Hello all! Last week, I wrote about an increasingly-challenging side-scrolling rougelike-ish game. It’s pretty awesome.
This week brings us one of the most influential shooters of all time. Well, maybe it is to you, or maybe not.
Half-Life is an FPS where you play as mute crowbar-wielding, theoretical physicist glasses enthusiast Gordon Freeman. An experiment goes wrong, monsters pour forth from a portal, and shenanigans ensue. The game came out in 1998, before I was even in high school. I had, at the time, a glorious IBM PC with 16MB of RAM (I’d later pointlessly upgrade to 32), I think a one or two gigabyte hard drive, and there was probably a graphics card of some kind in there. It took a few entire minutes to boot up, ran Windows 95, and ran MechWarrior 2 like a champ.
In other words, as you can probably assume, I didn’t get Half-Life anywhere near its release date.
Half-Life, for me, was a Game I Couldn’t Have; people were talking about it, raving about it, and I was here playing my consoles (I am still predominantly a console person) and enjoying them, not really caring about Half-Life while at the same time wondering if I would like it. I mean, the box looked pretty cool, in that pre-aughts PC box art kind of way. And I was into GoldenEye, which I maintain is more influential, but again, part of that could have to do with Half-Life simply not being available to me.
I’ve kind of approached this subject before here, with Halo. I didn’t play Halo until more than a decade after its release, and so the younger, immature me weirdly decided it was a bad game, based on...well, nothing. I’d judge a game having not played it, and that’s an incredibly crappy thing to do; you never truly know whether you’ll like a game or not until you actually sit down and play it. Not that that’s always easy to do; games are expensive and none of us really have the time to play everything we want to play. But just saying a game is bad like it’s a fact without really knowing anything about it? That makes absolutely no sense.
And yet, this was the kind of gamer I was, at the time. While Half-Life certainly appealed to my tastes at this point in my life (I basically only wanted to shoot monsters and/or bad guys), note again that the game was unavailable to me. So I guess I was...I don’t know. Jealous, in a weird way? It’s hard to explain. In any case, it wouldn’t be until I think 2002 that I got a gaming-capable (for the time) PC. And then I didn’t even pick up Half-Life until like two years after that, in a cool box set that came with the Opposing Force and Blue Shift expansions along with Team Fortress and Counterstrike.
What I found was a game that I liked a lot, but nothing about it really struck me as revolutionary. How could it? I’d played it for the first time a full eight years after release. I’d played quite a few games between 1998 and 2004 (at least three) and Half-Life was dated by then. I could see how the game would’ve been an eye-opener for me had I played it at launch, but I missed it.
Later on, I’d see and appreciate Half-Life’s influence on gaming, although I don’t necessarily agree with every choice it makes. I’d go on to play Half-Life 2, and its episodes, and I dig the series, and I wish I’d played it sooner. I actually played the second game at launch, albeit at low specs, but I still enjoyed it. But mostly, the Half-Life series has me thinking about objective influence vs. subjective influence regarding games: Objective influence being one game’s influence on another, and subjective influence being a game’s influence on your gaming tastes and what you like. While Half-Life is a clear inspiration on shooters of the time, and even today, it’s not a big deal for me personally because I didn’t play a single second of it until almost a decade after the fact. I don’t have that “this game changed my perceptions on gaming” moment with Half-Life, even though I probably should, according to every article that treats Half-Life as a religious experience.
Bear in mind, I absolutely don’t hate Half-Life; it’s a favorite of mine, as is the sequel and expansions. I’m sure I’ll like the third one, as soon as go to an alternate universe where it released and play it (expect a review if I return from my trip across spacetime). But while I understand its influence now, it’s hard for me to fully appreciate it. That’s subjectivity for you; because I missed the Half-Life boat (or rather, because I was late), it wasn’t an influence on my gaming habits. I wonder what sort of gamer I’d be if I had played this supposedly legendary game in 1998; I suppose that would mean I’d have a better PC and would’ve been more into Counterstrike and its contemporaries. Who can say?
I guess the point of it all is, a game can be influential on future games even if you yourself don’t play it. It might be harder for you to see, of course, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. And, as is the point with almost all of these weekly posts: try games you may have missed, if you have the means.
Thanks for reading! I have a Twitter and I like talking to people, so follow me!
Next week, I write about my favorite subject—lesser-known “B” games. This one is a ghostbusting game that’s not quite Ghostbusters, and it has better graphics than it has any right to.