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At first, nothing at all. A title card, possibly the most understated in gaming history, flashes on screen. The darkness fades and we open on, of all things, an employee commuter tram. You’re now in control, but not of a soldier or superhero – merely a scientist, heading into work. Chatting with colleagues. Waving to security personnel. Listening to company announcements. Riding elevators. Visiting lockers. Just another, ordinary day at the office.
What makes it special?
Gordon Freeman may start Half-Life as just another, ordinary scientist on just another, ordinary day, but that normalcy is deceptive and doesn’t last long. While you guide him through his daily and relatively dull routine, you discover that Gordon is actually a “theoretical physicist” researching in the field of “anomalous materials.” And as you might guess, such occupational pursuits can only lead to total, unmitigated disaster.
Sure enough - and before long - a strange laboratory specimen opens a rift in the time-space continuum. Aliens arrive, of course, slaughtering every scientist and security guard in their path. Gordon, naturally, must become the hero, stop the invasion and save humanity. In other words, exactly what one expects out of a videogame. Masterfully executed, but predictable nonetheless.
That first hour of gameplay, however, has a powerful and lasting effect. Because you experienced the hero’s life before he transformed into the hero, he always seems real. Because you received a lengthy and immersive tour of his office before the extraterrestrial shit hit the interdimensional fan, the crazy stuff that occurs there seems real, too. Because of that groundbreaking opening, still copied by competitors to this day, Half-Life seems real.
Hear more about this article in TalkRadar.
Jan 26, 2009
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