The Infinite Zenith

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Half-Life 2- Downfall: A Reflection

“Prepare for unforeseen consequences.” —The G Man, Half-Life 2 Episode 2

Gordon Freeman is tasked with retrieving a resistance weapon capable of destroying Combine Citadels in a mission whose timeframe relative to the other events of Half-Life 2 are not known. After arriving at a sawmill, Freeman fights his way through hordes of zombies to reach a derelict mine guarded by a veritable armada of Combine soldiers. Entering the mine, Freeman begins his descent into the bowels of the earth itself in search of this weapon. Released earlier this year as a Half-Life 2 mod, Downfall is an excellent fan-made addition to the Half-Life 2 universe that remains highly faithful to the mechanics and visuals of the Half-Life 2 games. Set in the White Forest area, the atmospherics and visual effects are top-tier, matching those of Half-Life 2 Episode 2 in most areas and surpassing it in others. The mod is incomplete at present, and two more chapters are planned. The first chapter is a ways longer than Half-Life 2: The Lost Coast. The mod is comparable to a single chapter in a Half-Life 2 episode, taking around three-quarters of an hour to beat on standard difficulty, but it’s an immensely thrilling ride, being the next best thing to a proper announcement about the likely non-existent Half-Life 2 Episode 3 and Half-Life 3 itself.

What makes Downfall such an entertaining mod is the fact that, while the level design is structured consistently with what is seen in the actual Half-Life 2 titles, Downfall introduces a new twist on things: players are only equipped with the legendary Zero-Point Energy Manipulation Device (Gravity Gun) to begin with. Upon arriving at the sawmill, zombies begin appearing en masse to attack the player, forcing players to get creative with the objects available in the environment. Even after a crowbar is found, things remain quite tricky – clearing an area of zombies and moving onwards is an especially rewarding feeling. One of the more exhilarating moments was fighting a poison headcrab zombie in one of the houses: I’m accustomed to having some heavy firepower in the form of under-barrel grenades and a good stockpile of hand grenades when taking these monstrosities on, but Downfall only provides players with a pistol at this point. Running out of ammunition will occur before one can take down the poison headcrab zombie, so players are forced to bait the zombie into throwing the poison headcrabs at them, and then dispatch each individual poison headcrab with the crowbar. As players acquire more weapons, the gameplay in Downfall begins feeling more like a traditional Half-Life 2 mission; engaging Combine soldiers and other enemies become rather more straightforward.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Downfall opens with a casual Sunday drive to a location where a beacon signal is transmitted, under what appears to be the setting sun. Downfall could hypothetically be set in the moments following Episode 2, after Eli Vance is killed by a Combine Advisor; Freeman must then regroup with additional members of the Resistance before they set off for the Borealis. Once players reach the sawmill, the muscle car must be abandoned.

  • There’s a definite calm in the atmosphere as Freeman begins exploring the area, and there’s an abandoned boathouse adjacent to a lake. Of all the existing instalments in Half-Life 2Episode 2 stands out as having some of the most memorable scenery, being set in the remote forests of Eastern Europe rather than the close-quarters of City 17. I’ve heard that Episode 2 was inspired by forests of Oregon.

  • The moody skies in Episode 2 bring to mind the mood of my area shortly after the Great Flood of 2013. The Royal Family visited the area shortly after, and I recall listening to a news programme covering the event while I was fighting my way through the White Forest Inn ambush. The quiet beauty of the area is offset by the fierce onslaught, so after the fighting died down, I spent a few moments exploring the area.

  • Because players only start out with the Gravity Gun and find a crowbar early into Downfall, the first segments of the mod handle similarly to the Ravenholm mission. To encourage creative play, Valve implemented an achievement called “Zombie Chopper” for using only using the Gravity Gun. While seemingly a difficult task, ammunition was already quite scarce in Ravenholm, and bullets are actually less effective against zombies than large objects.

  • The crowbar is a fantastic weapon against leaping headcrabs and can kill one in a single hit, including poison headcrabs. A large number of zombies, including zombines, appear here, but the abundance of objects that can be thrown means that there are no shortage of options for dealing with zombies. The tire swing on the left of image can be used to great effect; it is hilarious to send conventional zombies flying with it, but there is also a risk: I lost thirty points of health because the tire swing swung back at me after one use.

  • In the sawmill’s attic, players will come across the control panel for opening the flood gate, allowing Freeman to move into the next area. There’s also a large ammunition cache here, plus several computer terminals, indicating that the sawmill was probably used as a Resistance outpost before the Combine overwhelmed them. For the time being, there’s no way to actually get into the ammunition cache, which is present purely for aesthetic purposes.

  • The house here is infested with poison headcrabs and a poison headcrab zombie: while I’m accustomed to using heavy firepower to deal with them (burning them with explosive barrels, or otherwise using a combination of hand grenades and the MP7’s under-barrel grenades), these are not options in the house. Instead, Freeman must bait the poison headcrabs into leaping off the zombie, and then beat them down with the crowbar. After all of the poison headcrabs are expended, the zombie itself can be pummeled to death using physical objects, and the cinder brick found in the cellar of this house is particularly useful for that task.

  • A quick glance at the calendar shows that it’s been five days since Christmas, and six days since I posted anything. This is because it’s been a bit of a relaxing, if somewhat busy Christmas: on Christmas Day this year, the day began with a fantastic breakfast of fried eggs, bacon, hash browns and Belgian waffles. After the opening of gifts, I took a walk on the nearby hills by afternoon despite the -20°C weather, where I found some Christmas ornaments hanging on one of the aspen groves, and then spent the rest of the day playing Overgrowth. We finished the day with prime rib and the remarkably flavourful beef bones.

  • They definitely aren’t kidding when the say that the Icefields Parkway is a remote stretch of road with reduced maintenance in winter. The drive back home was as treacherous: a blizzard had began in earnest when we began making our way back. Last evening, temperatures reached a low of -31°C before windchill and a fresh snow had fallen. It’s expected to be -32°C later tonight (-43°C with windchill), making me extremely appreciative of being able to rest in a warm place. I’m sure readers are not here about the cold, so we’ll return to Downfall, where the mines are warm, even if inhabited by barnacles.

  • Upon exiting the first of the mines, Freeman comes across a rail line covered by a Combine Sniper. There’s practically no cover leading down the tracks, and while there is another path that allows Freeman to close the distance between him and the sniper, I chose to make use of a log and well-known limitation in the AI to close the distance more quickly. The sniper will throw back the first grenade, but will not do anything about the second grenade Freeman throws at them.

  • The Colt Python pistol, for all of its incredible power, is constrained by a small ammunition pool, and I’ve typically not run into situations where I’ve required it. It’s best saved for Combine elite soldiers and Hunters; in Downfall, these enemies do not appear and so, it can be used to quickly deal with the first wave of Combine soldiers Freeman encounters. Here, I look back at the train tracks and the scenery.

  • With the sniper now cleared out, I take a look around at the setting and marvel at the details of the mining structures. This mine forms the setting for the only firefight against Combine soldiers in Downfall, and while players are armed with only the pistols at this point, use of cover and a little bit of creativity will allow for the first wave of soldiers to be cleared out in a relatively straightforward manner.

  • I finally acquire the MP7, which is probably my most-used weapon in all of Half-Life 2 and its episodes simply because of how plentiful ammunition for it is. The weapon is used extensively by Combine, and ammunition crates for the weapon are easily found. While ineffectual at longer ranges owing to its spread, its large magazine capacity and carrying capacity makes it a solid all-around weapon for most close range engagements.

  • I cannot quite put my finger on what it is about the lighting and assets that give Episode 2 environments such a unique feel to them, but overall, the presence of open wilderness as opposed to urban build-up meant that, had Half-Life 2 Episode 3 ever come out, I would have been hoping for more rural settings. With the story hypothetically set to take place in the arctic, it seems that players would have had the chance to explore non-urban settings.

  • There’s a restrictor here that keeps the Antlions away. These insect-like aliens can spawn indefinitely and overwhelm players with their numbers, but they can be kicked back using the gravity gun. Enough hits from the gravity gun will kill them, although their numbers makes the technique viable only with solitary antlions.

  • The elevator here leads to the control room with the energy orb powering the Combine defenses here, and disabling it will lower the force field covering the path Freeman needs to take. Antlions begin swarming the area, although now that Freeman’s got the MP7 and SPAS-12 Shotgun, taking them on becomes a bit more straightforwards.

  • While there’s been no official news of Episode 3, some dedicated folks have begun working on an unofficial continuation using the Unreal 4 Engine, which powered my Master’s Thesis project. This continuation, titled “Project Borealis”, is being undertaken to build a game from the story that Marc Laidlaw provided back in August, outlining what Episode 3 would have entailed. The project’s lead manager has industry experience and seeks to create the best possible experience for fans of the series and presently, the story is around half finished.

  • Some interesting concept art has also been provided for Arctic headcrabs and a new model of Strider. Enemy AI and weapon concepts are also entering testing; while no news of when Project Borealis’ release was provided, the team did mention that they will be keeping the community updated as they continue with the project. This is quite exciting, and it seems that, even if Valve has no interest in continuing the Half-Life franchise, dedicated and devoted community members can and will keep things going. I’m curious to see where things will end up, and with the Unreal 4 Engine driving things, the game could look quite refreshed once completed.

  • After entering the main mine shaft and descending deep underground, Downfall comes to a close. The bitterly cold winter evening is upon us, and after a warm dinner of fried chicken, I’m watching the mercury plummet. The weather is expected to warm up as we enter the New Year; before 2018 sets in, I’ve got one final post for 2017, dealing with Nekopara‘s OVA. 2017’s been a bit of an interesting year for the blog, and while I can’t say that my numbers are particularly strong a motivator for continuing this blog, a strong reader-base and the associated discussion means I’m not quite ready to call it quits fully yet.

It typifies Valve’s ability to create suspense and horror in games whose aim is not solely horror, and Downfall makes excellent use of Valve’s techniques to create a mod that feels as though it is a proper instalment in the Half-Life 2 universe. While faithful to Half-Life 2 in design and concept, subtleties in the gameplay show that there remains some room for improvement still: besides cleverly forcing players to adopt different strategies, there are other minor surprises in store for players, with the most notable being the Combine Sniper that returns a grenade players throw at them, requiring players use a second grenade to defeat the sniper. This moment was completely unexpected and shows that the Source Engine, in spite of its age, can still be made to throw off players to create refreshing moments. While there’s been talk of Half-Life 3 and Half-Life 2 Episode 3 sporadically in the years since I first beat Episode 2, my intuition tells me that the expectations for these two items is one of the contributing factors to why Valve is not actively pursuing a continuation of Episode 2. With this being said, Downfall isn’t quite finished yet, and it will be interesting to see as to whether or not its continuations will come out as the modder has suggested – if there are indeed to be future instalments of Downfall, I will definitely be interested in seeing where things are headed.

Half-Life 2 Episode Two: A reflection

Half-Life 2 Episode One was good, but Episode Two was phenomenal. After the train derails, Gordon Freeman and Alyx Vance attempt to make their way to the White Forest base to deliver a code that will collapse the Citadel’s portal. En route, Alyx is mortally wounded by a Hunter, powerful and resilient enemies with a flechette cannon and wickedly sharp claws. The player fights through an antlion colony to retrieve the extract necessary to heal Alyx, before driving through the countryside to reach White Forest ahead of the Combine. Once the rocket is launched, Eli Vance is killed by a Combine Advisor, and the game ends after Dog drives off the Advisors. Of all the Half-Life 2 games, Episode Two is set in the countryside and therefore feels a lot more open compared to its predecessors, even though it is as linear as Episode One and Half-Life 2. My first experience with this game was back in March 2008; after finishing my chemistry, English and calculus coursework, I spent the remaining three days of Spring Break playing through this game, although looking back, I feel that the experience is far more enjoyable with a larger screen.

  • Episode Two is an amazing experience all around, but its most infamous achievement is the “Little Rocket Man”, which is notoriously difficult to complete. I might go back and try to get it later, but for the present, I’m occupied with Battlefield 3. So…the preview for posts are as follows: I’ll have a final impressions post for Infinite Stratos² and Non Non Biyori by Christmas Eve at the latest.

  • I’ve omitted the antlion colony level from the screenshots simply because those levels were a shooting gallery, and I was admittedly having too much fun squishing antlion larvae to obtain screenshots. Before picking up the vehicle, the player must take down both the antlion guard and the antlion guardian. There are many explosive barrels scattered throughout the region, so even if one is short on ammunition, it’s possible to make use of these barrels and the Gravity gun to take down these mini-bosses.

  • The remnants of the Citadel can be seen way out in the countryside. I’m about to reach the radio station and fight the Hunters for the first time. Guides recommend using the energy ball to take them down quickly, but the shotgun is also effective. Using bunny-hopping to perform hit and fade assaults, the Hunters are no match for my über-micro skills.

  • This abandoned farm is where the player first encounters a Combine Advisor: be prepared to be impressed by the Source engine when one of the Advisors uses telekinetic powers to crush a barrel. Even the super-powered Gravity gun can’t do that.

  • The mountains and atmosphere in these parts are somewhat similar to that of the Rocky View County region during autumn, when grey skies and the vast prairies end in distant mountains. It’s a very calming place to be, even when it’s overcast. Here, another assault chopper pursues the player, but upon reaching a Resistance base, there is a chance to square off against it using the Gravity gun and the chopper’s own mines.

  • This is the White Forest Inn. More Hunters and a Combine unit show up. I recall that Sunday in July when I had taken down the last Hunter; the basement television was on and the news was broadcasting Prince George of Cambridge’s birth. Though I am not too terribly interested in the British Monarchy, the event itself was particularly noteworthy from a historical perspective, and so, this part of the game will forever remind me of this event. It’s been some five years since I last played this, so I don’t have any memories attached to this part of the game from back then.

  • The Magnusson device is the ultimate weapon against Striders but requires precision aiming to operate. During the last mission in Episode Two, the player is tasked with defending the White Forest base long enough for the preparations for a rocket launch to be completed.

  • It looks like one could take out a Strider with a single shot from the USP Match here; in a sense, this is now possible. After sticking Magnusson device to the Strider’s underside, the pistol is the recommended weapon to use: the 9mm rounds are enough to trigger the device, and the pistol has a reasonable firing rate. It is very satisfying to bring down the Striders using this weapon.

  • As the battle wears on, the Striders begin targeting the buildings housing the teleporters. The vehicle can carry one Magnusson device at any given point, so it is imperative to make every shot count. Hunters escort the Striders: they represent additional firepower and should be dealt with quickly, although priority should go towards taking out the Striders.

  • After the last of the Striders are downed, the player has the honour of launching the rocket. The codes the satellite transmit are successful in shutting down the Combine super-portal, but there isn’t a happy ending: Eli Vance is killed by a Combine Advisor, leaving behind more questions than answers. With the release date for Episode Three is nowhere in sight, I have no idea what the Borealis’ role is, or even where the next game will take place. Over the past few years, April Fools’ jokes surrounding Episode Three have been made, leading some fans to believe the game was available for sale for 29.99 at one point.

At present, Half-Life 2 Episode Two reminds me of two moments during the summer. The first memory was on July 20, when I am driving down a railway track to a Resistance hideout to get the radar installed. I was set to go on a short outing to Canmore at this time: for most of Summer 2013, the floods completely threw my hopes of travelling in the mountains out the window. I had made donations to help flood victims and also to flip the bird at the weather for having caused the flood to begin with, but by late July, when I had reached this point in the game, much of the Trans-Canada highway had been repaired. This trip succeeded in giving me a brief  but much-needed respite from work. I spent a sunny afternoon in the mountains, partaking in a hike before having afternoon tea at the Communitea teahouse. A few days later, on July 22, while the media was buzzing with announcement about Prince George of Cambridge’s birth, I reached the White Forest Inn. Admittedly, I am not particularly interested in the Royal family, but the announcement meant that the mission “Under the Radar” would be associated with this historic event in my books. I beat Half-Life 2 Episode Two a few days later. It’s been some five years since I first played through the Half-Life 2 episodes, and although clues about Aperture Science’s Borealis are tantalising, Half-Life 2 Episode Three or Half-Life 3 show no signs of release anytime soon. So shrouded in mystery these games’ statuses are, that I’m willing to bet that I’ll probably be a few years into my full-time occupation before it comes out.

Half-Life 2 Episode One: A reflection

Released in June 2006, Half-Life 2 Episode One is set immediately after the events of Half-Life 2: Gordon Freeman and Alyx Vance return to the Citadel to stablise the reactor, before leaving via train. The train derails, and the two fight there way through the remains of City 17, eventually aiding other survivors in their evacuation. Recalling the friend who lent me the episodes back in the Spring of 2008, I was in several of his classes during my secondary education, and he expressed boredom that very few individuals at our school had actually played these instalments because of hardware limitations. At the time, the Dell XPS 420 had been in service for a year, replacing an eight-year-old IBM desktop (rocking the 600 MHz AMD Duron processor), and thus, I was now wielding one of the most powerful desktops of anyone at my high school. With the means to play the game, I installed his copies of the game and shot through them during the Spring Break. My initial impressions were positive: the episodes captured the spirits and atmosphere in as effectively as Half-Life 2, retaining all of the gameplay mechanics and more impressively, giving Alyx a far greater role as the player’s companion. After beating Episode One, I would, in subsequent years, remember it for the Citadel and long stretches of underground fighting.

  • Before I go ahead with this post, I’m going to mention that every screenshot (except one) features the Gravity gun because the play-through I took screenshots on was also the play-through I decided to go for the “One free bullet” challenge. I got it, of course, and I’ll immediately clarify that using the shotgun once to break the lock works only if one uses the primary fire. Using the crowbar, grenades and RPG rounds are perfectly acceptable.

  • The challenge isn’t so bad initially, when all one has is the Gravity gun (or the super-powered version of the Gravity gun). Armed with a gun that can perform what is essentially magic makes the first part of Episode One entertaining (and perhaps a little too easy). There is one thing I long to try with the super-powered Gravity gun: I’d love to see if I can kill barnacles with it.

  • One viable trick to surviving is to use the flashlight and direct Alyx’s fire towards hostiles. The gravity gun can also punt headcrabs and antlions, although here, the latter will spawn endlessly until a car is pushed on top of the spawn points to block them. Apparently, the term parkade is strictly a Canadian term: in the United States, they call them garages, and they’re known as car parks in the United Kingdom.

  • I included this image solely to illustrate just how dark it is at some places in the game. The darkness makes it difficult to figure out where enemies are, and armed with the Gravity gun and a crowbar, death from carelessness is always just around the corner.

  • I spent the entire time waiting for the lift bunny-hopping around the map with flares or explosives in hand, lighting up all zombies that were spawning. This is considered to be one of the toughest sections in the game for the low visibility and large number of enemies. Even when playing with firearms, ammunition is short, making accuracy and smart play important.

  • No matter how dystopian the outside world looks, I prefer to be above ground rather than underground with all the zombies.

  • According to Valve, this hospital was inspired by one in Chernobyl, from which the surgery lamps and the overall white and yellow color scheme were derived. The tile work, high archways and metallic bedsteads give the institutional an old European feeling, making it an unnerving place to be: in general, even though they are home to some of the world’s most cutting edge medical technologies, they are unsettling, and old hospitals are doubly so simply because they represent an era when medical science wasn’t as well-developed, leading patients to suffer in often degrading conditions.

  • The hospital basement is partially flooded and barnacles block critical passages. The crowbar is thankfully allowed by the “One free bullet” achievement, whereas the Gravity gun challenge in Ravenholm forbade use of anything other than the Gravity gun. Of course, the former is more challenging since it applies to the entire game rather than one mission.

  • I got a bunch of Facebook messages telling me that a gathering with some friends was cancelled owing to an impending storm in July. With the event cancelled, I decided to game and made it to the train station. For a moment, recalled that night in March 2008 when I beat Episode One for the first time. I had spent most of the Spring Break studying chemistry and physics, but nonetheless, high school was a period characterised by a lot of free time. The content isn’t particularly difficult by any stretch.

  • The portal explosion causes the train to derail. What happens next are the events in Episode Two. I’ve already beaten the game once using only the Gravity gun, and on my next play-through, I’ll allow myself the luxury of using firearms. This achievement just goes to show how versatile the Source Engine is, if players can finish the game by firing exactly one bullet. I know I’ve gone on a fair amount about this achievement, but that’s because I’m in the top 97.6 percentile of players who are pro enough to have the achievement unlocked, even if it means that around 33 600 of 1.4 million players (as of December 3, 2008) actually have the achievement.

When I caught wind of the fact that Episode One and Episode Two were on sale for 2.49 each during the summer, I sprang on the chance to purchase the episodes. The episodes are still as immersive as they were when I first played them (perhaps even more so, because I’m now experiencing it on a 24-inch 1080p display). It was July 13 when I had beaten Half-Life 2, and I recall recieving word that a gathering was to be rescheduled on account of a thunderstorm when I had reached the train station in the final mission. I decided to finish the game, since the event had been moved, and upon completion, I was granted the “One Free Bullet Achievement”. I had used the shotgun to blast open the lock and spent the entire remainder of the game using the Gravity Gun and crowbar, but wondered if the shotgun’s spread counted as more than one bullet; however, here, I confirmed that the shotgun or pistol could be used to unlock the achievement. This accounts for why every single image I have depicts me with the gravity gun, crowbar or RPG (explosives are allowed). The achievement may be difficult to unlock because some portions of the game feature hordes of zombies, but there’s a solution for that: Alyx will fire at zombies illuminated by the flashlight, illustrating the strengths of the behaviours of NPCs in the game. At the end of the day, this achievement is a worthy one and thanks to the game mechanics, isn’t that difficult to unlock, even though records suggest only 2.4% of all people who own Half-Life 2 Episode One actually have the achievement unlocked.

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.

Water Hazard

Occurring immediately after the acquisition of the airboat, Freeman continues to make his way through City 17’s canal system to Black Mesa East, engaging numerous Civil Protection units and a hunter chopper en route to the base.

  • The airboat mission is perhaps one of the most engaging missions in the game. Freeman must pass through numerous canals, some of which containing clean water, and others containing radioactive waste. Controlling the airboat is dependent entirely on the WSAD keys, contrasting other games that involve the mouse in steering.

  • The Soviet-style apartments are my favourite part of the level design. Initially, the airboat lacks any weapons, forcing the player to either splatter enemies a la Halo, or else disembark and manually shoot them.

  • The SMG proves to be immensely useful at medium range against a moderately large  group. Modelled after the Heckler and Koch MP7, it is fully automatic and has a high rate of fire, making it most useful when fired in bursts.

  • Half Life 2 often tests the player’s ingenuity, forcing them to come up with creative solutions to overcome locked gates and so on, contrasting the paradigm behind previous games, where a steady aim and quick trigger finger proved more than sufficient to complete levels.

  • The graphics for this game were amazing for its time: loading windows in between sequences took the top gaming machines of its day several minute to load. I remember upon finishing our Goldberg machine project, several of my buddies headed downstairs to watch movies in between loading sequences. When I played this game myself in 2006, the loading screens took less than 30 seconds.

  • The setting sun basks the land in a warm glow: the only thing is, this is a dystopian world where people aren’t permitted to enjoy sunsets. Thus, the weather looks strangely intimidating as one heads closer and closer to the Black Mesa East complex. Shortly after this point, you finally pick up a pulse rifle.

  • This was one of the parts where my friends got stuck on the first time they tried it out. None of us could figure out that we could interact with the laundry machine inside the basket, thus preventing us from getting to the ramp. I believe the magnum I have here was picked up from one of those firefights with combine forces while trying to open the first gate.

  • The Combine get serious about preventing Dr. Freeman from reaching his destination: the hunter chopper from earlier is still tailing him by this point, and Combine dropships deploy numerous soldiers in an attempt to impede his progress. Fortunately, the player also has access to the awesome pulse rifle now: the ammunition recharges on short order, but it is still advisable to fire in bursts.

  • The end of the level is marked by a final confrontation with the hunter chopper that has been shadowing Freeman for the past two levels. Sustained fire will make very short work of it. The pulse rifle can also be used to clear the mines that are deployed against the players.

It was May 2005 when I first played Half Life 2; I was working on a group project for a science class and we were taking a break after a day’s effort. When my friends first tried the game, they found themselves stuck at the closed harbour and never made it to the final confrontation with the hunter chopper. My friend would later lend me Half Life 2, alongside Episodes 1 and 2, for the sake of discussion. I subsequently beat both games, but across all three titles, Route Kanal and Water Hazard proved to be two of the most enduring levels in the games. To date, at least one of my friends has expressed interest in playing Water Hazard and cutting down the hunter chopper as a team on co-op. I’ve happily obliged, of course.