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Run. Think. Shoot. Live.
Half-Life, by the Washington-based developer team Valve, follows a day in the life of physicist Gordon Freeman, a bearded, bespectacled Heroic Mime who works in the Anomalous Materials laboratory at the vast Black Mesa Research Facility, a top-secret complex in the middle of the New Mexico desert. While performing a test on a strange crystalline substance, Gordon accidentally initiates a 'resonance cascade' -- an event which causes bizarre, violent creatures to be spontaneously transported from Another Dimension. Now Gordon must work his way across the base in pursuit of a way to close the dimensional rift, fighting off not only the acid-spewing, electricity-shooting, zombifying aliens but also the Hazardous Environment Combat Unit (HECU), a special unit under the US military, who have swarmed into the complex and are destroying the creatures and silencing the facility's personnel with equal vigor.
Notable for its total immersion of the player. The entire game is played out in first person and in real time, with very little sound not produced by actions in the game world, and no sounds at all made by the central character; also, there are no cutscenes (except at the very end) -- the player has control of the character at all times, and the story unfolds entirely in-game.
The designers actually had great difficulty with the level design at first, and got stuck in a rut. In order to take stock, they created a single level containing every gimmick, enemy, and bit of level furniture that they had come up with for the game so far. Said level was fantastic, and they realized that this density of set pieces was the "certain something" the game lacked.
The game engine was also famous for being highly customizable, leading to a long series of mods. Some of them were single-player, such as Gunman Chronicles (The Western) and They Hunger (Survival Horror/ZombieApocalypse). The most famous ones, however, were multiplayer, such as Deathmatch Classic (old school Quake-style combat), Team Fortress Classic (fast-paced Quake III Arena-style action) and its sequel Team Fortress 2 (the same thing, but a total reboot), Ricochet (Tron-esque energy disc battles, as you hop between platforms), Day of Defeat (a gritty World War II combat simulation), Natural Selection (aliens vs. Space Marines, in a cross between first person shooter and real time strategy), The Hidden (Survival Horror / Stealth Based Game), Afraid of Monsters (ditto) and most notably, Counter-Strike. (The most famous of these mods were "bought out" by Valve themselves and rereleased as commercial titles.) Because of this, Half-Life and its mods are collectively one of the most influential games of all time.
Gearbox Software made three Expansion Packs for the original game. The two first were called Opposing Force and Blue Shift, in which the player respectively takes control over the soldier Adrian Shephard and the security guard Barney Calhoun. Gearbox took some liberties towards the storyline within these expansions, which have set off a lot of fan debate about their legitimacy. While Half-Life's writer, Marc Laidlaw, so far have deemed these expansions semi-canon until further notice, some parts of the fanbase have already labeled them as Fanon Discontinuity, while others ferociously defend their being canon - due in no small part to Adrian Shephard's status as an Ensemble Darkhorse. On the other hand, Blue Shift is generally considered inferior to Opposing Force, and was originally intended to be released as an add-on campaign to the Dreamcast port of Half-Life, which fell through when Sega pulled the plug on the console. The third Expansion Pack, Decay, was developed and released exclusively for the PS2 version of Half-Life, but can also be played on the PC thanks to the efforts of the mod community. It starred two female Black Mesa scientists, Gina Cross and Colette Green, and is the only co-operative entry to date.
Half-Life contains examples of:
- The Abridged Series: Half Life in 60 Seconds.
- Action Girl: Gina and Colette in Decay.
- Air Vent Passageway: While the series as a whole is famous for it, one of the most memorable subversions happens in the original. You are forced to crawl through some air vents, but the Marines hear you and shoot the hell out of it. The entire vent falls off the ceiling and crashes to the ground with you inside, or if you backed up, trapped in another part of the vent with the Marines shooting the hell out of you, albeit with more cover.
- Artificial Brilliance: Half Life was widely praised for the A.I. of its human Marine enemies, who were the first FPS enemies to work in squads and use complex tactical behaviors and movement patterns instead of simply charging in a straight line at the player...
- Bee-Bee Gun: The Hornet Gun from the first game.
- BFG: The Displacer from Opposing Force is very obviously inspired by the trope namer.
- Book Ends: The game begins and ends in a tram.
- Boring but Practical: The Hivehand, the only weapon you have that regenerates ammo. It's especially once you get to Xen, where ammo is very scarce overall.
- Boss in Mook Clothing: Voltigores in Opposing Force.
- Captain Obvious: In Opposing Force's training level, Shephard gets shot point-blank with a shotgun to demonstrate the effectiveness of the PCV armor vest.
- Creator Cameo: Gabe Newell's office can be seen in the chapter "Office Complex".
- Damn You, Muscle Memory!: "Jump" for Half Life (on the Play Station 2 port) is L1. Your lone saving grace is the schematic is remappable.
- Dead Character Walking: The original has this: if an NPC has scripted dialogue, but you kill them before they begin to speak, the corpse will speak anyway. The mouth moves and the audio can be heard, but otherwise he is dead. (This works at least on the security guard at the end of the Power Up sequence.)
- Deus Ex Nukina: Happens to Black Mesa at the end of Opposing Force..
- Downer Ending: For Half-Life and Opposing Force, Gordon is placed into stasis as some sort of mercenary by the G-Man, and Adrian is apparently frozen for eternity, respectively.
- Dumb Jock: The graffiti the Marines leave on the walls to intimidate Gordon are full of misspellings.
- Fragile Speedster: The female Black Ops Assassins in Half-Life have below average health, but are crazy fast, can make huge leaps, and on the highest difficulty setting, come equipped with a cloaking device. They're also Glass Cannons, and can easily wipe half your health away in groups.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: One of the early Beta monsters for HL1 was called "Mr. Friendly", which would attempt to "rape the player to death" according to the Combine Overwiki. The Gonarch toward the end of the first game. Looks like a very large scrotum on legs. So yes..."King Gonads."
- Gone Horribly Wrong: In the original, the experiment that let the aliens in.
- Grappling Hook Pistol: The detached barnacle in Opposing Force, but only to biological matter. It also doubles as a lethal weapon, heavily damaging organic enemies (or in the case of headcrabs, reeling them in and instakilling them).
- Hyperspace Arsenal: By the end of the first game, Gordon is carrying a crowbar, a 9mm handgun, a shotgun, a sub-machine gun, a revolver, grenades, an RPG, a laser gun, a bigger laser gun, an alien gun with living bullets, laser tripmines, satchel charges and snarks. Plus ammunition. The worst example is the Gluon Gun, which is a backpack mounted nuclear reactor.
- I Just Want to Be Badass: The first game was one of the first FPS games to avert this trope, and the game was remarkably atmospheric as a result. Ten years on, the atmosphere remains, but Gordon's taken a level in wish-fulfillment.
- Indecisive Deconstruction: The first game can be read as a deconstruction of the Trope Codifier Doom. The basic premise (an experiment into teleportation technology goes horribly wrong) is basically the same as Doom. Like Doom, there is very little plot exposition. But unlike Doom, Half-Life showed you exactly how terrifying this kind of scenario would be if it happened in the real world; you must think and not act like a stereotypical Space Marine in order to remain alive. And of course, this kind of experiment would require immense levels of government funding. Necessitating a large covert laboratory. And thus, when everything goes wrong the military have to be called in to keep things covert. However, the developers have at no point implied any critical intent. Thus, Half-Life is arguably an unintentional deconstruction. Also, given how influential the first game was on all future shooters, the game seems like a played-straight example of the genre to someone raised on modern shooters.
- Just Following Orders: Pretty much the extent Gordon had to do with the resonance cascade.
- Loose Canon: Opposing Force and Blue Shift.
- No Indoor Voice: The HECU Marines in Half-Life 1, due to their voices always sounding like they're coming out of walkie talkies. Even Lampshaded by one line they say while idle: "Squad, quiet down!" at the same not-very-quiet level.
- Planet Looters: Race X in Opposing Force.
- Punch-Packing Pistol: For some reason, the same 9mm cartridges do more damage when fired from the Glock than when fired from the MP 5. Also the Glock is given the miraculous ability to be fired underwater. The Python does far more damage than the .357 it's supposed to be as well.
- Shark Tunnel: "Crush Depth" in Opposing Force.
- Sidekick: Barney the recurring security guard.
- Split Screen: Decay's method of display.
- Stop Poking Me: Walking into certain locked doors repeatedly in the first game will start to drive VOX crazy.
- Teamwork Puzzle Game: Decay.