When Half-Life 1 first released, it was revolutionary. Its approach to video game design and storytelling sent ripples through the gaming industry and its influence can be seen in just about every AAA game that has been released since, at least on some level.
With that in mind, I have introduced many of my gamer friends to Half-Life over the years, whether that is the original Half-Life or the Black Mesa remake. Expecting it to blow their minds, it saddens me when they don’t enjoy it. Some even flat-out hate it. It isn’t their fault, and it isn’t Half-Life’s fault. It is down to the way that video games have evolved over time in ways that are not for the better. This isn’t a game about chaining headshots to make numbers go bigger, or bragging about perfect sniper shots across sprawling multiplayer maps.
Unlike other first-person shooter games of its era, and this era, Half-Life emphasizes tactical gameplay rather than relying solely on raw skill and reaction times. Playing as Gordon Freeman, a scientist with no combat experience, players are supposed to feel as unprepared for the journey ahead as any civilian would if they were thrown into a situation where they were pitted against well-trained soldiers and powerful alien monsters. Simply relying upon brute force isn’t enough – in fact, it will get you killed more often than not. Going in all guns blazing needs to be reserved for specific moments when it’s the only option or when you’ve meticulously planned your approach. Underneath it all, Half-Life isn’t about combat; it’s about combat puzzles.
Half-Life 1’s original tagline, “Run, think, shoot, live,” is prominently displayed on the game’s box and advertisements. Unfortunately, many players adopt a different approach, doing more running and shooting than thinking and living.
As a result, they spend more time dying and reloading.
Half-Life doesn’t have a single dominant strategy that guarantees success. Instead, each encounter requires improvisation and creative use of tools. The game challenges players to think and utilize both their weapons and wits. Enemies in Half-Life are intelligent and won’t blindly walk into your gunfire; they are cunning and determined to survive, just like you.
Conserving ammo and avoiding unnecessary risks are key. Half-Life encourages you to pick your fights and adapt your strategy based on the enemies you encounter, improvising as you go. It rewards smart play and punishes reckless behavior. But, while Half-Life presents challenges and difficulty, it remains fair and provides ample opportunities to strategize and overcome obstacles.
It is a shame many modern games don’t incorporate a similar approach.
I have watched as at least half a dozen of my closest gamer friends bounce off of Half-Life before they have even truly found their feet in its world. As a result, they never get to experience everything that makes this classic one of the few true video game masterpieces.
If you haven’t played Half-Life 1 yet, please do. Whether you play the original Half-Life or Black Mesa is up to you, but you truly owe it to yourself to experience it – and experience it in full.
If you find yourself struggling with Half-Life or not fully enjoying it, I encourage you to switch your mindset and embrace its unique style and approach to combat. By adopting a tactical approach, utilizing your weapons effectively, and thinking through each encounter, you’ll discover a whole new level to gaming that many modern video games don’t come close to. It may be unlike anything else that you have ever played.