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reviewed by Donald Melanson

1998 was an incredible year for both computer and video games, and at the top of many best of lists was this game, Valve Software's Half-Life. Like other great first-person 3D action games before it, Half-Life succeeds by taking the best elements of previous games in the genre and breaking new ground in areas not visited by others. In this case, it adds story, adding immensely to the single-player experience.

Half-LifeThe player takes the role of Gordon Freeman, a scientist working on top-secret experiments, one of which goes wrong and you're stuck to fend off all the bad guys. Not exactly the most creative premise for a story but much like Metal Gear Solid, it's executed extremely well. Unlike Metal Gear Solid, there are no cut-scenes used in Half-Life to tell the story, everything takes place entirely in the game with what are called scripted events. At all times you are able to look and walk around, even during the endings (there are two), although you probably won't want to since they are extremely engaging and well done.

Another exciting addition that may or may not have been done before in this particular genre, is a training mode, called the Hazard Course. Which comes complete with a holographic trainer who teaches you all the necessary controls and maneuvers. Even if you've played every 3D action game in existence it's recommend you complete the course before venturing into the game, if for no other reason than to see how well it's done.

The sense of atmosphere is clear right from the beginning. You'll find yourself in a train headed for the laboratory, a voice on the PA system explains your surroundings, people and machines go about their business in the surrounding areas, all the while you're freely able to walk around the train car. Arriving at the laboratory the atmosphere is even more striking. The secretary at the front desk informs you where you have to go, people greet you by name as you pass by and most importantly give the impression of a real environment, not a artificial one. The only downside is that most of the characters look the same, all the security guards do and there's only a handful of scientist variations.

Half-LifeYou'll soon find yourself being informed of the aforementioned experiment that you must participate in. Needless to say it goes horribly wrong. By this point you'll probably have been playing the game for about half an hour, without even touching a weapon. In virtually any other game this would have been done with a two-minute computer animated intro, which is all well and good, but in Half-Life you are thoroughly engrossed in the game world by now and will most likely be eager to play it into the wee hours of the night.

All this without even mentioning the graphics. They are stunning, and as you would expect, a 3D accelerator is highly recommended. They succeed primarily in their understatedness, unlike other games which rely on fancy textures and such, Half-Life perfectly recreates the intended environment. Music and sound effects are equally impressive.

There is really much more that can be said about Half-Life but it's truly the type of game that you have to play to understand just how good it is. Simply put, no other single-player 3D action game can hold a candle to it.

b i o
Donald Melanson is the editor of Mindjack Magazine and is constantly learning on the job.

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