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volume 1, issue 6

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Off the Shelf:
The Top Shelf






By Jason "loonyboi" Bergman

Title: Half-Life: Day One
Publisher: Sierra
Developer: Valve Software
Average Price: N/A


Note: this version of Half-Life is the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) demo, which contains only about a sixth of the complete game. It is not available for separate purchase, and is only available bundled with certain hardware that will be released shortly.

hat can I say...everyone else is writing a Half-Life: Day One review...why should we be different?

Before you think that loonygames is just senselessly bandwagon-hopping, understand that Half-Life (even just judging from this OEM demo) is that good, and therefore us reviewer-types can't help but write reviews about it, since it's only so often a game this good comes along.

Actually (and i'm making quite a statement here) I doubt a game this good has ever come along.

I'm not going to say that Half-Life: Day One is perfect, because it's not. It has a number of flaws, but the fact is, that it is one of the finest games I have ever played. Period. After playing Half-Life for twenty minutes, chances are that you'll say the same thing. It's really that good.

What makes Half-Life so good? It's quite simple, really...Half-Life (more so than any game in recent memory) is out to tell a story. And it's a good one, at that...intelligently written, well thought out, and genuinely engrossing. The fact that it does this from a first person perspective, and uses the proven Quake technology makes this that much more important.

You see, I've always believed that the first person perspective is ideal for storytelling. It was the subject of my "Waiting for Casablanca" articles back on PlanetQuake (which Half-Life designer Harry Teasley contributed to) and I've always found it frustrating that nobody's been able to tap into its potential.

Finally we have a game that does it.

Half-Life: Day One starts with an innovative credits sequence, in which you are given a tour of the complex on a tram, while a female voice gives you information about the facility. It's clever, well written dialogue, and serves as a terrific introduction to the game. Within the first few minutes, you understand your character's background, and know a great deal about the facility you're going to be spending the game.

Also interesting about this sequence, is just how populated the complex is. As the tram goes around each turn, you can't help but be amazed at all the little people going about their business below you. Doctors are doing their rounds, a spider-like robot is moving crates, security guards are patrolling, etc, etc. This level of detail is everywhere in Half-Life.

Once the tram stops, a security guard comes and opens the door. His little speech to you is cleverly written, and quite believable. As you enter the complex, you're greeted by various scientists, a number of whom say "hi Gordon" as you pass by. Considering that most first person games have you playing a nameless goon (Duke Nukem aside) it's a bit of a shock to have someone greet you by name.

I don't want to spoil too much of the plot (suffice to say, it's a dang good one) but when the stuff hits the fan, it does so in style. One moment in particular that sticks out at me, is when the "cascade resonance" (it'll make sense when you play it, believe me) is going on, your perceptions are altered. That is to say, for a moment, you can't trust what you're seeing as being real. This is an incredible thing to be featured in a first person game (coincidentally, it was always on my list of things that I just couldn't figure out why more people weren't doing).

Like I said, I don't want to spoil the plot, but the idea is this: you find yourself wondering if you're hallucinating or not.

Woah. Cool stuff.

After that, the game really switches into action-mode. But while there is suddenly Stuff to ShootTM, Half-Life never turns into just another Quake clone. There aren't any keys to find, rather you have to keep the scientists alive so they can open the doors for you. Which, I should point out can be a bit of a hassle...man do those guys die in fun ways! They get sucked into ventilation shafts, gutted in front of you, eaten, assaulted, all kinds of clever things. Nice job, guys.

The much-anticipated AI in Half-Life wasn't really shown off very well in this demo (there weren't enough monsters for me to really check it out) but you can get a good idea of how things will be in the full version. The hounds squeal when shot, indicating that they're calling for backup (or so I assume) and I can't wait to play the full version so I can really dread that sound.

What is best shown off in this demo of Half-Life, is the level of detail in the complex. Unlike many other games currently out there (at first glance I noticed this to be a problem with Shogo...more on this when I review it in the next installment of Top Shelf) Half-Life doesn't repeat textures very often, or if it does, it's done in such a way that they fit seamlessly with their environment. When you're in a bathroom or office, it looks, and more importantly feels like it should. And keeping the trend set by Duke Nukem 3D, everything is breakable. Hitting a soda machine results in a flood of cans...opening a locker lets you peak at the contents within (open Marc Laidlaw's locker for a look at two of his novels). Computer terminals buzz and blip, doors break, the list goes on and on.

And most remarkable, is that many of these locations are noticeably different before and after the experiment-gone-horribly-wrong. They're obviously still the same rooms, but the explosion (or whatever the heck it is) has left them all in total disarray. The doors no longer work, windows are broken, the elevators are wrecked (oh that falling elevator is genius!), etc.

The bottom line is this: if you need some new hardware, look for the Half-Life label on the box. Heck, no matter what it is, it'd be worth getting a sneak peak at this game. And if you don't...well...the day this thing ships, go buy it. Lord knows I will be.


- Jason "loonyboi" Bergman is the editor-in-chief here at loonygames. He likes beer.



Credits: Bargain Bin logo illustrated and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. Geek Toys is © 1998 Jason Bergman. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is a majorly hostile gesture.