I went back to Half-life, and I cannot agree that it’s anywhere near great. The base systems are though–the movement system makes for a great speedrun, and the weapon variety plus that makes for great multiplayer–but encounter design is severely lacking. As you mentioned, some fights are interesting due to level design, but those are few and far between, and the most interesting encounters are always against soldiers or assassins, which are the hitscan enemies, though their occassional use of grenades makes them a bit more interesting. The rest of the enemies are never used in interesting ways, which is a complete waste of potential.
Hmm, I have some counter examples, but it’s tricky to link to specific youtube timestamps on ask.fm. Someone just sent in a combat montage, albeit mostly against soldiers, which I’ll be posting alongside this. I mean, I can’t deny that the soldier encounters have good encounter design, helped by the diverse weapons and the fact that soldiers take hitstun, it’s just kind of a shame about the hitscan.
Early black mesa has a lot of headcrab encounters that aren’t the hardest thing in the world, but are reasonably stimulating. They combine these with vorts, zombies, and houndeyes rather frequently.
The elevator ride down where the headcrabs ambush you at 10:30 is rather interesting and tricky. Then they have a bunch of headcrabs at the bottom and a houndeye in a box. It’s not the most threatening, because they can’t hurt you much, but it’s a rather dynamic aiming, shooting, moving challenge. Not a lot of other games have things like this.
There’s a good arrangement of rooms at 11:50 onwards with some vorts, some headcrabs, etc. They ambush you, they have room to chase you, you have room for cover. (also this guy is playing on easy I think, but I’m really just using him since he’s bound to run through a lot of rooms)
Also kinda cool is the turret at 18:10 with the headcrabs under it.
At the start here you have the bullsquid in the lower area, and the vort that teleports in behind you. Unfortunately this guy does not go into that area. Then there’s a combination of 2 bullsquids and headcrabs in the freezer room at 3:30, which is a rather interesting room.
bullsquids and houndeyes in a curving hallway at 11:00 Works for those enemy types. You can ignore them with the tram though.
17:30 has a bunch of houndeyes, bullsquid can snipe from afar, headcrab is waiting far side of the bridge.
The tentacle encounter is a thing. Use grenades to draw it away, try to get to the ladders.
On a Rail has a bunch of interesting encounters, like the one before the moat into the next area. That has a bullsquid and houndeye and I think turret too.
1:20 onwards. And a combination encounter of vorts and soldiers at 12:00
vorts at 9:40
The first ichthysaur encounter is kinda cool.
Cool encounter with barnacles and a vort at 14:20, guy shows off why perfectly.
starts with 2 cool encounters. headcrabs, vorts, cold room. The 2 vorts in the hallway after is neat too.
questionable ethics starts you in the middle of a bunch of houndeyes. Has a ton of great fights all around.
cool encounter from the get-go here.
5:00 has an awesome encounter from that point to the end of the level. This one gave me some trouble.
The Lambda Complex at 6:40 onwards is entirely aliens and it’s pretty cool.
Great encounter before the warp into Xen at 5:00 and everything from Xen onwards is aliens.
I feel like the alien factory from 5:35 onwards is worth highlighting, it’s a ton of great encounters.
You are kind of right, they did underutilize their aliens. Many of their uses in the early game are strategic in ways that are kind of tricky to deal with, but don’t open up as many possibilities as many of the soldier fights due to simpler terrain. One of, or both, the expansions, Blue Shift, and Opposing Force, makes a lot more use of the aliens, even introducing the Race X aliens which are unique.
I don’t think I’m willing to say the game isn’t great because of this underutilization. It still has great weapon variety, some solid platforming, great enemy variety overall, and the soldier fights are still pretty good, but you make a fair point that it could have been better than it was.