My last video game purchase was the Xbox 360 version of The Orange Box in February/March of this year (I can't quite remember which) , based largely on the fact that it was twenty dollars and I had immensely enjoyed Portal when I had played through it on my dad's computer, so I figured Portal alone was worth the money. Before this, I had known nothing of Half Life, its canon, or really Valve Software even.
Half Life 2 and its associated episodes are now some of my favorite games of all time, and certainly the best PC-type shooters I've ever played. So I decided to play through the original Half Life and the Gearbox expansion packs Opposing Force and Blue Shift, and I really have to say that I'm really underwhelmed.
The environments made me sick of corridors. The entire game takes place underground in a series of corridors, with a few levels on the surface and some genuinely interesting alien environments at the very end. I was so happy when I got to the chapter "Surface Tension" that I almost cried from joy at not being in yet another dark hallway.
The game has no characters apart from the un-named government guy, who is actually quite interesting. Every other person the player meets is nothing more than an extra. This was one of my biggest disappointments with the game, especially after all the likeable characters from Half Life 2.
The game also has basically no story. Essentially, you play as a scientist by the name of Dr. Gordon Freeman working in a stereotypical top-secret underground research facility, when some experiment goes stereotypically wrong and aliens start to appear out of nowhere, and then the story pretty much disappears altogether as players can spend really long periods of time in between major plot points, so much so that I often could not remember what my objective was, and the game provides no reminders either.
The weapons are nowhere near as cool or useful as the ones in HL2, with the possible exception of snarks, which are awesome and should be included in every shooter ever made. The SMG is less satisfying than its HL2 counterpart. The crossbow is much less satisfying than the HL2 crossbow; superheated steel rebar is much cooler than poison darts (that can somehow render automated turrets completely inoperable in one shot).
I would also like to take this opportunity to point out the fact that WASD was made for typing, not platforming. If I wanted to jump from moving platform to moving platform, I would be playing a platformer. On a console.
Opposing Force, an official expansion made by Gearbox, was much better. After growing to hate the HECU soldiers over the course of the first game, it was interesting to play a game from the enemy's perspective. The night vision goggles were a very welcome replacement for the piss-poor excuse for a flashlight that Gordon Freeman had. The weapon design was much more interesting, with the barnacle easily the coolest among many very cool organic alien weaponry. The portal gun was very inventive and is now one of my favorite video game weapons of all time.
I remember starting it up and immediately noticing how much better it was than the base game. The first such revelation was at the very beginning in the Osprey, when I remember thinking, "Holy shit, some actual exposition!" There were actual characters who appeared more than once! There were plenty of outside levels! There was a simple, overarching goal that I never lost track of! The game had some substance!
The levels were designed better, the firefights were more fun, the jumping puzzles were less dreadful, other puzzles were much better; in short, the game was more fun and had more substance, despite being shorter.
Blue Shift, another Gearbox expansion, was also better than the original game. It made players weaker with the loss of batteries and HEV stations to regain protection, the lack of really good weapons, and the return of the worthless flashlight, which was an interesting design decision and one I really liked.
What's more, it introduced an actual named NPC, Dr. Rosenberg. It was also nice to not have a traditional final boss fight like in Half Life and Opposing Force.
I am actually very glad that Half Life existed, and sold as well as it did, because without its success there would be no Half Life 2, and I love Half Life 2. That said, playing it was the most dreadful gaming experience I have ever had, and I don't think I will ever be able to bring myself to play through it again.