Home > Clement's Game, Half-Life, Valve > Science Fiction Round 25: Rogue Physicist

Science Fiction Round 25: Rogue Physicist

First lesson from Half Life:  Don’t argue with a rogue physicist.  It’s not worth the effort.

Second lesson:  Seriously, don’t mess with Gordon Freeman.  Let’s discuss Half-Life 2, shall we?

Awesome fan art.  From left to right, Alyx, Gordon, and a Vortigaunt.  (I've linked to the source as a courtesy.)

Awesome fan art. From left to right, Alyx, Gordon, and a Vortigaunt. (The image links to the maker.)

Where’s Batman when you need him?

Grappling hook.  Would be nifty.

Why does Gordon’s Hazard Suit, which protects against bullets and radiation and acid, and also does such things as automatically resort partially used magazines of ammo, not include a grappling hook?  This would be very useful, given how often you have to jump across broken catwalks or cliffs or gigantic turbines… this is a failing of Portal as well.  A lot of parts would be made a lot easier with a bit of rope.

[Edit: I am informed that the Opposing Force expansion for the original Half Life had a grappling gun.  Made out of a barnacle, one of the aliens that is usually trying to eat you while it sits on the ceiling with its long tongue waiting for someone to bump into it.  Intriguing.]

The Vorigaunts

I have to say it — these aliens are awesome.  They certainly have fun with the mysterious, rather-alien perspective on things, now that they’ve learned English for the sequel and aren’t enemies.

They do have a couple of caveats, though.  They’re… still bipedal humanoids with two arms.  They’re not really different enough… okay, fine, they actually have a third arm.  But how does that third arm fit in?  It doesn’t really make much sense to me.

Also… it’s apparently the case that the vortigaunts are telepathic.  It’s explicitly nifty for espionage.

How does that work?  I really, really hope that it boils down to a deeply-encrypted built-in biological radio.  We’ve seen enough of their biotech in the first game that it’s not unreasonable.  But if that’s the case… why haven’t the Combine, the evil invaders of this game, figured out how to hack it?  I mean, they’re already using headcrabs as bioweapons (which is awesome… er, I mean, terrible).

Where did they all go?

We still have the vortigaunts and the headcrabs from the first game.  But what happened to the controllers — the annoying flying things that look kind of like the final boss?  Well, maybe they went down, or away, when it died.  The lack of grunts, the heavily armed-and-armored guys apparently being manufactured by the vortigaunts, could be explained by their factories having been destroyed in the fighting in the interim.

But what about the other invasive species?  The bullsquid (an annoying monster that spits something nasty at you), or the houndeyes, which would be kind of cool if they skipped the painfully loud barks?  Maybe you could argue that those didn’t escape the initial incursion at Black Mesa, but the little swimming leech-fish things?  They screamed annoying, invasive critter than could escape through the drains.

In short, I am a bit perturbed that none of these guys showed up in the sequel.  In the words of TVTropes — what happened to the mouse?


Breen is this game’s head of the equivalent of the Vichy regime in France during WWII.  Earth fought a war.  For seven hours.  And then surrendered.  Breen is the human “administrator.”

He monologues.

A lot.

On loudspeakers to the whole darn city.

Come on, man, if you didn’t monologue, you might have gotten away with it.

Alyx and Company

One major (and partly technological) improvement in this game is that the other characters didn’t come out of cookie cutters.  Eli Vance, a major scientist, is a cheerful black guy with a prosthetic leg.  (Who knows how that happened?)  He’s supposedly one of the scientists who helped you in the first game, now with more personality.  The resistance members you meet have a reasonable mix of gender and ethnicity and appearance, keeping everyone from looking too much like carbon-copies.

Meanwhile, Alyx Vance (Eli’s daughter) is a bit of a counter to the usual let’s-go-rescue-the-princess thing.  She shoots bad guys with you, hacks computer systems for you, explains how the world works… and that kind of thing.  She helps you try to rescue Eli when he gets kidnapped, and she spends a relatively small fraction of the game as a prisoner herself.  Judith Mossman is a delightful double/triple agent, and she’s the one who gets you all out of the penultimate mess.  And Barney the former Black Mesa security guy is hilarious in general.

In short, I liked the characters a lot better in the second game.

The G-man

What is with this guy?

First appearance?  Another train car in the very beginning of the first game.  He walks through dangerous areas with impunity in both games, teleporting at a whim, and always carrying a briefcase.  At the end of the first game, he’s apparently decided that Gordon is useful, and puts him on ice… and pulls him out for the second, ten years later.  At the end of the second game, he stops time while your final target is blowing up.  If the G-man is that awesome, why not go himself with his teleportation and time-stop of win?  Who is he working for?  Especially given that Breen says Gordon’s contract is “negotiable”?  Why does he have such a terribly obvious accent?  Why is he after Gordon from the beginning?  Why does he dump Gordon back into a nasty situation ten years later with no information, no hazard suit, and not even his trusty crowbar?  And what’s in the briefcase?

This also leads to a fascinating irony within the game — Freeman is a legend.  The Vortigaunts think he’s awesome because he freed them from the Nihilanth.  The humans think he’s awesome, too, and the legend keeps going as you play.  Freeman is the “one free man.”  The irony is that he is not free at all — at the end of the game, he is under the thumb of the G-man.

Final Comments

My first reaction upon finish this game was “ARGH!”  More questions raised than questions answered.  Fascinating but frustrating.  There are a couple of “episodes” for after this game, which are shorter sequel games that may answer some of them… but, based on trying to skim without getting too many spoilers, not nearly enough.

So, Valve, when’s Half-Life 3 coming out?

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