/scenes that followed made up for it. And although it’s not the intro at all, the G-Man’s eventual appearance is definitely my favourite G-Man scene — Ever…

  17. Episode 2’s intro was abrupt, but I think it needed to be. This whole chapter was about urgency, and Gordon and Alyx’s struggle to deliver the data packet to White Forest as quickly as possible. The fact that you barely have time to catch your breath after that huge train crash merely adds to this, in my opinion.

    For me, the best intro is a close call between HL and HL2.

    HL’s intro was long and slow but firstly it made you aware of what Black Mesa is like on a normal day, which increased the impact when it became abnormal, and secondly it built a great feeling of suspense… the “calm before the storm” as it were.

    HL2, on the other hand, was clearly far more scripted but it did a wonderful job of showing you how the world had changed while Gordon had been away and what sort of implications these changes had for humanity. The dialogue for Breen and the G-man is so well written and just as well delivered, I couldn’t help but stare in awe.

  18. wisemx

    Thanks for taking the time for this, very good article.

  19. Thanks for taking the time for this, very good article.

    Thank you and welcome to my site.

  20. Vehk

    Half-Life 2

    Clever, atmospheric and dramatic. Instantly immersive. Feeling of powerlessness.. The short rooftops part is fantastic.

  21. Ahh… the chase through the apartments is FANTASTIC!

  22. 23-down

    I would say hl1 with its limits of that time period then hl2 and then opposing force which was just cool.

  23. muleKick

    I think HL1’s opening is the most spectacular in terms of what it was trying to do, but HL2’s opening was more functional in that it serves to set up the story and foreshadow what’s to come. I’d give the nod to HL2 simply because it does more for the game overall than HL1’s opening did.

    Op4 is on another planet altogether, and Blue Shift was “here, have more HL while you wait for HL2.”

    For Ep1, overall I felt it was too much stuff crammed into too short a game. Ep2 is the better episode by far but both their openings are pretty much just picking up where you left off.

  24. Mel

    It’s go to be HL1 that opening train transet ride changed games for ever.

  25. Kasperg

    HL2 and the episodes use the Citadel as an instant way to setup the story. In HL2, not only does it work perfectly for the intro (the towering menace of the Combine), but it’s used throughout the game to move the story. You get far away from it during the canals maps, and once you return, the Citadel ins omnipresent and closer all the time. It’s a perfect reference point to motivate players. Even when you first see it in the plaza, you know the top of that tower is your ultimate destination.
    Episode1 works the other way around, you need to get as far away as possible.

  26. Anonymous

    Half-life 1’s start, though a nice display of what the engine offered, is very long and boring. Let’s not forget that Half-life 1 didn’t start AT the resonance cascade, but with a tram ride where you could do nothing, but look around at everything.

    I’ll admit that the first time I played it, it was interesting. However, Half-life 2’s introduction blew me away. The GMan’s words are both poetic and chilling, and the effects done on and off his face are still something I’m trying to figure out.

    With Episode 1 and 2, I didn’t particularly care so much for the introductions, although it was nice to see what new models Valve put in (since it’s pretty much come down to that to differentiate them, sadly).

  27. Finally decided on HL 2.
    It sets a great atmosphere, with the dialouges (especially the G-man’s and dr. Breen’s speeches), lighting, visuals and the chase through the appartment and rooftops is great as well. It really sets the story.
    HL 1 comes a really close second because of the freedom and humour it offers.

  28. Splatzone

    I’ve decided on HL1, definitely.

    The graphics were (and still are!) amazing, the tram voice is great, so much detail, so little time!

  29. My three best Intro’s can each be described with two words which define what they are the best at introducing.

    HL2 – Combine World – This introduces you perfectly to a world controlled by a totalitarian alien race and how ALIVE that world manages to be despite the desolation.

    HL1 – Black Mesa – I’ll never forget the one part of the Tram’s speech “if you feel you have been exposed to radiation…” just as you cross over a huge pit filled with toxic waste leaking from a huge silo type container. Completely set the mood for the entire game.

    HL2: Ep1 – Gravity Gun – This was the best introduction to the Gravity gun ever. you got it right from minute 1, and was able to use the super gravity gun through most of the first chapter.

  30. Amanda

    My favourite beginnings in order with ratings out of 10:

    1. HL2EP1 (10)
    2. HL2 (10)
    3. HL1 (10)
    4. HL2EP2 (6)

    My favourite endings in order with ratings out of 10:

    1. HL2EP2 (10)
    2. HL2 (10)
    3. HL2EP1 (8)
    4. HL1 (7)

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