The Escape from City 17

I’ve been playing nothing but Half-Life 2 lately, and even though I had recently finished the main game, my adventure with our silent hero Gordon Freeman was not yet over.  (Maybe he’s just shy.)  The Orange Box also came with two mini-sequels, Half-Life 2: Episode One and Two respectively.  And today, I discuss my highlights from Episode One.  Being a very short game, the action is basically condensed, meaning we get to experience a lot of crazy stuff in a short period of time.  We also get to work with Alyx the entire time, which is nice.  It’s good to not have to face everything alone for once.  I’ll just use you as a human shield, Alyx.  Hope you don’t mind.

This game takes place immediately after Half-Life 2, and the goal is to escape City 17.  Before we begin our trek to the train station, however, we first have to head back into the Citadel to try and slow the impending explosion of the Citadel’s core.  Once we reach the core, we find that the room in which it is contained is bathed in a very ominous white light.  Unluckily for me, I am the one tasked with entering the room and activating a few machines, during which the core eventually expands and burns through the platform surrounding it.  As strange as this may sound, I really liked this part of the game.  I thought it was pretty awesome, if not rather unsettling.

But before I get ahead of myself, I must mention the Stalkers.  You may remember in my third post discussing my completion of Half-Life 2 that I spotted these strange, human-like creatures several times towards the end of the game, but it didn’t seem they were ever explained.  Well, their identity was finally revealed early on in this game.  It seems they are severely altered humans, and they are super creepy.  Fortunately, they don’t really pose any threat.  (Of course, now a new monstrosity remains unexplained, some huge bug-like creature we glimpse for a short period of time before going on with our work.)  After the core is stabilized, we then escape the Citadel on a train filled with Stalkers in pods, all of which wake up and struggle in their restraints when the train crashes, an event even Alyx herself is clearly disturbed by.  Unfortunately, this is certainly not the most unsettling thing that happens in this game.

After some more exploring in this dark facility we find afterward, we reach another part of the game I thought needed special mentioning.  Before we escape this dark underground…place (it kind of makes me think of a parking garage, but I don’t know if it is or not), we have one final challenge.  And before we go on, I cannot forget to mention that we now have zombified Combine soldiers to face in addition to the usual zombies from the previous game (which Alyx nicknamed Zombine…oh, Alyx, that would be funny if the situation wasn’t so horrifying), which are fast and don’t appear to understand the proper use of a grenade.  You gotta throw it.  That’s…kind of how it works….

Anyway, where was I?  Right.  Let me set the stage for you all.  We are in a large room.  It is dark.  And when I say dark, I mean, when the flashlight is off, everything is black.  There are no lights at all, and my lovely flashlight only lasts…I don’t know, 30 seconds is a good guess, wouldn’t you say?  So, we’re in this large, pitch black room, with a cement floor and ceiling, cement pillars, and some areas blocked off by chain link fences.  It takes a while to explore this place because the flashlight doesn’t illuminate too much.  We find an elevator that requires power, and we follow the wire to a room.  Along the way, we are attacked by small bands of zombies, which, though manageable, is unsettling in such a dark space.  Throughout this period, I am often forced to find a relatively safe looking corner of the room to turn off my flashlight and wait for it to recharge before I can continue on.  Imagine standing in a pitch black, silent room underground.  There’s a high probability creatures who wish you harm are out there, you just don’t know where.  You can only hope they’re not close by, not until your flashlight has recharged at least.  It’s really unsettling, especially when Alyx announces that she can hear something coming.

Okay, so now that the scenery is covered, let’s continue.  I reach a room way back in the corner, and I open the door, fight off the zombies lurking inside, and I open the power box and restore power to the elevator.  Of course, this does nothing for the lights, heavens no.  This doesn’t tell the zombies, hey, these guys are serious about leaving, maybe we should just back off and let them go in peace.  No.  It seems our zombie friends get very lonely down here in the dark, and when they meet new friends, they want them to stay.  Forever.  (They want to kill us.  That’s what I was getting at.  Oh, you got it?  Good.  Because they want to murder us and reduce us to sad, forgotten corpses.  Just so we’re clear.)

This was a truly harrowing experience.  So we’re still in this dark, horrid place, but now, zombies are everywhere, with no signs of stopping.  (Honestly, where are they even coming from?)  Alyx and I run back to the elevator, which takes its sweet time getting down to us, or up, or whatever the case may be, and we have to fight for our lives.  To make matters worse, the fight lasts far longer than my flashlight does, and there were occasions where my flashlight would go out, and I had no choice but to run about in the dark and hope I don’t bump into anything with a taste for blood.  It was really quite awful, and I have no desire to relive this place ever again, but I must say, that was one of the best elevator rides ever.  What a relief…

I was super happy to get outside again and back out in the sunlight, though what happens afterward…I don’t really remember.  I recall wandering around the city for a bit, but not much stands out to me until the end of the game.  (Except the moment I got my crowbar back.  How I missed you, my darling!  Oh, yeah, and I also drowned in an elevator that contained a dead body, so that wasn’t a great moment.)  First off, one of the final events of the game is escorting people to the train, which I hated.  The worst part was trying to destroy the APC (I don’t know what that is, but that’s what Barney called it, and it shot rockets at me, which I found to be quite an unfriendly thing to do.).  I don’t know.  This just…took me a lot of tries and was probably far more difficult for me than it should have been.  Plus, this one Combine dude kept sneaking up behind me with a shotgun and messing things up for me whenever I actually had a decent amount of health.  It was just…weird.  Whenever I was ready for him, he never showed up, so when I went on with my business, assuming he’d never arrive, he’d suddenly pop out of nowhere and shoot me.  Psycho.

And then there was the end of the game, a rather intense situation if there ever was one, as just when I was close to boarding the train with Alyx, a Strider decided to show up, and I had to run around, hiding behind big storage containers until I could get some ammo for my rocket launcher.  Then I took that thing down.  I destroyed it like a pro.  After that, Alyx and I boarded the train, and…it crashes.  Wonderful.  But what happens next will be covered in Episode Two.  I can only imagine what terrible things this game has in store for me.  And soon, you shall find out, too.

ADC: Armored Duck Carrier…It Carries Armored Ducks…?