I’ve had this game since before Christmas, but tearing myself away from it to write these words has been something of a problem. Half-life is, you see, not your average run-of-the-mill 3D action shoot-em-up. Not by a long chalk. Here’s why; it’s got a real plot. Not just a convenient scene-setting story added after the game was already written, but a real plot that guides you through the entire game. It is this: as a scientist playing around with a strange new material, you and your colleagues accidentally set off a reaction that allows creatures from other dimensions to enter ours. And they’re not the nicest of beings, many of them resembling a cross between a Lovecraft nightmare and a Giger painting.
Initially, your goal is to get from the underground research facility to the surface, to warn the government and get help for your injured colleagues. Other scientists help you along the way – artificial intelligence is big in this game, for the goodies and particularly for the baddies – but ultimately it’s up to you to make good the damage. The first clue you get that perhaps the government doesn’t want you to survive is when a tall bloke in a suit appears on a walk-way, totally unfazed by the face-hugging little squatters bouncing around on the floor beneath him. He’s gone by the time you get up there, of course, but that’s just the start of the nightmare.
If you’re the sort of player who loves constant carnage with a continuing barrage of enemy creations ready to throw themselves blithely onto your boom-stick, you might as well stop reading now. Half-Life is a bit more intelligent than that. There are the occasional puzzles to solve; none of them are exceptionally taxing (Hexen II this is not) but you do sometimes have to think before you shoot. And you don’t instantly get access to all the weaponry, either. Starting off with nothing but a protective suit, you then graduate to a crow-bar before stumbling across increasingly-powerful projectile weapons. But as the weapons get more powerful, so do the enemy creatures.
Half-Life is thoroughly engrossing. The scene-setting at the start really makes you feel part of the action as the lone scientist trying to escape from a new form of Hell. If the description ‘interactive movie’ hadn’t been utterly discredited a long time ago, it would go some way towards describing this game, but by no means far enough. This is Quake II with a plot, Unreal with realism, and every gamer should have a copy.