The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Half-Life 2: A reflection

Half-Life 2 is one of the most famous games in existence: released back in 2004 by Valve, it was praised for its incredible gameplay, graphics and physics and is considered to be one of the best games of all time. The game follows the adventures of Gordon Freeman some twenty years after the events of Half Life as he fights with the resistance against the Combine, who have taken over the Earth and are stripping it of its resources. As a first person shooter, all of the events in-game are seen from Freeman’s perspective: there are no cutscenes to interrupt the flow of events. Instead, dialogue and various elements in the environment reveal what has happened since Half-Life. Contrasting virtually all modern shooters, Half-Life 2 made extensive use of the Source engine to provide players with physics-based puzzles: at some points in the game, the player must use cinder blocks or flotation barrels to manipulate the environment to make it passable. The famous zero-point energy manipulator (better known as the Gravity gun) was also introduced; it revolutionised gameplay and served several functions, ranging from allowing the player to pickup supplies from a distance to turning everyday items into deadly projectiles. These elements gave players unprecedented control over their environment: this was a game that rewarded players for using lateral thinking to solve problems (whereas in previous FPS, über-micro was really the only requirement) and even today, Half-Life 2 remains an incredible game despite its age.

  • It may come as a surprise to some, but I absolutely love East European architecture. The player spends the first two missions without any weapons, although they can still interact with various things in the environment. I’m going to apologise in advance to the anime news aggregator, but I do both gaming and anime talks. It so happens that there’s going to be a lot more gaming content over the next while.

  • The crowbar is one of the most iconic weapons in Half-Life 2 and is immensely useful for breaking things. As with Freeman’s Mind, I use it on occasion to whack the scenery if a puzzle frustrates me., but it’s also quite effective for smashing crates, boards and whatnot, as well as beating down Combine soldiers. The role of the last will be fulfilled shortly by the USP Match, but ammunition isn’t exactly common early on, so the crowbar remains quite useful.

  • I never grow tired of playing through the canals and bringing down the collection of barnacles with a flammable barrel and a couple of pistol shots.  Barnacles used to be the bane of my existence in Half-Life 2 simply because they were placed at chokepoints, although that could also mean luring enemy forces into their path. It’s actually quite entertaining (if somewhat macabre) to see a Combine soldier eaten whole by a barnacle.

  • A friend of mine expressed interest in installing the Synergy mod, which allows for co-op play of Half-Life 2. Admittedly, seeing two airboats shredding the assault chopper would be quite the spectacle. In subsequent posts, I’ll be talking about Episode One and Episode Two before returning to the usual anime program.

  • When I first say my friends play this, they got stuck here and wondered how to reach the sewer pipe on the wall (to my right here). The solution is surprisingly easy: after lighting some explosive barrels in a shipping container, one can enter the area under the piers and speed up a ramp. It’s puzzles like these that really make players feel smart for completing them.

  • In my quest to unlock achievements, I spent a few moments hunting down the singing Vortigaunt cave a few weeks ago. For a moment, after the assault chopper is downed, there is silence. I took a second to admire the sunset, and recalled that this was a game that was made back in 2004. Half-Life 2 is so well done that it retains its replay value even after some nine years.

  • A huge part of the appeal in Half-Life 2 is the immersion one experiences, whether it be through the desolate locales, Combine-controlled facilities or the little bits and pieces of information that reveal what happened previously. Apparently, after the events of Half-Life, the Combine took over the planet in just seven hours.

  • Tutorials in the game are cleverly done: using the Gravity gun soon becomes second nature after a few practise runs with Dog and his ball. This is all the training one needs to master the Gravity gun.

  • For those wondering, yes, I have unlocked the Gravity Gun challenge in Ravenholm: the conditions for unlocking this achievement is very strict, and only the Gravity gun may be used in this map, with even the crowbar being unusable, lest one spoils their shot at the achievement.

  • Ravenholm is said to be one of the scariest places in any game because of the zombies that show up later on. It’s straightforward when one is using the diverse array of firearms available, but in Ravenholm, ammunition is scarce, making it a good idea to make use of environmental factors and traps to take down zombies without a substantial ammunition cost.

  • I have, of course, completed the Gravity Gun challenge. In Ravenholm, and the rest of Half-Life 2, the single most intimidating enemy are the poison headcrabs. They can’t kill, but their venom reduces the player’s health down to one point, leaving them vulnerable to instant death. During testing, it was found that this attribute made the poison headcrabs more menacing than if they killed players in a single hit. The poison headcrab zombies are a nightmare to take down: I usually down them with explosive barrels if they’re around, otherwise, I’ll resort to the under-barrel grenade launcher on the MP7.

  • Being able to use a saw-blade and cut zombies in half is amusing, although their remains can continue to crawl around, and sometimes, the headcrabs will wander around for a while.

  • Ravenholm has the distinct feel of a Soviet-era mining town, and the interiors of the buildings are quite unnerving. Even after one has passed through Ravenholm, they must still traverse the old mine, which is now infested with headcrabs, zombies and a barnacle. Individuals looking to complete the Gravity Gun challenge should probably be aware that firing a shot down here (or waving the crowbar around) will void the challenge.

  • It is a breath of fresh air to walk out of the mine and return to familiar architecture in City 17. After the little notification about completing the Gravity Gun challenge appears, players can continue using their firearms. After a firefight in the railroad tracks, the player will reach a Resistance installation and receive their next vehicle, a dune buggy with a Gauss gun.

  • I now reach the halfway point of this discussion, and have an image of the bridge sequence in the mission “Highway 17”. Modern gamers might call it a small clipping distance as a result of graphical limitations, but in the old days, this could easily give the impression of heavy fog. At least in the old era, the graphics left some things to the imagination.

I first played Half-Life 2 in March 2005, while I was at a friend’s place, working on a Goldberg machine for science class. While progress was initially slower, we eventually got the entire machine working about three days before the deadline, and thus, had time to spare. Said friend had a copy of Half-Life 2 and what was then one of the best computers on the market; he asked us if we wished to try the game. One of my friends played through the first few missions, and I was offered a chance to play “Route Kanal”. Since then, “Route Kanal” has become one of the most iconic maps in the game for that reason. Later on, in “Water Hazard”, one of my other friends were stuck, and no one recalled how to solve the puzzle. Of course, when the project was due, we netted a 98 percent grade, losing two points simply because one component failed. I was left with a memorable project, less so for the fact that we did well and more so because I was introduced to what would become one of the most famous games of all time. Since 2005, I have completed the Half-Life 2 campaign at least three times: once on an HP laptop rocking a 2.0 GHz processor and a ATI Xpress 200M GPU, once on the Dell XPS 420, and once more on the current custom rig. In the first case, I had just begun high school at the time, and played through the game during May. At the time, I was going on about how I would be able to dominate high school while playing Half-Life 2 without much consequence (and subsequentlyscored the highest of anyone in my year in the general science course). By my senior year in high school, the same friend who had introduced me to Half-Life 2 had played through the episodes, and was growing bored of having no one else to talk to about the games. He lent me his copies and I was impressed at the gameplay, as well as how the XPS 420 could finish loading a section of the game in 10 seconds (the laptop had taken 30, and back in 2005, it took his machine up to five minutes to load once the loading screens were reached).

  • The bridge mission’s combination of height, wind blowing through the support columns and tremors from the train crossing it above gives it some of the best atmospherics in the entire game. The goal here is to traverse the bridge and disable some force fields, allowing the buggy to drive across. Care must be taken to avoid getting hit by the oncoming train: the train will wreck the buggy and result in the message “Failed to preserve mission critical resources”.

  • The last time I was here, it was the day of convocation: a cold, grey and rainy day. I spent most of it playing through “Highway 17”. Once at the lighthouse, a wave of Combine arrive. The gloomy overcast skies captures the rural Eastern Europe feel very nicely.

  • The crossbow is the only scoped weapon in the game: earlier on, it was possible to grab the “Targeted Advertising” achievement by pinning a Combine soldier to a billboard. According to official resources, the iron rebar is heated using a small battery, and the crossbow is powerful enough to pin enemies to concrete walls.

  • The stairs at the bottom of the lighthouse lead to a secret passage way in the cliffs. Compared to the largest resource for Half-Life 2 screenshots online at Visual Walkthroughs, my screenshots are fewer in number, but far greater in resolution and belie some eight years of progress in computer hardware: my copy of the game runs with higher graphical settings.

  • I’m so pro, I used lateral thinking to unlock the “Keep of the sand” achievement. All one needs here is two wooden pallets and a bit of patience. Careful players will be able to make their way across without ever touching the sand.

  • Armed with the bug bait (not shown here), I advance into Nova Prospekt, a prison that was converted into a Combine detention facility. Use of the bug bait here and for a large portion of the mission summons Antlions to one’s position and can command them to attack, saving ammunition.

  • The older graphics do not detract from the atmosphere in any way: contrasting the eerie vibes in Ravenholm with the miner’s abandoned and deteriorating homes, the atmosphere in Nova Prospekt is oppressive and feels like a Gulag, the USSR forced labour camps.

  • Early Gulag were located in exceedingly remote locations, such as Verkhoyansk and the Solovetsky Islands. The sheer size of Russia means that much of the land is undeveloped, but for some reason, I feel that the wilderness has a very unnerving, haunted character to it, even though Canada is the second largest nation in the world in terms of geographical size and has a comparable amount of wilderness.

  • At some point, the player will need to fight an Antlion Guard. I found that making use of the Gravity gun and explosive barrels is the single most effective solution, making the battle quicker and conserving on ammunition. Shortly after, the player enters the Combine side of the facility.

  • I’ve jumped forwards substantially: this post technically isn’t a walkthrough, but my own recollections of the game. Upon returning to City 17, Freeman leads the Resistance to openly fight back against the Combine. After taking down one of the Combine generators, a break in the road forces the player to traverse the underground tunnels and enter a massive facility of unknown purpose.

  • The Overwatch Pulse rifle and crossbow are immensely useful here: whether for better or worse, this area feels strangely like the Plus-15 at Banker’s Hall to me, even though a side-by-side image comparison yields next to no similarities.

  • Fighting through the Combine Nexus (pretty much the town hall) was a close-quarters experience that proved immensely entertaining. Back in June, it was a warm, sunny evening following the June floods when I made a donation to the flood relief effort, and with the remainder of my evening free, I decided to continue with the game.

  • Before people start wondering why I remember events from the summer so well in upcoming posts, I will note that I took all of these screenshots from Steam, and thus, all of the images have a date-stamp on them.

  • The super Gravity gun is the ultimate weapon in the game, possessing the power to pick up and toss Combine soldiers like ragdolls. The primary fire sends out a bolt of energy that blows away anything on the other end and vapourises them. Players feeling particularly vindictive can fire or drag a downed soldier into the channels containing the energy balls to vapourise them.

  • I heard somewhere this was actually satellite imagery for New York, with downtown Brooklyn and Williamsburg visible, as well as parts of Maspeth in Queens and Lower East Side Manhattan visible. Nonetheless, it is very rewarding to make one’s way up here after a long fight through the depths of the Citadel.

This summer, I purchased Half-Life 2 (and all the episodes) on sale and had an opportunity to play through the game again. As the game is attached to my account, I played through to try and unlock achievements. While Summer 2013 had been disappointing with respect to travel, it was a stellar summer for gaming, and Half-Life 2 had been an appropriate way to celebrate convocation: on the day of the ceremony, I spent all morning playing through “Highway 17” and “Sandtraps”, even unlocking the “Keep off the sand” achievement. On a sunny evening following the devastating June floods, after I made a donation to the Red Cross for flood-relief, I played through “Follow Freeman”. Half-Life 2 represents a timeless game in this respect: no matter how many times I play through it, it feels different every time. I still find joy in blowing the gunship up after being pursued by it for nearly two missions. The zombies in Ravenholm still scare me on occasion, even though I know they’re coming. Last but not least, I still get a kick from using the super-charged Gravity Gun. Half-Life 2 was a game that hit all the right notes in 2004 and was perhaps one of the most innovative games of the era: the fact that it still continues to shine even against modern giants like Battlefield bears testament to just how well-done the game is.

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