Half-Life (Vet and Virgin) Demo Review

Published on 17 February 1999, this review featured the analysis of myself and fellow 3DGNer Paul Mordini. Goofiness, of course, ensued.

Paul Mordini in red, Ilya Popov in white.

Better than yelling “FIRE” in school during SATs…

Whenever anybody who has any taste in games says the words “half” and “life”, then we all know that person must be one smilin’ mofo. But alas! Whenever I hear those words in a combination, I just shrug or stare blankly. For I, am a Half-Life Virgin. Yes, I confess *sobsniffle*. But I feel much better having it out now. Having not played this game, I could only imagine from screenshots and crazed online lunatics chanting “Half-Life,” what to expect. All I saw was another 50 MB download. I saw wrong.

I’m wondering what the hell Valve was thinking when they released the demo of Half-Life. As a veteran player of this game, I’ve run through the full game twice just to see what I missed the first time around. Then I got my hands on the demo, and based upon the press release from Gabe Newell, I thought that this could turn out to be pretty damn cool.

Turns out, I’m pretty damn stupid. Frankly folks, if you own the full version, this isn’t worth your time, but if you’ve never played the full game before (I can only wonder what the hell is wrong with you if you haven’t), then this is something that might want to consider. It’s the equivalent of a quickie in your dad’s car, but hey, those’ve always been fun.

The Half-Life: Uplink demo, not present in the full game, is a great deal of fun; it’s kind of funny due to the fact that usually only people with Half-A-Life jump up saying, “Hey, I’m gonna go home and play some more of the such-and-such a game demo”. You sneak along shooting people, creatures, and little canisters with the words “Danger” printed on them, as well as solving slight puzzles and viewing in-game cinematic scenes. The demo takes you to the point of almost crying… it’s so good, then it fades out, leaving you with a burning desire to play more.

For starters, this demo has about as much replay value as a cheap hooker… after the first time you’ll want to find something better. My brain hurts so much that I have to compare this to Sin. The Sin demo was the most amazing demo to come along in recent years, but the full version was a mediocre product, whereas here the full version is astounding, and the demo is merely adequate.

Clocking in at 48.5 MB, I recommend finding a fast server and then playing with socks or something for a few hours. Thankfully though, for those of you that already have the full version, a lite version of the demo can be downloaded that clocks in at 4 mb and requires the full version of Half-Life to play.

Right, I installed, ran the game, looked at the “Game of the Year” AVI clip that seemed a bit absurd to me at the time, tweaked the config, and clicked on new game. Looks cool so far, I go through the sequence, get the crowbar, and die. I smacked the soda machine, and it fell over on me. I do it again, I die. I stuck my face in the steam coming from the back of it. Right-O, won’t do that again. Go along, I die.

The security guard killed me when I smacked him a few times with the crowbar. I learned some things the hard way… you can’t shoot tanks with “danger” printed on them or get by the lasers by blowing them up, unless you want to alert everybody around and take damage. It works to get rid of anything in the vicinity though. Every possible way to die, I did. A soda machine! Felt like the poor sap who tries to take free drinks…

My main bitches are the length of the demo and the level design. The playing time on the demo sucks more than Sweet Dick Willy on a Friday night after kicking back a few pints o’ ale. I ran through the entire demo in under an hour. In the computer gaming world, we call this linear. I’ve played demos that had my rapt attention all day, and this had my attention for about an hour. In a pinch : Wham-Bam-Thank You ma’am. As for the level design, half the time, I felt as if though I was walking through Lego land instead of a warehouse.

The weapons selection was even more horrendous. If you own the full version of Half-Life, then you know what weapons are in the game. Sadly, not all of them are included here. It would have made my day to have the rocket launcher in the demo. That bad ass would show those punks up in the tower what pain feels like… but the fun doesn’t stop here. The worst sin of all? No multiplayer. This is just plain idiotic. It wouldn’t take much to have people set up demo servers. Hell, it worked for Sin, why the hell not do the same for Half-Life?

While all the other options for adjusting controls, graphics, sound, loading and saving games, etc, may be present, the lack of any form of multiplayer is inexcusable.

My friend stops by… he is one of fruity guys, but we love him. I asked him to try this out, (he dislikes Quake due to the way you charge in guns blazing) “Sure, why not?” He gets angry with the sensitivity, plays the game a bit, and decides to try ‘The Hazard Course”. The Hazard Course just runs along through the movements; I was surprised at how fast he picked it up… I mean over here in Quake he usually falls in lava right after spawning and only plays RTS’s. Who knew? Controls are a plus. He plays the game for a while with his new controlling skills then runs out as fast as he can go (he is a large fellow, but he sure can move) to go pick it up.

The graphics are still top notch, and the sound is still as good as ever. If you own an MX300 you’re in for a really intense audio experience. For those ‘not in the know’, the Half-Life engine consists of 30% Quake/Quake II code and 70% Valve code. And thankfully there’s a wide palette of colors so don’t run in expecting to see the varied hues of brown and gray that have become id Software’s trademark.

Next to Unreal, this is just about the prettiest shooter I’ve ever seen. Supported out of the box, er, demo, are OpenGL, Direct3D, and software mode. A little something for everyone. And for those of you with the more powerful videocards (read: TNT) you can run the resolution as high as 1024 X 768, if not higher. And thankfully, there are no prevalent bugs, so the game should work fine for everyone.

This demo is the ultimate way to sell a game; it’s crisp, clean, loaded with options, and makes me sad to think I didn’t get Half-Life the day it came out. My friend who loathes first-person games must have seen the light, because I’m still trying to clean up the mess he left on my keyboard. Sticky, yuck.

It’s not hard if you actually use your brain (coughcoughSodaMachinecough) and ingenuity. If you’ve played Half-Life I recommend you try this out just to experience the joy of wanting to play more. Download this now, and keep some paper towels beside you for the safety of all keyboard-kind.

The AI does tend to become a bit flaky at times, and a guard will end up shooting at you to kill a creature behind you, but the full version had the same problem, so pay it no mind. Unfortunately, the demo lacks the atmosphere that made the full version so amazing. And while the demo does contain a new mission (thus the name Uplink), no one said it was going to be any good.

To make matters worse, half the time is spent running back and forth in familiar areas. In short, this is a tiny mission. The Half-Life demo ‘Uplink’ is worth trying for those who’ve never played the full version, but as for myself, I own the full version, and I expected more from Valve. It made me want to eat bad cheese. Shame on you Valve. No hamsters for you.

The Goods

Size: 48.5 MB
Pros: It’s a Half-Life demo, need I say more?
New levels, great graphics and sound.
Cons: It makes me feel as if my mind has been taken over, messages telling me to play… this… game.
No multiplayer, weak plot, too short, no replay value.
Bottom Line: Wow! I have never had a gaming experience like this in my life; I’m still reeling.
While offering new levels for everyone including those who own the full game, there just isn’t enough in this demo to make it worth the download time.

Worth it?

Download Factor: 5/5 2/5
Overall Fun: 5/5 3/5
Overall: 5/5 3/5