Developed and published by Valve Corporation
Played on PC
Playing older FPSes tends to be a very different experience. The generation of Doom and Quake was less focused on story or any sensible cohesion of level design, more focused on blowing monsters up. Half-Life was one of the first FPSes to actually make a story, with levels that naturally transition into one another. And surprisingly, all the years have not hurt its playability.
Gordon Freeman is a physicist on his first day at the Black Mesa facility. And in the middle of an experiment, something goes terribly wrong, unleashing a connection with an alien world. Now Gordon has to make it out alive in the middle of both aliens and the military looking to clean things up.
One of Half-Life's greatest strengths, something that remained in the sequel, is its ability to switch genres on a dime. The game starts off closer to a survival horror game, giving you nothing but the iconic crowbar and pointing you towards the many zombies and headcrabs that want to kill you. As the military comes in, though, it becomes more of a shooter, building up your arsenal. While the aliens are fairly straightforward, the military will use tactics, flushing you out of cover or using pincer maneuvers to make things more frantic. And in the middle, you're having to figure out puzzles and platforming. There's very little direction given to you, but it also always manages to push you in the right direction, losing the labyrinthine maps of Doom for a more straightforward but still exploratory experience. You might wander around a room for a little bit, but then you'll say “Ah, that pipe up there looks suspicious, I should get to it”.
Half-Life's form of storytelling also remains strong. There's no true cinematics in the game, never breaking from the first-person viewpoint of Gordon. But you still pick up the story going on from the short conversations with scientists and security guards. And you also pick up the story as you go through the environment. The labs you walk through hint to exactly what's been going on, the new enemies that come after you show how much opposition Gordon is up against. And you always feel like you have a goal, not that you're just wandering wildly. And sadly, this all falls apart in the final levels. The infamous finale loses any sense of story and feels more like you're just wandering around aimlessly until the game ends. It does show exactly how strong Valve's games normally are that this only becomes a problem in the end—not that it stops it from being a problem.
Half-Life remains an FPS giant, aging well and standing as one of the strongest debut games of a developer. It's rare to play an older game that stays this fresh today.