Defining Moments – Half-Life

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I’m a gamer. If you’re reading this, the chances are pretty high that you’re a gamer, too. We all remember the first time we sat down and played our very first videogame; for me it was Tetris – the GameBoy in our house lived in the bathroom, and I would spend hours on end pretending to be in the bath because I loved that theme tune so damn much, and goddamnit I was going to beat my Dad’s high score if it killed me…

The first game you ever play is rarely the game that makes you a gamer, however. I spent years perfecting Doom; after that I was master at Novastorm and my skills at Star Wars: X-wing were fairly legendary. But the game which cemented my love of the medium is none of these.

I got my first PlayStation 2 back in the year 2000. As a family, we had been through the Sega Mega Drive (as it was known in England), and the PlayStation 1, but there was yet to be a game that really caught and held my attention. I was fond of Crash Bandicoot, and spent dozens of hours playing Triple Triad in Final Fantasy 8, but none of these games were really awe-inspiring. For Christmas that fateful year, my siblings and I were given the PlayStation 2 and told that it belonged to all of us, and that we had to share it. We had a rule in the house where each of us could play videogames for 45 minutes per day – no ifs, no buts, no exceptions – and that wasn’t the end of the world back then. The problem came when we opened the rest of our presents. I looked at the stack of new games and one immediately caught my eye, one with a bright orange cover and a lamda symbol on the front

That was Half-Life.

Half_Life_01I pick up the box and slip the disc into the console’s drive. The game loads, and I find myself on a monorail. Great. A train ride simulator, I think. Just what the doctor ordered. I’ve never been fond of trains, and this is no different. I watch the Black Mesa facility go past for the first of what would be many, many times, as I keep a vague eye on the clock. I only have 45 minutes to play this game, why the hell is the introduction so bloody long?

After what feels like an age, the monorail finally comes to a halt and I’m able to disembark. I make my way towards a security door, which remains stubbornly closed. How the fuck do you open this thing? I think, before turning around to see a security guard sauntering up behind me and peer into a retinal scanner, calm as day. This is taking forever. Finally, the door opens. I pass through and after a short walk, acquire a nifty new suit – the game’s classic HEV suit, to be precise.

Hang on, Hazardous Environment suit? Where the hell do you work, Dr Freeman? Wait, you’re a physicist?

I continue onwards, desperately waiting for the fun to start, and make my way towards a test chamber where a sample is being delivered. I’m told by an irate older scientist that I have to push a trolley containing a rare sample into an oversized mass spectrometer. Oh good, I get to push a trolley. Trolley pushing simulator. Deep fucking joy. But after pushing the trolley to its destination, the fireworks start. I run around a bit, wondering what’s about to happen, when suddenly the screen goes black. Oh for the love of… I’m about to stand up and reset the console when the screen flashes. I’m now standing on an alien planet. There are aliens running around, but they aren’t looking at me. At least, not yet.

The screen blackens out again and I sit down, intrigued. One more flash, and this time the aliens are looking. Clicking. They don’t look impressed.

The screen goes dark again, and when the lights come on I’m back in Black Mesa’s test chamber. It’s trashed. The words Unforseen Consequences fade in on the screen. I escape the test chamber and move onwards. Scientists are dead, their corpses strewn about the corridors, and security guards are dying. I see what looks like a plucked headless chicken jumping around. I’m vaguely amused, but I go to check on my colleagues to see if I can offer assistance.

There’s a roar from behind me. I turn to see several more of these chicken-like creatures teleporting in from a God knows where. Shit. I run to the side and pick up what look like a weapon.

It’s a crowbar.

Having a demonic alien chicken jump towards your face, only to smack it aside with a red and silver crowbar is possibly the best thing that can happen to an eleven-year-old. I was a physicist, but I was also a bad-ass with a crowbar. I was in love. The next day was the first day of school; I remember hunting down my science teacher, despite not having science class. He was thoroughly amused when he opened the door to see a little kid looking up at him – “Sir, what’s a Half Life?”

Many years have passed since I picked up Half Life from the pile next to my old TV and thought hell, I’ll give it a go. Not only was it my first forray into bludgeoning chickens with a crowbar, but it was my second ever FPS – and after playing Doom, the sheer technological lunge forward had me hooked. I now hold a science degree, and while I’m no Gordon Freeman, he is still one of my heroes – and is a large part of what set me down the road to becoming a scientist; the man, though entirely fictional, was an inspiration.

Half_Life_02But how did I know that I was suddenly a gamer? Aside from the fact that Half-Life inspired my love of science, as I said before, we had this silly rule of only being allowed 45 minutes per day to play videogames. Up until this point, I’d been perfectly content with playing 45 minutes of Crash Bandicoot 3 or Final Fantasy 8 – I even managed to get 45 minutes of Micro Machines V3 in from time to time – but once I had my hands on Half-Life I became an insomniac. I’d wait until my parents went to bed, give it an hour for good measure, and sneak downstairs to spend some more time in Black Mesa. I would sit with my face inches from the screen with the volume on the lowest setting so that my parents – who have hawk-like hearing, I hasten to add – couldn’t hear me play.

It got to the point where my eyes were so bloodshot from having a meager 4 hours sleep per night that my mom sat down and had a conversation with me about drugs; I chalked it up to hayfever, and my mom believed me – but I decided at that point that it may be time to cut back on saving the Earth from the invading armies of Xen for a little while, all the same.

To this day, Half-Life remains one of my favorite games, and no doubt it will remain up there with the best for years to come. We heartily recommend it to anyone who hasn’t played it, and considering the price these days there’s very little reason not to get your hands on it one way or the other. Either way, take a moment to think back to the first game you ever played, and then the first game that had you well and truly hooked. Why was it so special? Did it make you the gamer you are today? Half Life may be the reason I became a gamer, but it is the experiences of sharing moments like this made me the gamer I am today.

Nic Bunce

Nic Bunce

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A South African born, London raised Brit living in London. Studied Microbiology at the University of Leicester, and taught English in Japan. Jack of all trades... and we know how that idiom ends.
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