Half-Life is one of the games I played a while back, but haven't enjoyed and decided to give them another go when I found a used copy at local entertainment exchange places. The first time I played it, which had to be around 2000, I quickly dismissed it. And to be honest, after this playthrough, I have no idea why!
I won't bother to get into much details with the plot, just because I'm probably one of the few people over the age of 20 who haven't played this game till recently. But the basics are this: you're Gordon Freeman, an engineer working in a facility called Black Mesa, where physics research of different kinds is being conducted. After you participate in an experiment, all hell breaks loose, putting the whole facility in danger, and, apparently, beginning an alien invasion.
The game starts off slow, with a long action-less introduction during which you get the general feel of the facility and your role there. Then, after the event which sets the whole thing in motion takes place, you are without any weapons for a short while, after which you get the crowbar – a symbol of the series in a sense. Your weapon arsenal is quickly broadened, and by the end of the game you can use mundane every-day weapons like a Pistol, Revolver, Shotgun or SMG (with a built-in grenade launcher), some more heavy stuff like a bazooka and C4, a sniper's delight – the crossbow, as well as experimental weaponry and even an alien gun.
The game offers a quite long single player campaign, ripe in dexterity puzzles and fighting enemies of two basic kinds – aliens and the military. It's very fun to play, and from today's perspective feels quite fresh. This is because Half-Life introduced some gameplay elements which are almost a given in modern FPS games – stuff like places where you can regenerate health and armour gradually (instead of only picking up First Aid Kits etc.), advanced enemy A.I. (the soldiers will make you change your position with grenades very often), mines, reloading guns, turrets... Neither Unreal nor Quake 2 (the other two big FPS games if the same period) had these, so HL was a definite innovator in this regard. This is probably why it still feels fresh, though obviously the graphics are quite dated by now, and it does not offer as much as some modern day shooters.
If there are things which I found lacking about Half-Life, it's the small number of music tracks, not a big variety of enemies, somewhat too many dexterity puzzles (which can be a real pain in a FPP game) and the lack of subtitles. The music was great when it came on, but it happened very seldom, and that's a shame because I really enjoyed it. The enemies... well, you just fight the same soldiers and quite varied aliens all the time, which is fine for the most part, but becomes tiresome by the end of the game. The game seriously needs subtitles – NPC's will often talk to you, but sometimes there is so much background noise that you can't hear them properly. I had trouble figuring out what to do next at times because I didn't hear what the Scientists or Guards were saying.
The ending to the game could have been better, as it is obvious it's not as good as the Black Mesa levels, and also, at one point, the game strips you off all of your equipment. Now, I have nothing against stuff like that, if it makes sense in the long run. But the lack of weaponry didn't add much to the levels which come after your 'pacification', because they are composed mostly of dexterity puzzles anyway, so your guns wouldn't be much help here. Seemed a silly thing to do, not needed at all really.
So, to sum up. Half-Life is a really good FPS, and I can see why it was such a big hit in 1998 and why it was so influential. It added a lot of depth to the genre, and it doesn't come as a surprise to me that it received the high praise it did. That said, it's not a perfect game, not in today's day and age anyway. Some design and plot choices seem a bit off, and while the whole game is very enjoyable, its age starts to show. At any rate, my final rating is an 8/10. I really enjoyed myself, and if any of you haven't played this yet, you really should. It's such an important milestone, that you should at least give it a go to see what the fuss was about 12 years ago. Even if only for educational purposes, get this game and play it through. It's well worth your time – more than some newer, but still 'old' FPS games I could mention (Return to Castle Wolfenstein being one example).