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

Chapter 11: Anticitizen One

- Another warning: I’m a shitty commentator. I haven’t played the game for a while, which in itself isn’t so bad, but that means a week or so has passed since I cleared the Anticitizen One chapter, and I foolishly did not record my thoughts. The negative consequence of this is that, obviously, I don’t remember it all that well. But the positive consequence is that I have the benefit of hindsight while writing. That’s not much of a “positive consequence” I know, but it’s all you’re going to get.


- The first thing I can really remember is the Dog attack that happens pretty early in the chapter, in which you see your new robotic buddy going totally bananas, riding attack vehicles and spiking them like victory footballs. What a guy! Of course, by this point, I’m aware that when Half-Life 2 makes you say something like, “Hey, fighting next to this character will make the game awesome!” that means the character is about to leave. Sure enough, Dog hijacks a jet and lives out the rest of his days in the Caribbean. I’m all alone. But damn…that Dog action was cool.

- Actually, despite the stubbornness of my memory, I think this might be my favorite chapter so far. Once I get a squad on my side it suddenly causes the fun of this game to surge enormously. I get to assemble my own team of foot-soldiers and lead them bravely to their deaths at the hands of my own fumbled grenades.

- It is a lot of fun, though, and it rectifies a few things that I felt were missing. Specifically the Combine battles, which, for a long time, seemed replaced by zombies, or turrets, or antlions, or any number of other distractions. I mean, aliens and stuff…that’s all fine. It can be cool. But ever since those sons of bitches shoved me around in the City 17 arrival depot, all I’ve wanted to do was fight them, bring them down. Get my fingers in their little regime and tear it apart. When you fight zombies you fight for survival, but when you fight soldiers you fight for a cause. I think that’s what I wanted…the cause. I wanted there to be a reason I was doing all of this. After all, if some guy kills a thousand zombies in Ravenholm, what good does that do anybody? The stakes only matter to me, or to the zombie. By contrast, if somebody kills even one member of the Combine, a blow has been struck. The act has positive repercussions. It matters to everyone. That’s what I’m after here.

- Also, I’m back in City 17, which might be making me unfairly fond of this chapter. I was quietly irritated that the game—having introduced me to this remarkably well-rendered alternate history—was pushing me further and further away from its interesting core. Now that I’m back…I don’t know. This is kind of what I wanted all along. It actually feels better to come back to it than it would to have been here all along…I had no idea the game would circle back around like this; it felt more like a game of escape than progress. I guess all I really needed was a little faith in the designers.

- And I have to say that any amount of airboat difficulty, or antlion horribleness, or zombie frustration…any of that…any of that and then some…is worth it when you see the resistance tearing down that telescreen in the town square.


- Just beautiful.

- Anyway, the level itself…it’s really just a continuous gauntlet. You rush a few soldiers, storm a building, clear it of evildoers, get stuck in a hallway because none of your party will move out of your way…it’s wonderful. Resistance members are all around…most of which join your party, some of which stay behind to help stragglers, and a few of which are just bleeding lazily all over the ground where you find them. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

- The squad is a lot of fun and it’s nice to have some help, but I’m pretty lousy at keeping them alive. In fact, it kind of stresses me out to know that I’m now “responsible” for NPCs. I’m pretty sure that until now NPC deaths were either scripted or irrelevant. All of a sudden, though, I feel protective. It’s more than just the fact that they want to help me…it’s the idea, I guess, that whatever heroism I was supposed to have had all along is now being demonstrated. I need to uphold my own reputation. For the first time, I really feel like I am going to take down the Combine.

- That said, it always feels kind of good when I need to squeeze through a passageway or something without them. At that point I’m only responsible for me, leaving them safely behind while the only life in danger is my own. Can you imagine trying to do that fucking room full of zombies AND ACID with a squad of NPCs hopping from crate to crate behind you? I think that’d be my own personal hell. Also, my parents are there.

- After some time I reunite with Alex. She offers to storm a room with me so that we can surprise the Combine inside from two directions, but she doesn’t even open her door until the fight is over. Is this Half-Life’s idea of a joke?


- She tells me there’s a generator in the square that she’s going to deactivate, or something, so that I can shoot its core with my gravity gun, for some reason, and something will happen. Or stop happening. Or never happen in the first place. I have no clue what’s going on, but it results in what is, by quite a wide margin, the most difficult sequence in the game.

- I suppose the “hold your ground” section in the square is much easier if you bring a squad with you, but, if you ask me, doing that only makes you a wimp. I’m Phil Reed, and I throw grenades into rooms that I think are full of Combine but turn out to be full of the armed friendlies who I forgot were there. My date with Alex at the generator power switch involves no hangers-on.

- Without exaggerating, I probably had to play this section ten times. Enemies swarmed from every conceivable direction and would not stop coming. My trusty shotgun was out of ammo about 1/3 of the way through the battle and I was resorting to all of the shitty weapons I picked up and never even bothered to figure out how to use. The Combine pulse rifle isn’t so bad, but it’s pretty weak and burns through ammo like it’s nothing. The crossbow, for some reason, fires hot Slim-Jims. By the end of things I’m clubbing the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man with a crowbar to keep him from killing Alex. Eventually she does reveal the generator core, and I do manage to shoot the little energy ball inside, and that opens a gate which we all-too-gratefully sprint through.

- Alex shimmies up a drainpipe and gets assaulted by Combine soldiers. Because that’s just the kind of week we’ve been having.


- As usual, I’m heading “forward” through the game without any real sense of where I’m actually going. In the underground section I come across Combine having serious troubles with zombies. I watch on, fascinated…but then I realize something. The only reason there are any zombies to begin with is because of the damn headcrabs the Combine has been launching into every major area. If they have so much zombie trouble, why are they always making more of them? I mean, these guys obviously aren’t trained in zombie combat (zombat, according to Webster’s Collegiate). The soldiers take a few shots, get swiped at, and fall over dead. (One of them, hilariously, is eaten by a barnacle.) So nobody is even preparing them to deal with the zombies that they themselves are creating masses of. Is it just me or does this ring of exceptionally poor organization? No wonder a myopic mute with a crowbar is taking you down.

- The chapter concludes with what can only be described as the CRANE SEQUENCE FROM HELL. No, really. It can only be described as that. There are no other words. The chapter concludes with the CRANE SEQUENCE FROM HELL.

Chapter 12: “Follow Freeman”


- I meet somebody after the CRANE SEQUENCE FROM HELL who offers to follow me and help out a bit. He probably wants this to sound encouraging but I’m actually more pleased to see the health crates behind him. There are sirens going off all over the place, and try as I might I can’t make them sound like ice cream men.

- Immediately outside this room is a woman with the resistance. She sees me, her eyes light up, and she says, “Don’t leave without me, Dr. Freeman!” She is shot to death by snipers after she takes about one step toward me. Hmm. I guess that qualifies with the Combine as fair warning.

- I have a few rockets left so I fire them into the windows where the snipers are. I COULD take cover every few feet and work my way close enough to lob a grenade…or, easier still, I could ignore them totally and run like hell…but I figure I might as well use the rockets. If another gunship needs to be taken down there will have to be an infinite rocket crate nearby so I’m not too worried.

- A woman in a shot-up room tells me Barney is hanging out somewhere, trapped by snipers. Whoops…maybe I should have saved a few rockets after all.

- I enter a building and hear distress from below the floorboards. lol joke about The Tell-tale Heart. I head down to investigate and find a dying man who tells me the area is “infested.” You know what that means, boys and girls! Yep, I triggered a zombie attack. This time it was a whole swarm of them having a competition to see who could hold their breath the longest. I take them out and lose my only surviving squad member in the process. I hardly knew ye, whoever the hell you were.

- Up the stairwell and I come to the roof, where more zombies are shambling around. I take aim and…that’s it. I don’t even need to pull the trigger…these zombies fall down dead all by themselves! The wimps. Inching up I discover that I do the same thing. Whoops…musta been a sniper. I toss a grenade a pretty damn good distance, right into his snipe room (all luxury apartments have snipe rooms), and kill the bastard.


- Barney is up above, shouting for my attention. Yes, it seems that Barney took cover the smartest way he could imagine: atop a meduim-rise building in broad daylight directly in the criss-cross of several lines of fire. I swear…what would these clods do without me?

- Well, they’re going to find out, because my 3 health isn’t cutting it in this rescue-Barney-battle. Guess I have to reload and do the whole thing again…

- Eventually I manage to take out the snipers and retain around 40 health. Not too bad…and Barney leads me to some health crates before he opens a gate for me. His Combine password (“password1,” not case-sensitive) still works, apparently. Jeez…you’d have thought that’d be the first thing they’d deactivate upon his termination. Anyway, he leads me into a back alley area where we are joined—magically, so far as I can tell—by three or four other resistance fighters. Barney says we need to knock out the suppression field, which is housed in a museum, or a bank, or a courthouse, or a luxury yacht, or a zoo, or a zeppelin. Barney must have a hell of a time telling public buildings apart. I imagine him walking into a orphanage to do his weekly grocery run.

- He leads us to the building in question (a greenhouse, or a police station, or the Hall of Presidents or something) and the first thing I see is members of my party being vaporized. Eep! There’s some laser or something frying us. Is this the suppression field? No time for questions…only sprinting! I hear Dr. Breen talking to me over the PA system so I huddle somewhere and hear him out. He wants me to use my widespread adoration to campaign for John McCain. But I know better. We storm a few buildings, free a prisoner, and bust serious caps in serious asses. Because that’s how we do it in Freeman Land.

- Also in Freeman Land, we quit the game when we have to pee. So I’ll pick up on this later.

- Inside the firehouse, or the elementary school, or the VFW, Barney and I go about deactivating generators that contain those energy balls from Portal. Along the way we rescue a few jailed citizens, but, damn, I wish we could just leave them there. These guys are dumber than antlions, and if there’s a laser tripwire, they can’t wait to run through it. Which triggers a turret…a totally stationary and easily-avoidable obstacle. Except when a turret fires, they don’t want to run. They want to stand in a wide open doorway and fire vaguely in its direction until they die. Jesus Christ, guys.

- As we go onward I end up getting a few of my party killed. At this point, that’s practically a bonus. But sometimes party members vanish without being accounted for. Now why the hell do you think that is? It’s possible they’re dying in battle without me realizing it until later, but it’s an awful lot of people and I’m not TOTALLY unobservant…anyway, I backtracked at one point to grab some health and look what I found:


- So…this is what’s happening to my party? They’re bugging out and hovering in place? This guy pictured would react to me. If I bumped into him, he’d excuse himself. If I told him to move, he’d reply as though he’d heard me. (Funnily enough, one of his random statements was “I’m sticking here!”) But I couldn’t get him to come back down to floor level, or to follow me, no matter what I did.

- Also, I think Barney must have played this game before, because, curiously, he waits outside of a certain room full of red tripwires while I go exploring. Hmm…he’s never done that before. He must already know that if I screw up and hit just one tripwire, the turrets won’t stop until I’m bone dead. Thanks for the warning, pal!

- We finish off the generators and Barney tells me to get to the roof, where I’m joined by a whole new crew of idiots that act like idiots and then die like idiots. These fucking idiots. I take down a gunship, seven hundred Combine, and the entire Breenian empire with no help whatsoever. A second round of idiots joins me halfway through the fight. They soon join the tally of dead idiots. Son of a bitch I’m sick of these idiots.


- The strider battle in the courtyard—however difficult—is actually a lot of fun. I have a hell of a time figuring out where, exactly, I’m supposed to go, but the game does me a big favor by stashing the infinite rocket crate in a very safe area. I can even peek out to shoot striders in the butt! The frustration is worth it to see strider after strider after strider come tumbling down…with probably the most disconcerting “death” noise I’ve ever heard.

- Well, time has passed and I can safely say that if anything would ever make me wish for the return of the gunships, it’s these fucking striders. I can’t even take a decent screengrab of them as I’m either trying to scurry away to avoid death or…already dead. Jesus, these things are tough. The rocket crates are still infinite, yes, but they’re being stashed away in less and less accessible places, meaning that I am essentially at the strider’s (or striders’) mercy until I can wind my way up through a destroyed building to reach one.

- Also, the Combine seems to have learned quite a lot over the course of this game. My original questions were along the likes of, “Why don’t they all attack me at once? Why are they coming in waves of 5 or 10? They should gang-rape me 50-strong if they want me dead. Well, guess what. This they now do. And they’ve got me dead.

- Fortunately video games allow you to reincarnate. Also fortunately, they allow you to choose a whole other career entirely. Yes, it’s true. There’s all sorts of dirt-cheap commercial space in City 17 right now and all it takes is the right kind of squatter with a mind for business. Here’s the one I settled on:


- Welcome to Cafe Baltic! Can I interest you in a Breen Steamer?

- Every time I see a group of armed citizens rushing to join me, I sigh. They will be killed. I cannot help them. And all they manage to do successfully is plug up doorways so that I can’t retreat from enemy fire. I’m serious about that, too. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I kept pressing into them, as they refused utterly to move, only to have them finally give way…because they’ve been shot through the head or something by the enemy I was fleeing. Who coded these imbeciles?

- At one point (okay, at many points) I can’t figure out where to go…and I’ve lost track of where I’ve even been…so I take a jump down to street level, where loads of strider carcasses litter the ground. At the very least, even if I am lost, I will be able to pose heroically amongst them.


- Sure enough, though, I’m on the right course. I see—hey!—it’s Dog up ahead, and he’s hefting a wrecked car to crack heads with! I wouldn’t have guessed I’d be so happy to see Dog. During our last reunion in Farnsworth’s lab it was just kind of, “Oh yeah, that thing again.” Now I’m genuinely glad to see him. Maybe because he’s the only NPC in the game I can count on to actually kill things.

- Not far behind is Barney Calhoun, D.D.S. He welcomes me, asks me kindly to shoot the soldiers who have been giving him guff, and then entreats me to follow Dog, who believes Alex has been taken to the Citadel. Kind of interesting that the Citadel is in the center of City 17, which is where I started, but I had to make a trip through the sewers, the desert, the highway, the set of Resident Evil: The Motion Picture and all kinds of crazy places before I was allowed near it. If Breen had just sent a cab for me we could have saved everyone on both sides a lot of trouble.

- The chapter ends on what’s probably my favorite moment in Half-Life 2 so far: Dog clears a way for me, showing me a tunnel that, I guess, leads to or into the Citadel. As I drop in I hear Barney say, “If you see Dr. Breen, tell him…” Dog then drops the barricade above so that I can’t hear the next word…but it’s quite clearly followed by “you.” Did I mention I’m really starting to like this game?

About this entry


Excellent. Also, I’ve just been reminded me of two of my favourite Frohman strips:

I hope you enjoy the Citadel stuff. It’s among my favourite bits of the game, but I know plenty of people aren’t that keen.

Jonathan Capps's picture

By Jonathan Capps
October 27, 2008 @ 5:39 pm

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You know, I can’t stress enough how much funnier that comic is now that I’ve actually played the game. Fortunately I didn’t retain much in terms of spoilers when I read it the first time, but I was only really amused by the general gaming stuff. Or, obviously, the entirely non-gaming-related stuff. But the Half-Life jokes—extremely numerous—meant nothing to me.

Now I realize how funny it is. I’m re-reading them now (taking care not to read any further than I’ve actually gotten in the game!) and enjoying them hugely.

Phil Reed's picture

By Phil Reed
October 27, 2008 @ 7:20 pm

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