Happy Birthday, Dr. Freeman!
Fifteen years ago to the day, Half-Life, Valve’s seminal first-person shooter, debuted on the personal computer. Published by Sierra On-Line with a story penned by science-fiction author Marc Laidlaw, Half-Life stars Dr. Gordon Freeman, a theoretical physicist who must fight his way out of the Black Mesa Research Facility that has been overrun by aliens. It is the first title from Valve, which began as a small company founded by former Microsoft employees Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington.
Half-Life is renowned for its immersive gameplay, which players experience entirely from Gordon Freeman’s perspective. As Freeman, gamers must traverse the ruins of the Black Mesa Research Facility while solving environmental puzzles and surviving combat encounters with several enemies, ranging from the acid-spitting alien creatures called “bullsquids” to a U.S. Marine unit. The game was heralded for its sophisticated enemy artificial intelligence (particularly the human enemies), which caused enemies to attack players in various ways (such as the Marines’ ability to throw grenades as well as shoot and take cover) and even work in squads.
A hit upon its release, Half-Life earned high acclaim from both consumer and critic. The title won dozens of game of the year awards from a number of publications, including PC Gamer, The Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, and the Houston Chronicle. PC Gamer even named Half-Life as the best game of all time three times; in 1999, 2001, and 2005. Reception to Gordon Freeman has been equally positive. He was named as the best character of all time by Gamespot (via public poll) and Empire in 2009 and 2010 respectively, and was named the 5th best video game character ever in 2011’s Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition.
Over the years, Half-Life has warmly embraced by the mod community, leading to several different modified versions of the original game. Valve itself encouraged people in modding the title, releasing it with Worldcraft, the level-development used for the game. Perhaps most famous among these mods is Counter-Strike, which started out as an independent mod but was later released by Valve as an official title.
Half-Life has two expansion packs from Valve, Opposing Force and Blue Shift. The game was ported to the PlayStation 2 in 2001 (which contained the exclusive expansion pack Decay). A port of the original game for Sega’s Dreamcast console was finished but never officially released. In 2004, Valve released a sequel, the critically acclaimed Half-Life 2. Although there was a rumor going around this year that Valve had filed for a trademark for the long-awaited Half-Life 3, this rumor was later proven false.
Although its unclear what the future holds for the Half-Life franchise, it’s clear the original title has etched itself in video gaming history as one of the industry’s best games. For more on Half-Life, do check out Gamespot’s Danny O’ Dwyer’s excellent video on the history of the game.
Peace & Pixels