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Video Game / Half-Life

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"Good morning, and welcome to the Black Mesa Transit System. This automated train is provided for the security and convenience of the Black Mesa Research Facility personnel..."

Half-Life is an 1998 First-Person Shooter for PCs developed by Valve as their debut title and originally published by Sierra, and the first installment of the Half-Life series.

Half-Life follows a day in the life of physicist Gordon Freeman, a bearded, bespectacled Heroic Mime who works in the Anomalous Materials laboratory at the vast Black Mesa Research Facility, a top-secret complex in the middle of the New Mexico desert. While performing a test on a strange crystalline substance, Gordon accidentally initiates a 'resonance cascade' — an event which causes bizarre, violent creatures to be spontaneously transported from another dimension. Now Gordon must work his way across the base in pursuit of a way to close the dimensional rift, fighting off not only the acid-spewing, electricity-shooting, zombifying aliens but also the Hazardous Environment Combat Unit (HECU), a special unit under the US military, who have swarmed into the complex and are destroying the creatures and silencing the facility's personnel with equal vigour.

Notable for its total immersion of the player. The game is entirely played in first person and in real-time, with very little sound not produced by actions in the game world, and no sounds at all made by the central character; also, there are few cutscenes (and even they let you look around during them) — the player has control of the character at all times, and the story unfolds entirely in-game.

The designers had great difficulty with the level design at first and got stuck in a rut. To take stock, they created a single level containing every gimmick, enemy, and bit of level furniture that they had come up with for the game so far. Said level was fantastic, and they realized that this density of set pieces was the "certain something" the game lacked.

Gearbox Software made three official Expansion Packs for the original game, which act as POV Sequels for the main plot. They are as follows:

  • Opposing Force begins shortly after the Resonance Cascade, and has the player controlling Corporal Adrian Shephard, one of numerous US Marines sent as the initial clean-up team. Involved in a chopper crash and separated from his squadron, Shephard awakens as the Marines begin their evacuation. Notably fills in what happened in Black Mesa after Freeman takes the battle to Xen. Additionally, Shephard is the only protagonist whose fate remains completely unknown.
  • Blue Shift runs concurrently with about the first third of the main plot, with the player controlling security guard Barney Calhoun. Working to evacuate the facility following the accident, Barney's story examines the outbreak from a survivor's perspective; instead of combating the problem like Freeman, it's about getting out alive. The only expansion (presumed) to be canonical, as Barney later reappears as a significant supporting character in Half-Life 2 and its following episodes.
  • Decay follows two other Black Mesa scientists, Drs. Gina Cross and Colette Green, and is the only official co-operative entry to date. Following the doctors as they act as key scientists, their story shows the work of the Lambda scientists that Freeman co-operates with, explaining how they acted to undo the Resonance Cascade and Xen invasion. Developed and released exclusively for the PS2 version of Half-Life, it can also be played on the PC thanks to the efforts of the mod community.

An official class-based multiplayer modification, Team Fortress Classic, was also available as a free add-on for all owners of the original retail version of Half-Life, and was included in most subsequent versions as well (e.g. the Game of the Year Edition).

Gearbox took some liberties towards the storylines, which still causes fan disputes to their canonicity; as Word of God by the series' main writer, Marc Laidlaw, has deemed them semi-canonical until further notice, some label them as Fanon Discontinuity, while others ferociously defend their being canonical (due in no small part to Adrian Shephard's status as an Ensemble Dark Horse) and have attempted to pull together a timeline of the events along the four stories.

The game engine was also famous for being highly customizable, leading to a long series of mods. Some of them were single-player, such as Gunman Chronicles and They Hunger,note  while famous multiplayer mods include Deathmatch Classic, Ricochet, Day of Defeat, Natural Selection, The Hidden: Source, and Afraid of Monsters.note  Especially notable of all mods are Team Fortress and Counter-Strike, both of which have famously ascended to independent games in their own right (and adopted by Valve themselves); because of this, Half-Life and its mods are collectively one of the most influential games of all time.

A sequel, Half-Life 2, which would prove no less influential, was released in 2004. Half-Life and its multiplayer mode were ported to Half-Life 2's Source Engine as Half-Life: Source and Half-Life Deathmatch: Source, though were otherwise mostly unchanged.

In September 2012, Black Mesa, a comprehensive Fan Remake that recreates the entire game in the Source engine, was released, after over eight years of waiting. After almost eight more years, the 1.0 version was released in March 2020.

In early 2013, with Valve's push to get Steam on Linux, they ported Half-Life 1 to Linux, as well as macOS.

On November 17, 2023, as part of the game's 25th Anniversary Milestone Celebration, Half-Life 1 received an update adding the Uplink demo as a playable campaign, 4 new multiplayer maps, and a plethora of Quality of Life updates, including making it playable on the Steam Deck, with this new update meant to replace Half-Life: Source as the definitive version going forward.

If you enjoyed this game, or want to watch it instead of play it, do check out Freeman's Mind.

Half-Life contains examples of:

  • Action Survivor: Black Mesa's security guards are armed with nothing but a pistol, and if Barney Calhoun is any indication, they don't always have a military background. Yet, these humble guardsmen are more than capable of holding their own against trained marines. Having one of them assisting you in a firefight can be the difference between getting mostly unscathed and being one foot in the grave.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The Black Mesa ceiling turrets do not distinguish between friend or foe and will gun anyone down within their vicinity, whether it's the Black Mesa personnel or the invading Xen aliens.
  • Adjustable Censorship: You have the option to disable the blood and gore. It's not exactly the most thorough censor, however, as though turning the mature filter on disables blood spray and gibs that come from shooting enemies, environmental blood (of which there is a lot) is still present.
  • Animated Outtakes: The PS2 version has some Dummied Out voice lines like this with animations to go with them, put to video here.
  • Anti-Frustration Features:
    • Security Guards will typically turn on you if you try and attack them. The game however will give you leniency if the Security Guard is in a fight (in which case he'll ignore you, assuming that the friendly fire was the result of being caught in the crossfire), or if you were not aiming directly at them while not in a fight (in which he'll assume it was an accident for the first incident, and not turn on you until the second).
    • Half-Life's controls for using satchel charges were originally somewhat clunky, with Primary Fire serving to both throw the first satchel charge and activate the detonator, with subsequent satchels only being thrown with Secondary Fire. The game's 25th Anniversary Update changed this so that Primary Fire always throws a new satchel, and Secondary Fire only activates the detonator; a change originally demonstrated in the Fan Remake Black Mesa.
  • Area 51: Black Mesa is a privately owned Expy for this.
  • Armies Are Evil: The HECU unit is tasked with killing everyone in Black Mesa, including all humans, to prevent the public from finding out about the event. Most soldiers never show any doubt or regret and talk about scientists being dumb and Freeman being mean for defending himself.
  • Artificial Brilliance:
    • Half-Life was widely praised for the A.I. of its human Marine enemies, who were the first FPS enemies to work in squads and use complex tactical behaviours and movement patterns instead of simply charging in a straight line at the player. Valve made a selling point out of their ability to flush the player out with grenades.
    • The cockroaches are also pretty impressively programmed for prop NPCs.
    • There's a channel by the name of Marphitimus Blackimus that catalogues the different interesting little facts and programming features of Half-Life and its spinoffs.
  • Artificial Stupidity:
    • Marines have a tendency towards friendly casualties when throwing grenades, and will forget about armed grenades they drop if they catch sight of the player. The player can also trick grunts into a kill box by lying in wait behind a corner. No matter how many of their fellow grunts are slaughtered, they (and any other enemy, for that matter) will still charge blindly around corners.
    • The alien enemies in general are fairly dumb, even the sapient military units. Alien Grunts and Alien Slaves will simply stand still and shoot at you, rarely moving between cover. They're also pretty slow to react and will not use their powerful melee unless you get up in their face, even if you're standing five feet away from them. Alien Controllers just fly straight at you, making it trivially easy to lure them into tight corridors where they get stuck on the level geometry. Gargantuas have limited pathfinding ability (partly due to their size), will not react to getting shot past a certain distance (noticeably on Xen), and will forget that they saw you after less than a minute if you provoke one and then hide. If you go somewhere they can't reach, such as on top of a tower or into a crevice, they will simply walk away and forget you exist despite still clearly being able to see you.
  • Artistic License – Military: The US military shown in the game appears to be based primarily on the US Marines, but much of their equipment and vehicles are a mash-up of various branches that range from heavily outdated (such as the Mk 2 grenade, which had been replaced by the 1960s) to futuristic (such as using V-22 Ospreys as transport; while the Osprey's first flight was in 1989, it wouldn't be properly fielded in reality until 2007). Their Apache helicopters and Bradley APCs are Army vehicles, and their F-16s are Air Force, none in service with the Marines. The instruction manual refers to their submachine gun, the MP5, as a Navy SEAL weapon. Opposing Force would retcon them into the fictional Hazardous Environment Combat Unit, who presumably pull equipment from all branches of the military.
  • Artistic License – Nuclear Physics: The fuel used by the Tau Cannon and Gluon Gun is supposedly "depleted uranium-235" according to official materials. Depleted uranium, by definition, has almost no U-235 in it (and is useless as nuclear fuel).
  • Artistic License – Physics:
    • While the tau is a real particle, it is basically like a giant electron, meaning a tau cannon would probably be more like a Lightning Gun than a pseudo laser gun.
    • Gordon's doctorate is in theoretical physics, but his actual role at Black Mesa places him as more of an experimental physicist. note 
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The Gluon Gun can destroy any non-boss NPC in a second or so max. It also chews up all of your ammo in mere seconds.
  • Badass Army:
    • The HECU is made up of highly trained marines backed by a full repertoire of US military hardware. The soldiers are quite deadly, but unfortunately for them, they're a single special forces battalion going up against an entire alien army (and Gordon Freeman). Things go well for them at first, but once the alien invasion ramps up they're rather quickly overwhelmed and resort to pulling out of the facility altogether.
    • The Xen aliens have a rather large number of easily killed mooks, but the elite of their army— alien grunts and gargantua, in particular—are quite dangerous. Their 'aircraft' (another alien species) are also a credible threat, seeming locked in a fairly even struggle with the HECU's aircraft throughout the battle.
  • Bee-Bee Gun: The Hivehand fires homing (or rather life-signs-seeking) hornets.
  • BFG: The Tau Cannon and Gluon Gun fill this role and are effective against attack choppers and heavy enemies. They even use depleted uranium as ammo.
  • Bizarrchitecture: Black Mesa proves difficult to be mapped. The original game has a segment where Gordon blacks out (at the end of "Apprehension") and his point of view is interrupted, which makes it impossible to know where the anti-mass spectrometer at the beginning and the Lambda Complex teleporter at the end are in regards to each other. Mapping them thus requires taking into account the Opposing Force levels, which weren't designed by Valve, and it shows.note  An attempt to put all levels together estimated the actual distance between the two rooms to be about 91 meters, and shows that many levels overlap, and portions of "Surface Tension" actually end up underground. All in all, considering Black Mesa is a massive underground facility, it's not surprising that its layout turns out to be difficult to understand.
  • Bookends:
    • The game begins and ends in a tram.
    • You go down an AKIRA-esque lift in "Unforeseen Consequences" (the first chapter after the Resonance Cascade), and then down a similar one at the beginning of "Lambda Core" (the last chapter to take place at Black Mesa). Just to reinforce it, "Cavern Ambience" sounds in both times.
  • Bootstrapped Leitmotif: "Nuclear Mission Jam" was supposed to sound for the first time at the beginning of Apprehension, during the short section with the railcar; however, the trigger for this instance seems to be glitched, so it doesn't play in the final game. Therefore, this song only plays right after the player acquires the Tau cannon, so most players think of this song as "the Tau cannon theme".
  • Bootstrapped Theme: "Hazardous Environments" is the music from the logo for Valve Software.
  • Boring, but Practical: The Hivehand is the only weapon that regenerates ammo. It's especially useful once you get to Xen, where ammo is very scarce overall.
  • Boss-Arena Idiocy: If the Nihilanth didn't have those gigantic stalagmites in his lair to hide behind it would be pretty much impossible to avoid his attacks (his main attack is lock-on and does massive damage).
  • Boss Battle:
  • Bottomless Magazines: Barney is the only NPC who never has to reload his gun. Likely unintentional since he does have an unused reload animation.
  • Can't Kill You, Still Need You: Since the game does not penalize killing friendly NPCs, you are only prevented from killing them if they are needed for opening a door required to progress or to perform some other plot-critical function.
  • Cavalry Betrayal: Black Mesa survivors radio the government for military support. This only makes things worse, as the military has orders to silence witnesses as well.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The damage from the Resonance Cascade (as well as other things) has caused a lot of the ways through Black Mesa to be blocked off. However, each one of these blockages just happens to have an alternative way around it (sometimes caused by the same damage, e.g. a hole has been broken in the wall or an air duct has been knocked in such a way you can now crawl into it).
  • Couldn't Find a Pen: There are some numbers written in blood near a scientist's corpse in the chapter "Lambda Core". These numbers are a hint for an upcoming puzzle.
  • Creepy Cockroach: Black Mesa has no shortage of them. As noted under Artificial Brilliance, the Roaches in the game have a surprising amount of Video Game A.I. built into them. It is particularly impressive, given that even modern games usually give them pre-scripted animations or simply render them as particle effects.
  • Creepy Monotone: The G-Man, the Black Mesa PA system, and the HECU marines' radio chatter. The latter two are because they have their dialogue stitched together from separate sound clips. Funnily enough, the marines sound like normal human beings in Opposing Force, where they're your allies and are as such given actual dialogue.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Both times this happens when the marines fight a Gargantua (the first one just fries them with his arm flamethrowers, whereas the second crushes two marines by shoving a car they were using as cover into them). Most likely this is to make it obvious you aren't meant to stand and fight the Gargantuas, as they are both puzzle bosses you're meant to kill using environmental objects.
  • Curb-Stomp Cushion: By the second day of the incident, the HECU is being steadily overwhelmed by the aliens, but as far as the player sees they tend to win the individual skirmishes. This suggests that the aliens are only winning because of superior numbers (a whole army vs a single special forces battalion) and that the Marines are giving as good as they get. Indeed, they're still enemies of the player (and everyone else in Black Mesa) but it's still easier to root for the humans during an alien invasion.
  • Damn You, Muscle Memory!: "Jump" in the PS2 port is L1 by default; luckily, the schematic is remappable.
    • Also the 25th Anniversary update swaps the fire modes for the satchel charges, with the secondary fire throws the satchels & the primary fire detonates the charges.
  • Dead Character Walking: The original has this: if an NPC has scripted dialogue, but you kill them before they begin to speak, the corpse will speak anyway. The mouth moves and the audio can be heard, but they are otherwise dead. (This works at least on the security guard at the end of the "Power Up" sequence.)
  • Deconstruction: Arguably one for Doom-like FPS games which had been popular before Half-Life, showing exactly how terrifying and horrific an invasion by the monstrous extra-terrestrial/dimensional beings would be in Real Life as well as showing just what sort of person the protagonist have to be to even stand a chance of survival, let alone stopping it. These aspects are much better demonstrated with the Black Mesa Fan Remake.
    • Aliens teleporting randomly to Earth from another world due to a disastrous teleportation experiment would more likely be hostile out of sheer terror and confusion at suddenly disappearing from their original habitats and appearing in one that is as alien to them as they and the place they come from are to us. Also, randomly teleporting alien life is not guaranteed to be sapient, as many of the hostile aliens are Xen wildlife. Even when the Alien Invasion became organized, it was still more opportunistic than pre-planned since any teleporting accident that gives them access to Earth would be just as much a surprise to them as it is to us.
    • While initially holding the upper hand, the human military gets their asses handed to them as soon as the Alien Invasion gets even a little more organized since any surprise Alien Invasion would be such an Outside-Context Problem no human faction or force on Earth would even be remotely prepared to deal with them at its onset, especially given the short timeframe (around 48 hours) and growing numerical and technological superiority from the aliens' end. In all likelihood, it would likely have taken the US government weeks, if not months, just to get a grip on the situation as well as their opponent and bring the firepower and resources necessary to bear just to deal with them - time which the humans simply do not have. True to form, the US government eventually resorted to nuking Black Mesa just to contain the invasion, and even then it didn't work entirely.
    • Gordon Freeman, The Protagonist, isn't a badass supersoldier at the start but is little more than a theoretical physicist of slightly above-average fitness who just happens to find himself at ground zero of a science experiment Gone Horribly Wrong which caused the whole mess. He had no real goal at first beyond just getting out of the facility alive and getting help and only ended up becoming Humanity's last, best hope of stopping an Alien Invasion after he slaughtered his way through two armies (one of which was a human army) and acquired enough firepower to do the job, and he mostly did it for the sake of self-preservation and protecting his fellow scientists. And being a scientist instead of a soldier, he relied as much on his wits as he did his arsenal of weapons to figure his way out of impossible situations as well as strategize how to best fight his opponents - and there are plenty of such obstacles and enemies around where he simply cannot defeat by running in guns-blazing like traditional FPS protagonists. And thank goodness Black Mesa just happened to develop the incredibly protective HEV suit that he wore and is filled to the brim with health and power stations/packs with which he could replenish/recharge his body health and suit power, as well as having many helpful security guards and scientists who are also trying to survive and working to end the catastrophe.
  • "Die Hard" on an X: This game is pretty much Die Hard in a research facility.
  • Downer Ending: Both endings. Either Gordon is placed into stasis as some sort of mercenary, or he dies at the hands of the Nihilanth's remnant forces. The Black Mesa Research Facility is overrun by aliens and ultimately destroyed by a nuclear weapon, with nearly everyone who was holding out for Gordon to get help dying and little Gordon could do to save them. And Half-Life 2 showed the event paved the way for the Combine invasion and conquest of Earth. What possibly pushes the ending into a Bittersweet Ending territory is that canonically, Gordon accepted the G-Man's offer, meaning he at least survived the Black Mesa Incident, and either way he still saved Earth from being overrun by Xen forces. His deeds also made him a legend and a leader among the Human-Vortigaunt resistance by the time of Half-Life 2. And if his performance continues the same way, he may just save Earth from Combine occupation like he did from the Xen invasion.
  • Dumb, but Diligent: This trope seems to be encouraged by Black Mesa, with several signs throughout the facility saying "Work harder, not smarter."
  • Dumb Jock: The graffiti tags the Marines leave on the walls to intimidate Gordon are full of misspellings, like "YORE DEAD FREEMAN".
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • The general design of the game and its expansions are much more brightly colored than its sequel.
    • The Vortigaunts, due to the general lack of knowledge about Xen in this game, are called "Alien Slaves" in the game files, and talk in a stereotypically high-pitched, "alien" voice, as opposed to the monk-esque manner they do in the sequels.
    • Allies and enemies alike can explode into a bunch of body parts, which isn't as prominent in later instalments.
    • In general, the post-apocalyptic Dystopia elements of the franchise are completely absent in favour of promoting a more Science Fiction Conspiracy Thriller where the United States military is depicted as an antagonistic force alongside the aliens (most of which were mindless beasts). Later instalments of the franchise emphasized more of a "humanity vs. alien empire" story, in which the aliens have already won in the grand scheme of things.
  • Easter Egg:
  • Evil vs. Evil: At multiple points, you can encounter HECU marines battling Xen creatures, and wait around to take out the winner.
  • Explosive Instrumentation: Black Mesa's computers seem to be prone to this even before the resonance cascade.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • On his way to work Gordon passes by so many computer malfunctions, mechanical failures, and mutterings about "unusual readings". There might as well be a giant "Freak Lab Accident Today!" sign in the lab.
    • Very subtly in "Unforeseen Consequences". Gordon passes through the "Coolant Reserve Facility", implying that there's a reactor around here somewhere, despite Black Mesa being powered by a hydroelectric dam. This sets up the Lambda Reactor that powers the teleporters in Chapter 14.
    • At the beginning of "We've Got Hostiles!", a panicking scientists begs for the silo door to be opened, saying that "they" are coming for him and fellow Black Mesa personnel. You soon find out that "they" are the HECU marines, and they're coming to kill the personnel instead of evacuating them.
    • One of the Nihilanth's quotes directly foreshadows the sequel by mentioning exactly what it and its underlings are.
      Their slaves... we are their slaves... we are...
    • In the chapter "Apprehension", you meet a scientist who claims that he and the military both are tracking Freeman through Black Mesa's security system and trackers in the HEV suit. And later in the chapter, you are captured.
  • Fragile Speedster: The female Black Ops Assassins have below-average health, but are crazy fast, can make huge leaps, and on the highest difficulty setting, come equipped with a cloaking device. They're also Glass Cannons, and can easily wipe half your health away in groups.
  • From Bad to Worse: Dr Freeman starts his day running late, gets trapped in the middle of an experiment Gone Horribly Wrong, has to escape from the creatures emerging from said experiment, then has to deal with the marines working on containment, THEN black-ops ninjas. Even after that it gets even worse for him and the rest of humanity.
  • Gainax Ending: So very much. Not only is the Final Boss pretty weird to start and an Unexpected Gameplay Change in how you fight it, but the actual ending makes little sense and leaves tons of unanswered questions.
  • Gameplay and Story Segregation: You can run around with as little as one hit-point and still be at full strength, and all it takes to improve the situation is to collect a medkit or a health charger. However, occasionally you will find allies who are critically injured or dying, barely able to move. In one case a scientist is administering CPR. One wonders why medkits can't be used to help these people. (Sometimes there are medkits on the ground close by!)
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: The experiment that let the aliens in.
  • Gorn:
    • Plenty of it. Human remains flying out of vents, human remains falling out of Barnacles, headcrabs latching onto human skulls and causing their human victims to rot while still alive and conscious. Even worse, humans infected by headcrabs have giant mouths where their stomachs should be.
    • The "Brutal Half-Life" mod just amps it up even more and makes the gore far more realistic than it should be. See for yourself.
  • The Government: So much for them. They decided to contain the Black Mesa incident through force, which unfortunately included the Science and Security Personnel, and later, many of the US Marines were left behind in a hasty evacuation.
  • Graying Morality: While it seems at first like the Black Mesa personnel are the innocent victims of an alien invasion, we find out later (in a level aptly named Questionable Ethics) that the humans have been kidnapping aliens and doing experiments on them for months before the resonance cascade. Furthermore, Word of God says that the crystal used in the experiment that caused the resonance cascade in the first place was stolen from the Nihilanth's lair.
  • Guest Fighter: Too Much Coffee Man is among the official usable skins for the game's multiplayer deathmatch mode. Previously only available on the Half-Life: Further Data CD, he was later brought back in the 25th Anniversary update for the Steam release.
  • Hand Cannon: The Python does far more damage than the .357 it's supposed to be, doing three times more damage than Opposing Force's M249, which fires rifle rounds that fairly realistically take down marines in full body armor after 3-5 hits.
  • Heal Thyself: The game follows the standard convention of instantly healing by picking up medkits. Unusually though, this appears to be canonical rather than a game mechanic. The syringes the scientist uses to heal you (as well as the wall health kits in the PlayStation 2 port) have some weird green liquid in them that instantly heals all your wounds, and the medkits appear to contain the same substance. This may seem odd, but when you get to Xen, you encounter several pools of water that also magically heal you. The abundance of human corpses around Xen (as well as the location of an actual research outpost in Blue Shift) suggests that the technology for this was stolen from the aliens via these pools.
  • He Knows About Timed Hits: In the training course, the holographic instructor mentions the "use" key.
  • Hidden Mechanic: Even though the Hivehand regenerates its tiny ammo supply, it is possible to replenish it by picking up another one.
  • Hyperspace Arsenal: By the end of the first game, Gordon is carrying a crowbar, a 9mm handgun, a shotgun, a sub-machine gun, a revolver, grenades, an RPG, laser tripmines, a laser gun, a bigger laser gun, an alien gun with living bullets, satchel charges and snarks. Plus ammunition. The worst example is the Gluon Gun, which is a backpack-mounted nuclear reactor.
  • I Just Want to Be Badass: The first game was one of the first FPS games to avert this trope, and the game was remarkably atmospheric as a result. As the game has aged, the atmosphere remains, but Gordon's taken a level in wish-fulfillment.
  • Improperly Placed Firearms: While the underslung grenade launcher attachment on the MP5 submachinegun isn't a gun, it counts as such attachments didn't exist in 1998, and even if they did US Marines wouldn't use them. ISTEC would create such an attachment in 2000, but it was meant for the British SAS and saw very little use anyway. The MP5 was replaced with the Colt Commando assault rifle in later versions of the game, a much more logical weapon for US forces to use and to attach an underslung grenade launcher to.
  • Informed Ability: The most we ever see of Gordon Freeman being a physicist is when he pushes a cart into the anti-mass spectrometer. Barney lampshades this in the sequel. Justified, as watching him do a bunch of advanced math wouldn't exactly be exciting.
  • Instant Expert: Despite being a physicist, Gordon not only handles every gun he comes across with perfect competence, but he also manages to gun down dozens of actual trained soldiers throughout the game. This is Hand Waved by Hazard Course, which specifically shows that HEV Suit operators receive firearms training.
  • Just Following Orders:
    • Pretty much the extent Gordon had to do with the resonance cascade.
    • Then the marines who are called in to take out the scientists - then the black ops team who are called in to take out the marines.
  • Last Day of Normalcy: The game begins with a regular day in Gordon Freeman's life on the day the events that led to the Resonance Cascade, which changed the entire world of the franchise, took place.
  • Last-Second Ending Choice: After Gordon has defeated the Nihilanth, the G-Man intercepts him, saying that his employers are very impressed with Gordon's work. He then offers to either employ Gordon, or throw him into a battle that cannot be won. How Gordon responds is up to you.
  • Leitmotif: "Nepal Monastery" tends to be played around a Tentacle, and "Alien Shock" around a Gargantua.
  • Living Weapon: The Hivehand, basically a living alien beehive that shoots a constantly replenishing supply of bee-like aliens. There's also the Snarks, small beetle-like aliens. If you can get some from their nest, you can sic them on enemies, where they'll pester them rather effectively until they either get smashed or blow themselves up.
  • Militaries Are Useless: The soldiers sent to contain the incident are pretty tough, and individually competent. However, they hardly stand a chance against the invading Xen aliens, especially when they start showing up in larger numbers and with stronger units, and their directive to kill all Black Mesa personnel makes them an active hindrance to Gordon and his colleagues, who have the plan to stop the invasion.
  • Minimalist Cast: Freeman and the Nihilanth are the only characters in the game who are even named. There's also the G-Man, but his name is an unofficial, internal one.
  • Monster Closet: The game explains it by way of the monsters getting into unused drywalled-off corridors due to random teleporting.
  • Nintendo Hard: The combat in the game's Military Base segment, and also the platforming in its Xen segment.
  • No Indoor Voice: The HECU Marines, due to their voices always sounding like they're coming out of walkie-talkies. Even lampshaded by one line they say while idle: "Squad, quiet down!" at the same not-very-quiet level.
  • Non-Combatant Immunity: You won't encounter any enemies in the game until you get a crowbar, at which point all Hell breaks loose. Although there is one enemy before that, it's just a lone headcrab, which is easy to dodge and merely serves to illustrate what types of enemies you'll fight later on.
  • Non-Standard Game Over: There are two times when failing an Escort Mission to get a locked door open will result in this.
    • If all 3 of the Questionable Ethics scientists die before one of them opens the lobby entrance door, it results in an instant loss.
    • In Surface Tension, you have to escort a security guard towards two doors that only he can open (the front door of the building the guard started in, and the door that leads to the parking garage). It's an instant loss if the guard dies before both doors have been opened.
  • No OSHA Compliance:
    • Black Mesa was supposedly built by people to ensure no employee survives in even the smallest emergency. Partially justified as the Resonance Cascade did extensive damage to the complex. That said, parts of it still seem pretty unsafe to begin with such as the open pools of toxic waste in multiple levels, just for one.
    • Could probably have a page of its own what with missing handrails, ladders to nowhere etc, but one particularly egregious example is in the "Blast Pit" mission. You have to start a giant fan which you approach from above, but the button to turn it on is underneath with a bottomless pit below. Since the blades fill the entire room, once the fan is on, you have to climb a ladder very quickly to avoid them before they get up to full speed... (How anyone is supposed to turn it off is a mystery!) Then it blows a gust hard enough to lift you high into the air, so your only escape is through a vent at the very top (which is blocked by planks of timber you have to hack through). To top it all off, this particular room has a lot of catwalks without handrails! This is all by design rather than caused by damage from the Resonance Cascade.
    Dario Casali (when asked about the fan in Blast Pit): I'm pretty sure we mostly designed spaces knowing what the setting should be, but starting with a gameplay or experiential concept first, and adopting a "you get the idea" approach to making it feel like it could exist. Number one was always how the game played. If it was fun, we'd turn a blind eye to whether or not it could exist. It's liberating for the design to free yourself from constraints that were conceived not of how the game plays, but where it's set and whether or not it needs to conform closely to reality.
    • Averted - At least the catwalks have non-slip surfaces!
  • Not So Stoic: The HEV suit computer is usually, well, mechanical, with no inflection on its words. But when Gordon is on the verge of death:
    HEV Suit: (Urgent tone) EMERGENCY! USER! DEATH! IMMINENT!!
  • Portal Network: Xen has one. Gordon uses it to navigate the place, as he often finds himself trapped inside small floating islands that can barely sustain a few animals (such as the first real island), or even "islands" that are just rocks that have just enough room to stand on. Why they have one is a mystery however, as the aliens are repeatedly shown to be able to teleport wherever they want, even in groups, as a consequence of the Nihilanth's control.
  • Post-Defeat Explosion Chain: Each time a Gargantua is killed, its death is marked by a series of explosions.
  • Pretentious Latin Motto: Black Mesa's Advanced Biological Research Lab has the motto Superbus via Inscientiæ, which is intended to mean "arrogance through ignorance," and was put in by Karen Laur because she was annoyed by the hubris of her co-workers.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack:
  • Punch-Clock Villain: The Marines you fight are very much this, as they are just doing their job and at a few points you overhear some of them expressing qualms about killing innocent civilians.
  • Punch-Packing Pistol: For some reason, the same 9mm cartridges do more damage when fired from the Glock than when fired from the MP5. Also, the Glock is given the miraculous ability to be fired underwaternote .
  • Puzzle Boss:
    • The Tentacles when you first encounter them. They're defeated by activating the surrounding machinery, which requires the player to sneak or run past the boss several times to reach the necessary switches.
    • The Gargantuas. Each one you encounter has some method to kill it using the environment. Technically, you can kill one with your weapons, but having maxed-out ammunition for every weapon in your inventory is just barely enough firepower.
  • Retcon: A minor version, but Blue Shift, Decay and both console ports of the original game change the infamous MP5 with grenade launcher submachine gun into a Colt Commando assault rifle, a more logical service weapon for the marines and also a more logical one to have a mounted grenade launcher. The Steam version of the original game also now does this, unless you de-select the High Definition Pack from the options menu. The Glock 17 also becomes a Beretta 92FS while the Colt Python becomes a Colt Anaconda, which is both more logical weapons as well (the M9 because it's the U.S. military's service pistol, the Anaconda because .44 Magnum makes the Arbitrary Gun Power slightly less ridiculous than the Python's .357 Magnum... though unlike with the Commando and M9, the High Definition Pack didn't bother to change the model of the Anaconda's ammo pick-up).
  • Rouge Angles of Satin: A building full of explosives in "Surface Tension" has a prominent sign reading "ORDINANCE STORAGE FACILITY". Presumably, they meant ordnance, unless the building was meant to be a law library... This spelling error was kept in Opposing Force as well, where two more buildings are called that.
  • Scenic-Tour Level: The former Trope Namer. The game opens with Gordon taking a tram on his way to work.
  • Secondary Fire: Several weapons feature this. Mostly they are simple things like a laser sight or a scope, but in some cases, it makes the weapon two guns in one, and in other FPS games of the time it would've been a separate weapon altogether rather than a secondary fire. It can be said that Half-Life actually has 19 weapons instead of 15.
    • The SMG/assault rifle has an M203 grenade launcher mounted under that can hold ten grenades and never needs to be reloaded. This, combined with its reasonably common ammo, makes it somewhat overpowered.
    • The shotgun can fire both barrels at the same time (even though it only has one barrel), giving you twice the damage at the cost of accuracy, ammo, and pump time. Very similar to the Super Shotgun weapon in Doom II.
    • The Tau Cannon's secondary fire is a powerful, charged, pixel-accurate laser beam that changes it from a rapid-fire infantry muncher to a single-shot anti-vehicle weapon.
    • The Hivehand has two modes of fire: the primary fire launches heat-seeking "thornets" at a semi-automatic rate. The secondary function "dumb fires" all the thornets in quick succession; much faster than the primary fire, but without the homing ability.
  • Sequence Breaking: Several examples.
    • There are several ways to skip portions of certain chapters, or in some cases, skip them entirely.
      • In "Office Complex," you can shove an NPC into the locked door in the cafeteria area, which results in the door opening; meaning that the player gets to skip the freezer section of the chapter.
      • At the start of "'We've Got Hostiles!'," it's possible to bug the starting scientist that's yelling about the silo door to open the door to the security office. The player would then press the button within said security office to open the silo door and head to "Blast Pit;" effectively skipping the entire chapter.
      • At the start of "Power Up," it's possible to just climb over the cement divider barricade that blocks the tram track, and then squeeze through the tram elevator to reach the next level; effectively skipping the entire chapter. This one doesn't work in the Source version of the game as it's no longer possible to squeeze your way through the tram elevator that comes after the cement divider wall.
      • In "Gonarch's Lair," you can skip having to fight Gonarch the final time. Normally, the death of the Gonarch causes a big explosion that opens up the floor to jump down into the room with the teleporter to the "Interloper" chapter. However, players can use their explosive weapons to break up the floor and head off to "Interloper" before Gonarch's completely defeated.
      • There are several cases where you can use explosives to blast-jump up to areas you normally wouldn't be able to get to until much later. The prime example is the first map of "Interloper" where you can just explosion jump to the floating teleporter island behind the starting spot; effectively skipping the entire first section of the chapter.
    • This happens twice when it comes to scripted NPC events:
      • In "Blast Pit," it's possible to save the scientist who would have been taken away by a Tentacle by quickly rushing over to him, and speaking to him; cancelling the scientist's scripted event.
      • In "Residue Processing," it's possible to stop the security guard from running off and getting eaten by a Barnacle if you're fast enough to run up to him and talk to him; cancelling out the security guard's scripted event. However, this does have a bit of a downside as it means that you won't be getting the regular Pistol for the chapter since the only one drops off the security guard.
  • Shout-Out: Dario Casali's developer commentary explains some of his inspirations for the game's setpieces, including:
    • The Gargantua sequence in "Power Up" was inspired by Jurassic Park.
    • The sequence in the middle of "Questionable Ethics", where the headcrabs bust through the glass, was inspired by the Facehuggers inside vials from Aliens.
    • The exploding barrels that launch into the sky at the beginning of "Surface Tension" were inspired by Backdraft.
  • Sidekick: The security guards, nicknamed the "Barneys". Recruiting them allows them to fight at your side.
  • Slave Mooks: The Vortigaunts.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: One can easily think of it as Doom Played for Horror, owing to its similar plot setup yet very different tone and gameplay. According to Gabe Newell, this was the intention.
    Newell: Half-Life in many ways was a reactionary response to the trivialization of the experience of the first-person genre. Many of us had fallen in love with video games because of the phenomenological possibilities of the field and felt like the industry was reducing the experiences to least common denominators rather than exploring those possibilities. Our hope was that building worlds and characters would be more compelling than building shooting galleries.
  • Starfish Aliens: Most of the aliens barely resemble any form of Earth wildlife.
  • Stealthy Mook: The female Black Ops assassins use silenced pistols and never speak, and on Hard difficulty they use cloaking fields which make them partially invisible.
  • Stop Poking Me!: Walking into certain locked doors repeatedly will start to drive VOX crazy.
  • Tempting Fate: You can overhear one HECU trooper telling another that he killed a bunch of scientists and "not one of them fought back", and proceed to do exactly that.
  • Ten-Second Flashlight: Severely downplayed. While the torch does recharge faster than its juice is spent, it lasts for a long time. Most of the time, you won't see the icon grow dim past the beam portion of it.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The guard you hear playing with the tau cannon. The scientist in the room with him warns against overcharging the device, but the guard has just enough time to ask "What do you mean overcharge?" before the kaboom. Presumably this whole sequence is meant to teach the player how the tau cannon works (you can charge it up for a more powerful shot, but holding the fire button too long will make it overcharge and cause massive, possibly fatal damage.)
  • Tracking Device: Freeman's HEV suit has one, and both the science team and the military have been using it to monitor his location and, in the latter's case, set up ambushes.
  • Trial-and-Error Gameplay: Many of the game's platforming segments, and especially its "minefield" segment. Admittedly, most of the minefields can be dealt with safely through means such as firing a shotgun or SMG into it or using more explosives if you're desperate (however, the big one in "Surface Tension" can't, as doing so is a Non-Standard Game Over).
  • Two-Keyed Lock: The test chamber has to be unlocked by two scientists each activating retinal scanners.
  • Unbroken First-Person Perspective: The Trope Codifier for the use of this trope in a narrative context. As described above, the game unfolds entirely from the perspective of Gordon Freeman, with no cutscenes.
  • Unbuilt Trope: This game is one of the first to attempt to be more realistic than the cartoonish games that inspired it, being set in a facility that is much more logically designed than previous video games complete with intercoms and warning signs and logical machinery in the facilities, and many of the games trying to be realistic to the point they sacrifice fun for realism, especially shooters, cite this as a chief influence. The game still has a lot of Artistic License and frequently breaks reality to make things more interesting or less of a hassle, and has ended up often being favorably compared to said realistic games that it inspired made afterwards. Several developer interviews even admit this.
  • Unintentionally Unwinnable: The worst case scenario regarding the Saving system happens if the player has no other saves and has accidentally quick-saved at the exact moment when the player, or any crucial NPC dies by merely seconds, leaving the player no time to react.
  • Unique Enemy:
    • There are only three Automatic Turrets (the ones mounted on the ceiling, as opposed to the Sentry Guns mounted on tripods). The first two are small, have a single barrel, and are only encountered in "Office Complex". The third example is much bigger, has a tri-barrel gun, and is only faced during "Forget About Freeman".
    • The Alien Cannon appears once during "Forget About Freeman", having been set up by Alien Grunts in a corridor, and then is never seen again. Notably, this enemy is absent from the game's console ports, having been replaced by a stack of crates instead.
    • Two Bradley IFVs are faced during "Surface Tension". One of them has a TOW Launcher, while the other one doesn't, making them both unique. A third Bradley is seen but never fought, instead serving solely as a transport to bring in HECU reinforcements during a warehouse battle between them and a bunch of Xen aliens.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: Except for a few NPCs necessary to advance, nothing is stopping you from killing every scientist or guard you see as long as you have a weapon.
  • Weaponized Offspring: The Gonarch spawns baby Headcrabs during the fight against it.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: Both Mook and One-Man Army are Deconstructed; sneaky players can listen in on the Army as they have weird, regretful conversations about slaughtering hundreds of scientists who expected them to RESCUE them - and later their rage at the player, who they believe was the mastermind behind the invasion and have been slaughtering their comrades wholesale. On the other hand, one of the Marines laments having none of the scientists fight back.