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What happens when you put a beloved PC title that single handedly created the modern first person shooter, on a console 3 years after the fact?

~It’s gonna be one of those days~

Half-life is so much more than just a first person shooter. Created by Valve software and built on a highly modified quake 2 engine, it’s the father of modern First person shooters. It’s a dynamic story driven experience that made you explore the world around you, not just shoot it up. The major players in first person shooters were games like doom or quake but they had a very different play mechanic. This was the realm of Doom clones that Valve helped to open a flood gate of newer, more refined shooters starting with the release of Half-life.

So in 1999 when valve decided to release the game on the PlayStation Two, it seemed to make perfect sense. A highly revered game being released on the most popular console of that generation. Ultimately being released in 2001, this was the same year of arguably one of the greatest block buster release schedule of any console, or any generation. Half-life was going to hit the console market in a big way. At least, that’s what they thought.

initially an unreleased Dreamcast game, the PS2 version is a sort of refined Port that Gearbox lovingly built with the help of ValveGearbox being no Stranger to the Half-life series, created most of the add-ons in the series so they were well versed in the engine and the inner workings of the game.

Controls

Here’s where it gets interesting, the default controls of the game are not great,  That is until you go into the settingsWhat gearbox decided to do was pretty genius, they let you remap the entire controller. This in part lets you create a layout that mimics modern first person shooters played on console. But that’s not all, this has full keyboard and mouse support, also completely customizable.And these aren’t just presets, this is full on controller modification. Any button can do anything. Not just controller layout 1 or controller layout 2. Bringing the PC keybinding idea to the controller.

What gearbox did was take the idea of a port a step further not by turning a pc title into a console game, but turning a console into a PC. Full disclosure, for the life of me, I could not get the mouse to work properly. But this may be due to the fact that I’m using a mouse from 2016 designed for hardware in 2001, regardless, if you play First person shooters on the console, you’ll feel at home with this title

Disclaimer: While researching this specific title, I found very little information about the development, sales, popularity and other information usually easily searchable. As this is such an obscure title with very little popularity around it, most of what is about to be said is from opinions both my own and others with best guesses and hearsay from online forums and marketing material from that time. Viewer discretion is advised.

Graphics

The graphics are where this game gets tricky. While technically, the game is better looking than the original release of half-life, it doesn’t compare to the crispness and textures of the HD release and for the source release, its like two different games. However, at the time, this was the best looking version of half-life you could get. While the HD pack was released with Blue Shift which was actually the canceled port of the dreamcast game, the PS2 version was still at least twice the detail of the PC version. So for a time, the PS2 was the best looking and most technically advanced version.

Just like the controls the developers went above and beyond by supporting widescreen. This is being played at 16 by 9 at 480i with PS2 Component cables.

Playstation 2

PC Original

Minimum Specs

  • 500mhz processor
  • 96mb of ram
  • 16mb video card

Recomended Specs

  • 800mhz processor
  • 128mb of ram
  • 32mb video card

PlayStation 2 Specs

  • Custom RISC  294.912mhz processor
  • 32mb of D-ram
  • 4mb video card – with an additional 23mb of main memory for off screen textures

This was the era of standard def and a console is designed to be played on a couch with feet not inches separating you from the screen. At the time, interfaces were huge, colorful and bulky. Not Half-life. With the exception of the main title and menus, the interface largely resembles the PC counterpart. Minimal design utilizing iconography instead of text kept the PS2 port clean… mature a step above what was being seen on the console at that time.

For the most part, the mechanics of the PC version were transferred to the console with the exception of jumping, which was made easier, a lock on mechanic, and a dedicated button to open doors or interact with objects. All smart design to help enhance the console experience.

Half-life also had Deathmatch in the form of split screen and a whole second coop campaign with two new characters. The game play nor the content was at all lacking.

Half Life is a good game, the port, is a good version of that game. So many titles that were released for pc that received a console port failed to translate well, but Gear Box knew what they were doing and made a pc only game, feel like a native console title. While they included full keyboard and mouse support, they didn’t use it as a crutch. This was a controller game firstly and a keyboard and mouse game if you wanted it to be. The controls and interface were changes smartly. They didn’t re-design the game, they enhanced it for console play.

While I’ve been giving this game high praise, for it’s porting, it’s also a port of a pc game and constrained to the traditional releases of console titles. This means, no graphical updates, no online multiplayer options due to that feature not being available to the devs at the time of development, no modding and no expansion packs other than one addon released on a PlayStation underground disc. What’s in the box, is what you get. You also run fast and the controller just isn’t precise enough to keep up. And while you run fast, it’s slow in terms of pacing. When you start out you literally have nothing to do until the end of the sequence. And while you have a quick save feature, it’s inside a menu effectively not making it a quick save.

Half-life opens a much larger conversation on what defines a good game. While the reviewers praised it, if you look on any forum or comment chain from that year you’ll notice an unwarranted hatred and dismissal of this title. While arguments can have validation and be informative, these are mostly two or three word sentences totally dismissing the port. In the end it was more of a pissing contest on what was better, console or pc than the legitity and quality of the game. While I could never find an exact number of units sold, projections and guesses rank far under a million units sold in all regions totaled.

Sadly I think the community along with the age of this game helped make  fade into the back catalog of the PS2 and while we saw releases such as the Orange Box, The half-life franchise has always been home on the PC and a somewhat afterthought on consoles.

Half-Life for the PS2
Design100
Story80
Graphics70
Gameplay100
Positives
The port was given much attention to be played on the console while still holding on to the PC vesrion
Full mouse and keyboard support
Customize every button on the controller and keyboard/mouse
Massive amount of extra content
widescreen "HD" options
Negatives
Can't mod
add-on support measures up to one download on a demo disc
Dual Shock has a few issues controlling Gordan
No online play for multiplayer or Deathmatch
Paced slowly for a console game
88
Final Word
While a game like half-life should be available to everyone, it is far from being obscured by history and is still revered for what it did and when it did it. The PS2 port was a great way for gamers who couldn’t afford a pc or didn’t prefer a keyboard and mouse interface to enjoy the game. It let them understand the historical importance Half-life had on First person shooters and gave them a taste of what a PC oriented designed game felt like. Half-Life on the PS2 pushed the idea of what a port can be and what you could do on a PlayStation two. While the popular conversation today is how consoles are becoming more and more PC, Valve, Gearbox and the PlayStation two were already having that conversation 15 years ago.
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