Half-life OEM: (http://www.sierrastudios.com/games/half-life/bot.html) / AntiGMan
I can start, summarize and conclude this review by only writing one word: wow. OK, I lied, I can't. I guess you'll just have to read on.
I recently got a chance to play the Half-Life OEM day one demo (OEM - meaning it's only packed with hardware products). What is Half-Life, you ask? Half-Life is a First person shooter distributed by Sierra, which utilizes the Quake engine. Before you stop reading this review, I'll shatter the common misconceptions:
Story? Psheeyeah, right.
- It's not the original Quake engine; it's a modified one. I'll explain further on.
- Sierra didn't really make the game; A small, rather unknown game company called "Valve" did.
- It's not what you'd expect from a First person shooter to be. It has a story. I know they say that about every game, but hey, trust me. Did I ever lie to you?
The game opens with an introduction scene... Ahem, excuse me. As the game opens, you find yourself in an INTERACTIVE, game-engine based, Introduction. READ: you move through the introduction as freely as you move through the game (there are some limitations...). You start in a small cable-railway train in the Black Mesa research facility, moving through the many views around the facility. You can easily go around the small train and look through windows while listening to information, news about the facility, promotional jingles ("Work good. Work safe") and work instructions. The game starts getting to you even here - as the voice-over explains instructions in emergency cases, the train just happens, for a few seconds, to move over a chopper, of which noise is unbearable and doesn't allow you to hear the voice over. You learn that your name is Gordon, and that you're making your way towards the Anomalous Materials research lab for this day's experiment. As you reach the train's destination,
you meet the first NPC in the game. None of which I met so far are really important to the progress of the game (actually, most scientists look alike, and all guards are similar) but it's a nice touch. The guard you meet here opens your gateway to the lab (you can interact with him, or everybody else in the lab at this point, but they're mostly busy) and you quickly make your way towards your HEV suit. The HEV suit will give you not only a Heads-up display (you know, that status bar in the bottom of the screen) but also some trusty tools as the flashlight (not that super-light-em-up flashlight like in unreal, but a more logical one), A Geiger counter, and an oxygen counter.
While you make your way to your scheduled experiment, you notice how things don't seem quite right in the facility. Data losses, machinery instabilities, but nothing major, apparently. Later, while conducting the experiment, that proves to be a problem. A big explosion, followed by creatures falling from above, and two frightening, and disturbing scenes in which you see who - or more correctly, WHAT - is about to take over the facility.
Hev it your way, then.
And here starts the more intense part of the game.. You find that most of the scientists died, and that those who lived, are either infested, or completely hysteric. As you exit the wreckage of the experiment, you see a Scientist giving CPR to a guard - something you can not do, and here's one NPC use. The scientists and guards can also pass retinal scans for you, and the guards might provide a bit of cannon fodder for the aliens (all of the above, assuming, of course, you ask them to).
You quickly realize that you have to get out of here, and fast. Apparently, aliens are not your only enemy, as the security systems went berserk, and the building itself isn't in a very good condition. You do get weapons, of course - the first is the trusty crowbar, with which you'll be able to break glass, and pound some light damage onto those alien creeps. Next is a handgun you collect off one of the dead facility guards (It's not theft; It's survival) and more come later. You'll explore many areas of the facility before you complete the demo, and of course, by it's title, It's only "Day one" meaning there's two more thirds of the game to come, (and multiplayer, too, I believe) If you buy the full version.
The bright side of half life
From the gameplay aspect, the Half-Life demo exceeds any other I have ever seen. It simply has it all.
Interaction - You can't exactly destroy everything, as in Hexen II, and you can't get into dos prompts in ATMs like in Sin (Actually, there are no ATM's in the facility). But still Wrecking havoc through the facility with the crowbar is very fun, and playing tricks on the scientists (as turning off their lights, messing with their PC's, or even killing them) might give you some sadistic enjoyment. You do get to do some ridiculous things before the accident, and the scientists will ask: "What are you doing?"
Multipathing - Not as encouraged and unique as SiN's, but there are a few segments. I can give an example of one occasion: Before the experiment, you get to ride an elevator down, and after the accident It'll be waiting for you at the same floor. However, if you didn't take the elevator but instead climbed the ladder in the elevator shaft, when you return you will see the elevator with four scientists crashing into debris (and as horrfying as it sounds, there are bonuses to gain of it).
Living environment - As you've realized from all written above, you can interact simply with the people around you (don't worry, It's not a "choose an option" case. You just press the interact key, and they'll know what to do), And they are sure to interact with you - you can't help but mocking the scientist who constantly pound the drinks machine and aren't able to get anything. It is the closest thing to a living environment I ever Seen in a first person shooter. And I can give you many such attempts - Jedi Knight, Strife, And even Duke Nukem or Unreal, in certain ways.
Movie feeling - Remember what I wrote about the chopper? Well, this is only an example of the way this game inserts fear and worries into the player's mind. Of course, the monsters are as spooky themselves, and the music contributes to this feeling. There's also limited 3d sound, which gives dialogues that movie twist too. And also these segments which truly makes you wonder why wasn't there a science fiction horror film first - Like an alien slowly pulling a scientist into a high sewage hole, as you see the legs pull in and the other organs spew out.
Control - lots of new control features, as explained by the game's Hazard course - a short training guide where you learn to acquaint with the new environment and moves. Some examples - wall mounted health kits and power rechargers, reloading as a reality and a necessity, duck-jumping, jet-jumping (the jet is very rare, or so the course claims), the interact button, and alternative fire. Also, this game has a more elaborate movement system, especially when relating to climbing ladders and moving through water.
Game Engine - Graphics: despite using the Quake engine, the level of detail is quite up to today's standards (Besides, unlike Quake or Q2, it works on my voodoo rush, so I have no complaints). Some things are weirdly pixilated (especially blood), but the overall performance is ok. A science facility sounds pretty dull, and several areas do tend to repeat themselves, but you'll be amazed how many horrifyingly beautiful (or was that beautifully horrifying?) views Valve created. It's not Unreal. Actually, It goes more in the direction of realism, instead of animation. Very weird, considering that one of the graphical designers is Chuck Jones - who drew the Road Runner cartoons, and also a few games such as Lucasarts' "Day of the tentacle".
Sound: As with Quake 2 and Unreal, High quality sound will demand quite a lot of your game resources, and sounds might sound cut. But still, it is a beauty hearing those edgy scientists' comments, and the spooky music.
Bugs 'o' plenty
Okay, so there were problems, too. I didn't expect this to be a complete and full-featured product, but I also didn't expect it to be THIS buggy. Apparently, The game just loves to crash me back into windows, especially if I decide to visit the menu ("" because I believe a non-transparent menu is a real pest). No, getting to the menu is the easy part - the crash comes every time I try to load a game, start a new or resume a game from the menu. (However, I asked others and they do not experience that problem). Console was disabled, so that players won't tweak with the game too much at this point. That doesn't mean I can't save and load- F6 for Quicksave and F7 for quickload function fine - that is, as long as I don't confuse the two. You'd hate to accidentally quicksave instead of quickload when falling into a pit, right?
Pause isn't an option too, which can be quite a drag, considering you can't do it using the menu either, and that you might have to watch that 5 minute interactive intro over and over again.
There were also the occasional funny bugs, as meeting a dead security guard mumble in response to interaction "yes, I'll join ya." He even moved his lips! But he was dead, alright.
I didn't encounter much of the fabled "AI using regroup and alarm tactics" in all 3 skills. Actually, after playing a bit on hard skill I decided to wuss out, but playing on medium, it was simply TOO easy.
I hope once sierra releases the official demo (not-OEM), it'll be more stable.
The sinner meets the lively
So, the big question is: How good will Half-Life be, especially in comparison to its big competitor, SiN?
I can't say that judging by the demos. But what I CAN and will say, is that I played Single player Half Life, and single player Sin - When the first gave me the best experience, and the last, while still being extremely good, didn't have the variety of features Half-Life did.
I believe the multiplayer aspect to be a different subject. I had great time playing multiplayer SiN (the bad connection between ISDNnet and NV led me to play on foreign servers, and there aren't any SiN demo servers here anyway) and the Half-Life demo is Single player only. However, I keep reminding myself that Half-Life will have an official Mission pack called "Team Fortress 2". And I know that many of you want Half-Life just for that.
While you were reading this, I went to get a life. Life, half-Life, whichever comes first.