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Half-Life 2: Play by Play Commentary (Part Three)

This article follows on directly from part two, and indirectly from part one. Also, I forgot to mention at the start of this that good Seb Patrick gave me the idea to do a commentary in the first place. And in true Half-Life NPC fashion, he gave me the mission, then stood around blinking while I did all the actual work.

Chapter 6: “We Don’t Go to Ravenholm…” (cont.)

- Alright. It seems I wasn’t far from escaping Ravenholm last time around, but I appeared to be trapped very low on ammo in a cul-de-sac with no way out. There was a walkway above but I couldn’t figure out how to get to it. As it turns out I must just have been tired / scared out of my nipples because when I loaded the saved game I saw a stack of boxes I could climb with no problem.

- Of course what this managed to do was alert more able-to-leap-tall-buildings-in-a-single-bound superzombies to my presence…but after killing them (I’m getting much better with aim, by the way…I’m actually more likely to get a headshot than not…which means I AM learning…) and scurrying all the way along the platforms Grigori pops up and calls me an ass hole for not going to church. Well Jesus Christ, man, maybe if you’d give me a map, or a compass direction…maybe if you’d so much as point at it before you turn your back on me and vanish into the shadows. Wait, where are you going? I’m sorry I typed those mean things. Please don’t go. I need ammo. I need a fucking hug. Please. Please don’t leave me…

- He left me.


- Fire, fire, the zombie’s on fire!

- On a related note, I guess I shouldn’t be too upset about zombies who can howl and pounce from a rooftop across the street. They’re not like any other zombies I’ve seen in films or games, but zombies by their very nature are inconsistent.

- So now I’m stuck on top of a building, but Grigori says he’s sending a cart for me. Already I can tell it’s moving slowly…I hear metal walkways clanging somewhere…and I’m surrounded by extra health. I am about to get zombie gang-raped, correct?

- Oh shit fucking correct.

- Hey, actually this is kind of fun. The drainpipes or whatever shake so you can see which one the zombies are climbing up. I can’t seem to hit them as their heads emerge, but once they’re up I’m already trained on them. I like this, actually. Have there always been clues as to where the zombies would appear? I’m perfectly willing to believe I just didn’t know what I was doing earlier. I’m actually kind of disappointed when the cart arrives…I’ve used up all the extra health and a lot of ammo but that was a pretty cool sequence. But once I’m in the cart I can’t go anywhere. Grigori tells me to release the handbreak but all I see is a lever that I can’t seem to reach from inside the cart, no matter how close to it I get. Oh well…I’ll just step out and pull it—hey! Where’s the cart going? Oh shit…I’m going to be stuck up here again! Like fuck I’m going to be stuck up there again. A flying leap…and I JUST barely make it. Jesus, Grigori…


- Father Grigori wears Chuck Taylor All-Stars! Wow. Consider whatever reservations I might have had about this guy officially dismissed. And, to be honest, he doesn’t look too bad for having been living in a zombie town for god knows how long. His clothes are pretty clean…his beard well-maintained…and judging by his gut he obviously hasn’t had any trouble finding extra food. (Oh…oh wait. A terrible thought has just occurred…)

- Storming the graveyard! Now THAT’S how it’s done! Fighting side by side with this rifle-toting pastor who looks remarkably like my old chemistry teacher. And Grigori is actually HELPING! We’re taking down zombies side-by-side. Every so often he gets attacked and I come to his aid. Then I get attacked and he…well, kind of ignores me, but that’s okay. I like this guy. He leads me through the graveyard and we get separated a few times but never for too long. He keeps calling me brother and I have to admit, by this point, now that I see he really wants to help me, it’s kind of endearing.

- Now the whole cemetery is ablaze. I didn’t get to see why the fire started…I was slightly lost…but I’d like to think Grigori lit one of his farts. He’s just THAT tough. Anyway we’re blasting zombies, shoulder to shoulder…they stumble around on fire, he laughs like a madman, and I’m reminded of family picnics it’s probably better not to elaborate upon.

- The mines? He’s sending me into the mines? Fucking hell, will this town never end? He opens a gate for me but it doesn’t open all the way…I need to crawl underneath. And…and he’s not following me…is he? As soon as I stand up and turn around the gate drops. I…I thought he was going to follow me…

- I guess not. Grigori says goodbye, starts another fire, then WALKS INTO IT LAUGHING. I mean, I’ve seen some boneheaded stuff in this game and I can usually shrug it off and move on but…but wow. I…I actually feel kind of sad right now. Still, he’s not dead because I can hear him laughing and he’s still blasting zombies.


- I’ll wait. I’ll watch and wait. I’m safe behind this fence. I can’t see him but I hear the gun, zombies are falling…as soon as the zombies are dead he’ll come with me.

- There’s no more gunfire. Zombies are shuffling around unmolested. I’ll wait.

- No. He’s gone.

- Shit. That was actually really sad.

- I learn the hard way that I cannot just drop into the mine without dying. In fact, I learn it the hard way something like 25 times in a row. What the hell. The only way I figured out how to get down was accidentally falling onto the lower ledge while I tried to snap a picture down the shaft. I’m hoping the mines aren’t too awful…I really need a breather after Ravenholm.

- Gotta admit…picking off these headcrabs from above was pretty awesome. Especially when I managed to blow up a barrel near a bunch of them. One thing’s for sure…they can run around for an awfully long time while they’re on fire. Tenacious little bastards, aren’t they?

- Eventually I make it through the mines. That wasn’t too bad. Here’s a switch…I wonder what happens when I throw it…oh shit! It’s one of Grigori’s propellers of death strapped to a mining cart! Now it’s roaring up and down the tracks and it looks like I just made the next leg of the journey much harder on myself. Why the HELL did I throw that switch?


- Oh. Here’s why.

- I emerge in a trainyard. The music swells. I save the game and move on with my life.

- Just kidding, I’d never move on with my life. And the chapter isn’t over yet. My first thought is, “If Ravenholm empties onto a trainyard, why aren’t there zombies all over the place?” The answer comes soon enough…there are. And the Combine seems to pretty much have it in hand but the fact that they keep the Ravenholm exit patrolled 24 hours a day means none of them are quite smart enough to just board up the tunnel. Still, it’s nice that the game decided to give the Combine some zombie troubles of their own. Almost makes you wonder why they sent in headcrab rockets if they then have to keep Ravenholm under lockdown like some sort of zombie zoo. Surely mustard gas or something would have been a better no upkeep alternative…

- Pitching grenades into windows where the Combine are (and then hearing them panic!) is quite rewarding. But I admit I kind of wish I could just leave the sniper in place to kill escaping zombies. Of all the evil soldiers in this game, these ones are actually providing a valuable service!

- I enter a parking lot and hear gunfire coming from somewhere. I explore cautiously, but I can’t seem to find it. Odd…usually the enemies don’t fire on me unless I could, conceivably, see them in return. But I have no idea where they are and it’s an awful lot of gunfire. I explore the building nearby and, hey look, a gunfight! And…strange…I’m not even involved! I guess they’re shooting at some good guys…the trouble is I’m not really sure which side are the good guys. I could use my zoom function, but it’s more fun to just guess.


- And I turned out to be right. The side closest to me were the evildoers. This was the easiest fight in the game so far…the dumb robots didn’t really pay me attention at all as I picked them off from the side. Maybe they remember me from before and realize that if they leave me alone I’ll eventually just blow myself up with fumbled grenades. They are correct, but I still survive. The good guys are very happy to see me but none of the girls seem interested in letting me feel them up. I really have to do something about Breen’s No-Nookie field. This girl should be clamping my beard with both thighs by now.

- Okay, so this was a rebel stronghold. A much stronger stronghold than usual, because these guys actually have weapons beyond the words, “Please don’t murder me.” They call up Alex on an old black and white TV set and she is ecstatic that I survived Ravenholm, but also just as quick to throw me into a brand new unsurvivable adventure. Great, I have to pilot an armed dunebuggy through monster-infested badlands. You know, Alex, it’s really only fair that you’d meet me, like, halfway at least. I’m dripping with the green gooze of around six thousand headcrabs. I deserve a fucking break.

Chapter 7: Highway 17


- Out at the docking area I see my dunebuggy. Before I step into it and curse god for making me drive another vehicle I figure I’ll do some exploring, maybe watch some NPCs machine gun the monsters who will be feasting on my carcass in a few minutes. Some unseen woman on a megaphone doesn’t like that one bit. She keeps repeating, “The buggy is ready, Freeman, move your stank ass.” Over. And over. And over. So finally I get in the car, and what does she do? She drops the buggy so that it rolls over, trapping me inside while antlions slowly tear me apart. I wasn’t even sure this sequence was interactive so I took a lot of damage. Eventually I kill the antlions and the megaphone girl shouts at me to flip my buggy over and get moving. Excuse me, sister? YOU dropped it upside down with me inside. And YOU are the one with the gigantic fucking magnet. Furthermore, YOU watched me get slaughtered by aliens from your perch in the control tower, or wherever the hell. I mean, most of these NPCs are sorely unhelpful…but this is bordering on abuse.

- I cannot for the life of me make the first buggy-jump. It tells me to use my turbo function, and I do, but my vehicle seems to have a tendency to drift toward the left and so I have to hold down turbo, accelerate, AND try to pull to the right to make it over the ramp. By the time I do I’m down to 12 health because I had to keep falling into the chasm, flipping upside down, and giving my antlion friends a farewell smooch just one last time.

- Eventually I come to a little house of zombies. When friends have left something helpful for me, they mark the area with a little lambda symbol. Very nice of them. This time, to signify the danger instead, zombies have painted a skull and crossbones on the building. You have to admit, that’s uncharacteristically helpful of them. I stock up on all sorts of goodies inside, slay an armored zombie, and pick my nose while I’m indoors and nobody can see me. I’m up at around 88 health again, which is good. Oh, also there was an oil well or something in the yard and I turned it off. Apart from making me a sitting duck for antlions, though, I’m not sure what effect it had.

- Oh, that was the effect. It’s some kind of motorized stomper keeping the antlions at bay. I thought they were just afraid of Old Man Zombie. If I had only paid attention the first time I would have seen how reluctant they were to attack me while the device was operational. Still, one has to learn sometime.

- After a while I come upon a Combine housing unit, or something, where I look through their ViewMaster to find that they’ve been spying on a resistance facility. I honestly thought I was looking backward toward the place where I got my buggy but eventually I make it to the place I was spying on, where there are loads of people bitching at me to go into the basement. By now I’m pretty sure I can tell the difference between a timed event and a triggered one, so I wander around the camp instead. After all, if the only way to make the gunship show up is to actually go in the basement, I’m doing them all a favor. I can just hang out on the sundeck for a few decades until everyone dies of old age. Crisis averted!


- Eventually I get bored of people and their bad basement-related attitudes so I give in and follow the guy who’s been bugging me this whole time. I end up arriving in the middle of a peptalk by Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, who, like every other NPC in the game, recognizes me as Gordon Freeman and realizes that therefore he won’t have to do any actual work himself. I am given a rocket launcher and asked to take down a gunship.

- Which I do! And it’s actually a lot of fun. It takes a while to get used to this…apparently I can shoot pretty much anywhere but I need to keep my crosshairs on the moving target after the shot to direct the rocket. Not sure quite why that works but I kind of enjoy it. The trouble is it takes me a few shots to get the hang of it and when I do I’m out of ammo. I now need to scour the whole damn place to find more rockets while I’m getting shot through the eyeballs by the gunship.

- Eventually I take it down. And god that feels good. I love taking down gigantic bastard flying fuckholes in this game. As frustrating as headcrabs and things can be, a big glorious flaming metal wreck falling two thousand feet out of the sky makes it all worth while.

- Mandrake is absolutely chuffed that I succeeded, pip pip and blimey ho! He opens the gate for me to leave and doesn’t ask for his rocket launcher back, which seems like a tremendously bad decision on his part, considering that the Combine obviously knows about this little settlement here. Oh well, maybe they only had one gunship. He tells me to tell Fred Sanford that he wishes he could be the one to perform the rescue operation. Really? Well, guess what…be my guest. Here are the keys to the fucking dunebuggy.

- He gazes stupidly, at least partly because I couldn’t find any button that would turn over the dunebuggy keys to the nearest NPC. (Curse you, insufficient Orange Box instruction sheet!)

- On the road again a huge structure collapses and I skid to a stop in the midst of Combine assault. I manage to take most of them out with the BuggyBlaster, but I know that when I get out to investigate there will be more. And you know what? I kind of like it that way. Fighting the Combine is a lot more fun than bashing zombies. It seems more like a…like a real strategic battle. They’re not undead, they’re not infinite…they’re just evil dudes in robot suits that I get to shoot in their faces and knees. THIS is what the game is all about.

- I make it to the upstairs room of an abandoned building and all of a sudden I hear gunfire. It’s coming from outside the window! Them bastards are shooting me and throwing explosives, ducking behind fences…this is good stuff. I wait for them to stick their heads up, shoot them in the skull, laugh, and repeat. I’m taking some damage, but it’s not too bad, and I seem to be getting most of them before they even have the chance to steady their aim. After a while, though, I can’t see anyone left and I’m still taking damage. What the hell? I change my perspective and shift around a bit but I can’t see anyone else outside. Odd. Turning around there’s a soldier in the room who has been pumping rounds into the back of my head for the past several minutes. I feel stupid that I wasn’t able to recognize this, but I think it’s safe to say that this isn’t a mistake I could have made in real life.


- A view from outside the building…that’s the window in which I was perched during the fire fight. I don’t think these Combine scouts earned any badges for marksmanship.

- I just thought about Father Grigori for some reason, and it made me sad. I’m not sure why…I think I was just so certain he’d survive. Oh well. I’ll always have my fantasies, in which he replaces Ted on Craggy Island.

- Now the Combine (am I too hopeful to consider this a Kesey reference?) are setting up vehicle blockades to catch me. I mean, okay, these guys sort of have to be dumb as they’re video game villains and it’s required that I take out at least six million of them without me dying even once, but I do kind of like the “strategies” they employ. It feels real to me. During the fire fight earlier someone pitched a grenade in at me. I thought I’d be a smartass and throw it back but it exploded in the sky…still kind of neat that it happened though!

- Eventually I come to a little Combine shore resort where some armored zombies are hanging out. When those things are near you can hear them huffing like Darth Vader, so, naturally, the entire time I’m walking around very carefully, lest I get ‘Vaded. I found a zombie in a house with a very messy kitchen (the blood splatter near the meat grinder was pretty cool and I have to wonder if this zombie was a famous chef in life) but when I killed him the breathing continued. It took me a long time to spot the other one hulking around down below. He couldn’t reach me, but by the time I saw him I was shitting pure fear.

- Next I seem to have to climb across some busted up bridge. I fall and die somewhere around forty-nine times, possibly because Gordon refuses to climb with both hands. Steady yourself, you bastard. After a lot of fades to red and a few encounters with the Combine (I discovered, just now, that I have an Official Combine Overwatch PulseMaster Deluxe 9000…when the hell did I pick THAT up?) I make it to the other side. I toss a few grenades into a room because I hear some soldiers pissing around in there. They mutter some exclamation of surprise, the grenade goes off…and nothing happens. There was no screaming or investigation or anything…so I chuck in a second one. They mutter, again, an exclamation of surprise. Funny…I’d have thought they’d be expecting it more the second time. This time it explodes, they scream, a forcefield is deactivated, and I get a boner.


- Inside the room there is some console flashing a message about bridge access. Looks like it’s time for Gordon Freeman to display his master computer hacking skills by pressing the unlit red button next to the glowing green button. Uh-oh! A big gunship dressed like a potato bug starts murdering me through the window. What a shock! Those fifteen rocket launcher ammo crates I passed on the way here could never have prepared me for this!

- Unfortunately I could only carry three rockets at a time…so even though all of my shots connect with the ship, it’s still killing me softly (with its bullets). Where was the last rocket ammo crate? I can’t find one over here…it was probably back across the bridge. So I start to scale the bridge all over again, back the way I came, until I eventually find a rocket crate. I stock up, then go ALL THE FUCKING WAY BACK to the gunship to take it down and…and…what the hell? It’s gone? Not that I can blame it; it probably got sick of watching me drown repeatedly on the way to collect ammo. But now that means I have to go all the way back over the bridge AGAIN, for no reason other than the fact that this particular avenue led me to a dead end.

- I make it back to the Combine Shore Community to find…a zombie duking it out with some antlions. Now this is good stuff. I watch him slug them into oblivion. The game needs more of this. Eventually though I realize it’s time to move on, so I kill the zombie, get bitten in the anus by antlions, shot from every direction through the neck by vacationing Combine who have spotted my buggy, and take off over the bridge, where I am quickly hit by a train. I really shouldn’t have bothered getting out of bed this morning.

- Since I can’t continue over the bridge any further I roll my buggy down a hill (topwise) and drive into a tunnel which informs me that the next chapter is about to begin. Not tonight it ain’t. I’ve seen a zombie sock a man-sized insect in the jaw. If you think I can take any more weirdness after that you’re out of your mind.

About this entry


That Grigori is a brilliant bastard.

Karrakunga's picture

By Karrakunga
October 02, 2008 @ 7:00 pm

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The control problems are interesting - if only because my experience (on the 360 version) was so different.

Also: that bridge section is my least favourite by a Combine mile.

Andrew's picture

By Andrew
October 02, 2008 @ 7:33 pm

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>The control problems are interesting

While I point them out for the sake of honesty, it probably is worth mentioning that I DO blame myself. Anyone who has had more experience with FPS games will probably not have nearly as many issues as I’m having, and the vehicle sequences probably go much more smoothly for players who are used to that sort of thing in games.

With the exception of a few frustrating jumps, I much preferred the buggy to the airboat, because the airboat was mainly about speed (so you didn’t get shot to death by the copter) and quick thinking (so you wouldn’t miss a ramp, though I always did). The buggy, at first, seemed to be about speed, but the abundance of roadside stops made me realize it was just transportation, and that I liked. I didn’t need to go fast and drive off of ledges like an idiot…I was allowed to take it slow and see the sights.

An example of my complete unfamiliarity with games in which you can’t actually see your character from the outside: at one point I was raiding a Combine installation that was probably somebody’s house. In the yard I saw two rollermines activate and start toward me. I thought to myself, “Oh, easy, I know how to handle these things.” I switched to the gravity gun, took a few steps backward to put some space between myself and the mines, and tumbled off a cliff into the sea.

Even though my last saved game was quite a while back, I really couldn’t blame anyone but myself for that.

Phil Reed's picture

By Phil Reed
October 02, 2008 @ 8:04 pm

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> in which he replaces Ted on Craggy Island.

Dude. Dude. YES.

Austin Ross's picture

By Austin Ross
October 04, 2008 @ 3:47 pm

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