Half-Life’s Music Was Just As Brilliant As The Rest Of It

Half-Life’s Music Was Just As Brilliant As The Rest Of It
Image: Valve / Kotaku

Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s daily hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-arse sounds they make. Today we grab a crowbar and go hunting headcrabs in the PC shooter classic, Half-Life.

Half-Life (playlist / longplay / VGMdb) is a game that has already had so many things written and said about it that I’m not really sure what to say here. You probably already know this, but Half-Life came out in 1998 and almost overnight seemed to change video games forever. It’s one of the most influential games ever made and was the origin of countless mods, some of which, like Counter-Strike, became huge hits themselves. But Half-Life wasn’t just an incredible shooter with innovative gameplay and visuals, it also had a great soundtrack featuring very moody, atmospheric electronica.

Let’s take a listen:

Valve / GameMusic321 (YouTube)

Half-Life’s soundtrack was created by Kelly Bailey, who would later go on to do music and sound effects in other Valve games including Half-Life 2 and Portal. In 2011 he left Valve, but has helped out here and there, most recently giving advice to Half-Life: Alyx’s composer. Bailey’s original Half-Life soundtrack is phenomenal, mixing eerie noises and instruments with fast, hard-hitting electronic beats. It’s like a robot rave set in a desolate post-apocalyptic wasteland. Listen to “Nuclear Mission Jam” and tell me you can’t see robots rocking out to this surrounded by toxic waste and death.

Valve / GameMusic321 (YouTube)

This song was so good and popular that Valve brought it forward into other Half-Life games, and it’s almost become the franchise’s unofficial theme song. And the soundtrack’s packed with songs like this, stuff that not only works as background music for killing and exploring an underground research facility but could almost as easily be played in a club. Half-Life really did excel in almost every possible way.

That’s it for today’s Morning Music! Let me know if you see the G-Man hanging around here, he owes me some money and some answers. See you tomorrow!


  • I love the Half-Life OST overall, and would place it among my favourite OSTs to any game but it can be a bit hit and miss, especially for people listening to it for the first time today with a lot of tracks that come across as hollow or cheesy – case in point the two tracks featured here – Nuclear Mission Jam is still pretty great, but I’m not a fan of Adrenaline Horror at all.

    For me Bailey’s best work crops up in the ambient tracks;

    Black Mesa Inbound / Vague Voices (Also reused in HL2) ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T7YMyNqJGd0 )

    Space Ocean (Also reused in HL2 and HL: Alyx) ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIlYAoNJQNQ )

    Dimentionless Depths (Also reused in HL2) ( https://youtu.be/TN3nDb-gC3g )

    Are some of my favourites.

    There are other tracks I love too – like Hazardous Environments (retitled ‘Valve Theme’ and reused as such in almost every game since HL1 ) ( https://youtu.be/MFbLl2kyONI ) but for me his ambient stuff was pretty ahead of its time and still sounds better than most attempts at doing similar stuff in other games including in my opinion in HL2 and HL:Alyx where in both cases Bailey’s original work on HL was far better than the new stuff he made for HL2 or the new stuff made by Morasky for Alyx.

    That said HL2’s Triage at Dawn ( https://youtu.be/rrlXTKhO1xI ) is fantastic and the HL2 Episodes, episode 2 in particular, that had tracks I’d put up there with HL1 such as Extinction Event Horizon from Episode 2 ( https://youtu.be/vg9EaS3mlvY ).

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