Monday, January 9, 2012


This is just an idea for a segment, kinda feeling the waters.  We all have those points in certain games that will always stick with us.  It could be a cutscene that grabs us, as they're designed to appeal to us emotionally.  But our main interaction with a game isn't watching, it's playing.  Experiencing.  Sometimes it's a whole level that enchants us, sometimes it's just a segment of one.  Sometimes it's a sub-area, since games nowadays tend to eschew the concept of "levels".  Whatever the scope, we all have parts of games that made us go "Man, you remember when you get to that part where..."

Half-Life 2 is almost universally considered a perfect game.   It has flawless level design, balanced weapons and combat, memorable characters, an engaging storyline, and action sequences that are absolutely unforgettable.  It has comedy, serious drama, nail-biting horror, science, adventure, everything you could possible want out of a video game.  For me to choose a specific scene or place out of the game seems nearly impossible.  Ravenholm?  Nova Prospekt?  The battle for City 17?   All of these are some of the greatest moments in my gaming history.

But for me, it's this:

The bridge.

One of the longer levels of the game is Highway 17, a long stretch of coast in a dune buggy, with occasional stops to fight Combine soldier roadblocks.  Eventually you come to this run-down farmhouse, underneath a train bridge blocked off by an energy shield.  The power source to turn off the shield is nowhere to be found in the farmhouse.  But...there's a path under the bridge...

It's pretty obvious now where you have to go.  It just seems odd; there weren't that many Combine at the farmhouse.  You'd think there would be more.  Just a little surprise down on the path, that's about it.  So you go through the first utility room, which leads you underneath the bridge, where you see that things have fallen into disrepair.

Whatever you do, DON'T look down.  You can see an easily-avoidable barnacle or two, a headcrab here and there, but strangely no guards.  You have to carefully walk along the narrow girders and broken catwalks, knowing that you're only a slip away from plummeting to your death in the waters below.  An acrophobic's nightmare.  A train goes overhead, shaking the entire frame.  Even when I know it's coming, my heart skips a beat every time.  On top of everything else, the silence is incredibly unnerving.

Oh that can't be good.  That can't be good at all.  Astute Half-Life 2 players know that when the game hands you a lot of heavy ammo and health, something big is coming.

Once you reach the far end of the bridge, bullets hit the concrete behind you.  You can see the tech sticking out of the walls, and Combine soldiers swarm out of the woodwork, so you know you're close to the energy shield off switch!  This must be why the game gave you all that stuff...but why rockets?   Seems a bit overkill, but hey why not?

After a wave of several soldiers, there's the switch!  You're in the clear!  And hey, a health AND shield center!  Awesome.  All you have to do is hit that button, and then carefully navigate your way back across those narrow girders to the other side and you're all se-

Wait...what's that alarm?  

And then you hear one of the more terrifying sounds in the game.  A biomechanical roar of rage that can only signify one thing...


If you haven't played the game, let me explain gunships.  They're living things fused with technological weaponry.  They're huge, airborne, fast, and agile.  They have a mounted cannon on the nose that can kill you fast, and they are extremely precise.  They can only be killed with rockets, and yet have this annoying knack for shooting rockets out of the sky before they can hit.  These things can be tough even on solid ground.

And you have to fight it on the catwalks and girders.  The battle is tough and awesome.  Fortunately the game shows you one kindness; the ammo crate I showed above, and the shack behind it for cover.  But that's in the middle of the bridge; you still have to GET there.  It's not the hardest battle in the game, but it will get your blood pumping, and I guarantee you will die a couple of times before getting past it.  The game still has one last scare for you with this scene, but I won't ruin that one.

The game is honestly packed full of memorable moments like this; areas that will stick with you as more than just another bland firefight in a series of firefights like many shooters nowadays.  It's what sets Half-Life 2 head and shoulders above most FPS games even to this day, and why fans have been screaming for a sequel since its release.  If you haven't played it yet, I sincerely implore you to find a copy and give it a playthrough.  After 7 years, this is still a game I am compelled to play to completion at least once a year.  I know you'll love it as much as I do.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah.

    I am playing this game for the first time, as in 2004 I was not in a position to play games much; I discovered girls.

    But, now that I am 31, and have discovered girls are annoying at all points except for sexy times, I have more time to play this game.

    And this level was awesome.

    Indicative of Half Life 2 being a "Thinking Man's Shooter".