Half-Life 2: Point Insertion Part I


Recently, Valve released Half-Life 2 and it’s episodes for Linux. For me, this is more or less a dream come true, something I’ve been waiting and wanting and wishing for since I started using Linux in 2006.

I’ve tried Wine, multiple times, and it’s always been a bit too quirky, with too many peculiar bugs and foibles. This is not to say that I don’t find Wine impressive. Wine is probably one of the more audacious projects I’ve ever seen – an attempt to reverse engineer one of the most obtuse black boxes ever, the Windows API.

So now that Half-Life 2 has been natively released for Linux, I decided it was time to do a complete replay of the game. I’ve played the game a lot, but I don’t think I’ve actually sat down and gone end to end for a long time. I always skip bits, replay certain sections and then stop.

This time I’m going to share my experiences, via pretentious blog posts, probably on THE INTERNET (but not necessarily  I’ll accept requests to have pages posted to you, if you first of all send me a written request via the royal mail).

I’m doing this not because I think I’ve got anything interesting to say, or anything new. Everything has been more or less said about the game at this point, and if I ejaculate all over it I don’t think it will make much difference to the world at large.

No, I’m doing this because I want to and because I’m a mouthy git, and because this is the internet I can do what I like.

Technical Specifications

I’m playing this on a Samsung Series 7 Chronos, which is an ultrabook type thing. It’s got:

Xubuntu 13.04 x64

Intel Core i5


nVidia geforce 630M

Although the nVidia bit is actually Optimus, and I get way better performance out of the Intel bit than I do with the discrete nVidia chip. Still working on that.

And away we go!



Chapter 1: Point Insertion

Rise and shine, Mister Freeman, rise and….shine.

I love the fact that the first thing they decide to show the player is a giant face.

I love the fact that the first thing they decide to show the player is a giant face.

The intro cinematic immediatly starts to show off what the source engine was capable of in 2004. Back then it was mind blowing, the level of detail on someone’s face was more or less unheard of. Contempory with this is Doom 3, in which everyone looks like they’re made of special metal. There was also Far Cry, and everyone looked like they were made of plastic. In Half-Life, people actually look like Human Beings. Which the Gman almost certainly is not. His manerisms and manner of talking make it seem like he’s certainly heard of humans, and maybe dissected a few, but everything else he knows about us has come from second and third hand sources.

I find him genuinley creepy to interact with, not least because we STILL DON’T KNOW WHAT HE IS.

I'm not sure if the gman is showing you this on purpose, or Gordon is really, really drunk.

I’m not sure if the gman is showing you this on purpose, or Gordon is really, really drunk.

He doesn’t really tell us anything useful, only hints at a few things. From his brief (creepy) speech, we can infer that

  1.  It’s been a long time since the Black Mesa Incident
  2. He’s really sarcastic when he tells us Gordon isn’t lazy. I don’t think he understands sarcasm.
  3.  He wants us to do….something. Something that our particular skill set will qualify us for.
  4.  “The right man in the wrong place” – We’re being inserted to screw things up for someone?
  5. The Gman doesn’t respect Gordon’s PHD. Calling him “Mister” is a calculated insult. And it’s not just “Mr. Freeman”, it’s “Miiisssssssster Freeman”. Arsehole.

That’s more or less it. He’s given us basically nothing, although from the flashing images I wouldn’t be surprised if he primes Gordon’s subconscious to do certain things.

Oh. And look at the smirk he’s showing the final time he tells us to wake up.

Wake up and smell the....ashes.

Wake up and smell the….ashes.

I mean LOOK. Is he pleased with the state of the earth? Probably not, because he’s using his tool Gordon to try and fix it. Or maybe he doesn’t give a ram’s left testicle about the Earth, he just sees an opportunity to cause some havoc for the Combine. Heh. Havoc.

I wonder if he has dozens of Gordon Freeman type characters across different dimensions, all stuck in stasis until he see’s an opportunity to insert them and screw things up. He’s probably been at this for time immeasurable.

Nevertheless, he’s just a complete ARSE to smirk at humanity being in ashes. He must have done it on purpose – he seems to have enough difficulty acting like a human the rest of the time.

Gordon finally has control over his own limbs again. First time in nearly two decades.

Gordon finally has control over his own limbs again. First time in nearly two decades.

So, Gordon is let out of his fridge by the gman, and his eyeballs inform him “POINT INSERTION”. Gordon doesn’t seem to care too much about this information. He certainly doesn’t say anything about it. Maybe he just doesn’t want to freak out in front of new people. Hey look, new people!

"I didn't see you get on,"

“I didn’t see you get on,”

Gordon, Samuel. Samuel, Gordon. Shake hands, play nicely. Gordon, don’t start crying. Samuel, why don’t you share your toys with Gordon?

Samuel doesn’t actually have a name in the game itself. I call him Samuel because I’ve read Half-Life 2: Raisin Bars.

Raisin Bars has a lot of information from early in Half-Life 2’s development  Originally, when the Gman dumped you on this train, he didn’t give you a gas mask.

This was important because the Combine had been replacing Earth’s atmosphere with something unbreathable to humans, and all of the citizens had to wear gas masks except inside the Cities, which were enclosed in domes. This would have made the dwindling human population even more reliant on the Combine, and easier to control. It would have made it obvious that the Combine were really messing up the Earth.

Samuel would have seen you, noticed you dying of asphyxiation, then lending you his spare gas mask.

He would then dump a ton of exposition on you.

I’m glad that this didn’t happen for a few reasons.

Firstly,  it makes the slow reveal of just what the combine are much more tense, and the end result more horrific.

Secondly, it makes the combine more insidious  They’re not going to immediately trying to force the human population into a new mold, instead they’re drawing on human history to create the most effective police state ever.

It also gets around the problem of just dumping a massive speech on the player, which would have awful. Having a character just stand there and recite lines to you, no matter how good the lip syncing is or how detailed their blackheads are, is stupid, and uninteresting. It’s much better to have the player slowly figure it out for themselves, I think the impact is much better.

So instead, Samuel goes unnamed, and only has a handful of lines of dialogue.

His, and Stephen’s (the other dude on the train. He has no name that I know of so I gave him one. I hope Stephen is ok, Stephen.) lack of response to you appearing on the train, actually speaks to the ingrained instinct to not ask questions, not to appear curious, to keep your head down, and to get on with things. This is how large portions of any population tend to behave in a police state.

Samuel’s cut dialogue means that the train journey is a lot shorter. You’re barely on board for more than a few seconds before you arrive at your destination, please make sure you have all your belongings with you before leaving the train.

All you can really see through the windows is this:

Just a small hint of some an industrial area.

Just a small hint of some an industrial area.

Again, Raising the Bar tells us of massive differences in the early concepts. Gordon was meant to see the outside of city 17, the wasteland.

Some of this content has been restored from the WC_Mappack, a huge stock of unfinished maps that were obtained during The Leak.

I used to be really annoyed about this cut content. I thought the game sounded far more amazing in it’s early forms, and that it was a real shame all this content had been cut.

Now I realise that showing off all this stuff in the opening minutes of the game would have ruined the impact. The time you spend inside City 17 really let you start to feel “safe”, and it’s not until you get outside you really start to see what the Combine have done, and how Breen is actually telling you the truth when he says “It’s safer here”.

Right, Gordon. Time to alight.

Chocolate rations have been increased to twenty grams a week.

Chocolate rations have been increased to twenty grams a week.

Gordon instantly twigs that the giant face on the screen is actually someone he knows from somewhere. His Dad? No….school Geography teacher? Gordon suspects that the deep freeze has affected his memories. He wisely stays silent.

The police state imagery and motive continues, with a broadcast that is obviously inspired by Nineteen Eighty Four.  The nice man on the screen, who looks a bit like Santa, is telling everyone how lucky they are.

I wonder how much they believe it?

It’s a legitimate question. How long has this Administration been in power? How long has Breen been Breencasting? If it’s close to 20 years, then it wouldn’t be suprising to find that a lot of the population believe it. Or at least, pretend to believe it, because if you don’t, they’ll kick down your door and drag you off to a small room to be beaten to death. Again.

Good grief. I’m 1600 words into this and I’ve only just gotten off the train. Might need to pick it up a bit.

I've never actually spotted the Dove on this poster before.

I’ve never actually noticed the Dove on this poster before.

The Combine (not that we know who they are yet), have been plastering their corporate brand over everything. The logos actually remind a lot of corporate advertising – simple, geometric shapes, solid blocks of colour. Coincidence? I think not.

Gordon gets to witness some police brutality.


Bu-but this stuff, it’s all I have lef-OOF

This guy protests that these cases are all that’s left of his possesions. I think that’s a bit of a dick move, since nearly everyone else here has only 1 case. Gordon has nothing at all. He restrains himself from giving the greedy man a lecture.

Actually, I do wonder what Gordon is wearing at this point. Since he has no Hazard Suite yet, is he wandering around in his lab coat? Wouldn’t that make him stick out a bit?

Or maybe the Gman dressed him in the blue overalls everyone else is wearing. While Gordon was unconscious. Which is creepy.

This little scene is probably the first demonstration of physics in the game, unless the player has been throwing around empty Chinese takeaway boxes. Again, back in 2004, this was impressive stuff.

And it still is. Very few games, even today, manage to stick much in the way of physics objects in their levels. This is a point I’ll come back to later.

Gordon observes an alien slave pushing a broom around, under the direction of a bored cop.

Yeah, those alien scumbags got what they deserved!

Yeah, those alien scumbags got what they deserved!

Gordon feels quite conflicted about this. On the one hand, these things did try to kill him over and over again, only a few hours ago from his perspective. On the other hand, the alien looks really pitiful. Gordon longs to put the alien out of its misery, then wonders at his own violent tendencies. He decides to have a crisis of identity at some point later on, preferably with beer.

I do wonder about this. I mean, it looks really, really  cool. It also accomplishes a lot of world building without even giving any dialogue. Other, less perfect games would say to the player “Hey, these guys are actually nice, but they’ve been enslaved! And that’s terrible!”

But. Why only here? It’s odd that we never see any more Vortigaunts sweeping floors or carrying rubbish bins at all. We do see a single vortigaunt in Nova Prospekt later on, being tortured, but they’ve got no real presence as slaves from this point.

"Were you the only ones on that train?"

“Were you the only ones on that train?”

This poor woman will ask you if there were any more passengers on the train. If you stop to talk to her, she tells you:

Overwatch stopped our train in the woods, and took my husband for questioning. They said he'd be on the next train....I don't when that was.

This line is…quite brilliant, really. I much prefer subtle story telling, because it requires that the audience work out for themselves what on earth is going on.

Imagine instead that this woman had been standing here, at the fence, and told you instead “THEY SHOT MY HUSBAND IN THE HEAD”. It gets the same point across, but loses the impact.

I think a large part of why this works is the subversive, insidious nature of the combine occupation this reveals. People are downtrodden and apathetic. This woman is has a kind of hopeless naivety to her. I don’t know that she genuinely believes her husband will turn up, but she’s lost the will to go on, and by staying here she’s not accepted that he is, in all likelihood, dead.

Join us soon, for the Continuing Adventures of Gordon Freeman, where Gordon walks through a turnstile and I talk about how awesome the turnstile is! Seriously, I need to pick up the pace a bit.


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