Half-Life is a computer game by Valve Software that is referenced as a 'First-Person Shooter'1, which essentially means it's an excuse to go blow things up. Winning 'Game of the Year' by PC Gamer and the now non-existent PC Accelerator, it is an exceptionally well-designed excuse to... go blow things up.
The main reason for winning the award is because it is arguably the first game of its genre to involve a fairly believable plot, which computer games of Id Software such as Doom were notorious for leaving out completely. The only other game noted to have such a compelling plot would be System Shock 2, and it erred by not keeping ahead of the curve in graphics.
What's the Reason to Go Blow Things Up?
The story line in Half-Life revolves around a character, Gordon Freeman (played by you, the avid computer gamer), who is the newest employee in the Black Mesa Research Facility (BMRF), somewhere in the Mojave Desert. The BMRF is a play on all the conspiracy theories situated around the US Government, being a test facility for nuclear weaponry, teleportation, and alien research. Freeman is solely responsible for all hell breaking loose in the form of an inter-dimensional rift, much like the game, Doom, and the movie Event Horizon, by Paramount Pictures. The breach, of course, allows streams of violent alien life-forms to march right in and create havoc. So, Freeman must find a way to escape, and quite possibly save the world in the meantime.
But What is there to Blow Up?
All hell breaking loose essentially means that Freeman and his rather nerdy brethren2 must escape by any means necessary. This is not an easy feat, as the facility is mostly underground, the communication lines are cut, the transit system has failed, and the government eventually dispatches marines to silence the facility, including the researchers themselves. This last revelation can be seen two ways:
You are, in a sense, screwed, as scientists are usually not armed, and so you now have to contend with a malevolent alien force and a military division on orders to silence the facility.
You are saved, as they will hopefully be too busy beating each other over the head to bother with you.
This helps to an extent, until Freeman realises that the orders pertain to him specifically, as Murphy's Law dictates.
And what Do I Use to Blow Things up?
This is a game trying to create a believable experience, and as such, there are no levels per se, but there are divisions in progress to mark another theme. A couple of real-world weapons are used, like the Navy MP5 to add to the feeling of 'being there'. Also making this game distinctive is the reintroduction of the laser trip-mine, from way back in the days of Duke Nukem 3D. This particular weapon can be the source of much hilarity in the multiplayer experience, but is of little use for a single player.
There are also fantasy weapons in BMRF, including the gluon gun and the snark, simply because they would be cool to play with. The snark is a rabid little animal the size of a hamster, and will try to eat whatever and whoever is in its way, until it blows up due to its violently heightened metabolism. In multiplayer, it is not a tactical weapon, but will cause panic and much shooting.
Most guns have a secondary fire. This is not all that special in itself, but it does allow for sniping opportunities. Both sniping weapons, the crossbow and the rifle (in Half-life's add-on) utilise the secondary mode to zoom in, making someone hurt from afar. Other secondary modes include a grenade launcher for the MP5, and switching between faster and more powerful blasts for most of the other weapons.
All in the name of good fun.
Is Blowing things Up all I Do?
Yeah, but some interludes between blowing things up involve the progression of the story and small puzzles. There is a mysterious character, known only as the Administrator (or G-Man, if you're so inclined), who does his bit to help or hinder you along the way, whichever seems best for the situation. In terms of the actual story line, nothing is ever mentioned about him. In terms of involvement with the plot, he plays a decisive role.
In terms of non-action sequences, Freeman spends a great deal of his time in the air ventilation systems, much to the player's dismay. This isn't so bad if you were actually in the world Half-Life represents, but as a game, one vent looks like another, and can be very tiresome after a while.
Am I the Only One to Blow things Up?
Well, there are security guards with pea shooters and scientists with higher access than you, so yes and no. There are other friendly people, just none with any firepower, thus contributing to your increasingly hopeless situation.
Multiplayer is the best online experience associated with the genre, and as long as you have Team Fortress, which came along in a free patch3, you won't be disappointed. Team Fortress's main selling point is its use of teamwork, which was sorely missed in most death matches. The editors in Valve were also nice enough to package a server locator with the game, making connections to death match much easier.
How Does this Game Make Things Blow up Better than Others?
The engine4 of the game is a modified version of Id Software's Quake II. The design of this engine specialises in the mapping and calculating the rules of a physical area, which means that a hand grenade's arc and spin are fairly realistic as it flies towards your head. On the other hand, path finding5 is lacking. The Non-Player Character (NPC) will easily get lost and have difficulties following or giving chase to Freeman (you). Take no notice, as so far no first-person shooter has been able to path-find efficiently.
As in most First-Person Shooters, more attention was given to pretty things blowing up than to the nitty-gritty of the action.
The general idea is if you like blowing things up, and are just looking for an excuse, Half-Life is out there with a better one than most, along with its modifications and add-ons like Opposing Force and Counter-Strike.