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Lost in Cyberspace

'Half-Life' a refreshing change of killing pace

This article was originally published on January 12, 1999 by SignOn San Diego and Copley News Service.

After you play a half-dozen or so of the first-person "shooter" games (wherein you are in the game, looking out through your character's eyes rather than controlling him from above), they all start to seem the same. "Wolfenstein." "Doom." "Quake." "Quake II." Dark tunnels, lots of monsters, first aid kits scattered about.

Valve Entertainment: 1998

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"Duke Nukem" was an early attempt to break out of the mold, and "Unreal" took it a step further with the most stunning animated grahics ever on a PC.

But "Half-Life" goes far beyond them with the freshest look of any shooter – and one of the best multiplayer modes around.

While "Unreal," for instance, is a wonderful single-player game, it's multiplayer environment has never been as good as that of "Quake II," despite superior graphics.

"Half-Life" can't touch the graphical excellence of "Unreal," but it's look is so different – contemporary industrial, as opposed to the medieval sci-fi of "Quake" or "Unreal," without the cartoonish feel of "Duke" – that it seems almost as good.

As with "Quake II," "Half-Life" includes a level editor so that users can design their own "Half-Life" multiplayer levels and post them on the Internet – and within just a few weeks of its release, that's exactly what happened.

Somewhat surprisingly, given that it uses the "Quake II" graphics engine, "Half-Life" seems less of a bandwidth hog than any other multiplayer shooter. It simply seems to connect better via modem to Internet game servers, to suffer less lag, and the freeze up less often.

Beyond that important distinction (and there's little in the gaming world more frustrating than having a good battle interrupted by delays), what sets "Half-Life" apart is a bunch of little things that add up to make a very playable game.

For starters, the weapons are more realistic than in "Quake," "Quake II" or "Unreal." While there are a few concessions to sci fi (a laser-gel gun of some sort that's actually pretty cool, and a giant claw you wear that shoots auto-homing missiles), the others are things you could find at any Sunday afternoon arms bazaar at your local militia: Over-under shotgun, submachine gun, pistol, Magnum revolver, crossbow, satchel bomb, hand grenade.

Another improvement in "Half-Life" is that the multiplayer menu goes out on the 'Net and finds games for you – while you can still use "GameSpy," you don't need it to find games. The connection speed indicator isn't particularly useful – no listing of how many servers you're jumping or what your ping rate is – but it does give you a comparative idea of the quality of connections.

And there are the fun touches, as well. The characters don't all look like alien heavies from "Star Wars," and range from a skinny guy in a white lab coat to "Lost in Space" looking astronauts (male and female) to some sort of metalic robot. You can also customize (using Windows "Paint" or any other grahics program that can output a .bmp image) a tag sign in multiplayer, so that you can spraypaint your mark all over the walls in the color of your choice (you get a half-dozen or so designs included with the game).

The "Team Fortress" add-on wasn't out yet as this is written, but it promises to be a nice addition to "Half-Life's" multiplayer mode. Sometimes having to shoot at everyone is a bit tiresome, and it can be nice to have team games.

As mentioned, "Half-Life" hasn't been out very long yet. As more people become involved and design their own levels, it will only get better.