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

This is the fifth part of a continuing series. Go here to read the others, loudly, into the ear of your sleeping grandmother.

Chapter 9: Nova Prospekt

- Fair warning: it’s very, very likely that my thoughts will get jumbled between the time I play the game and the time I sit down to write this. This is a result of a few things…the similarity of corridors, my commonly poor memory, and the fact that the only thing that comes to mind clearly in retrospect is an assortment of profanities.


- At first I don’t see too many enemies in the prison. And, as you know, I consider one enemy to be “too many” so it’s pretty much just me…walking around, shining my flashlight into empty cells. I’m happy enough with that. Can’t I just get a job here as night watchman? Or have I killed too many Combine for them to treat me as a serious applicant?

- Nova Prospekt doesn’t look so hot. The walls and ceilings are collapsing all around, doors have been kicked in, and worst of all, I think I stepped in someone’s gum. They should get that alien with the broom from City 17 in here. He runs a tight ship. (Actually, I doubt he runs any ships. He sure cleans a tight ship, though.)

- Eventually I find some gun turrets that are…shooting the hell out of my insect friends! No! You don’t DO that to Big Phil’s Murder Bastards. I use the gravity gun to pick up the turrets through the bars and toss them into a wall. They fall over, freak out, shut down…but they don’t say anything cute like they do in Portal. Slight disappointment. My bug friends don’t bother to thank me, but they do run up the steps that they couldn’t get to before, presumably to get shot to pieces by a wholly different pair of turrets.


- I come to a little office where, I guess, the Combine have their coffee breaks, but it’s empty…apart from these pesky dead bodies. So far all I’ve encountered in Nova Prospekt are friendly insects, dead guys, and two turrets with their backs to me. So either I’ve been lied to about the chaos of Nova Prospekt, or I’ve done so well playing this game that the Combine have given up and gone home.

- In the coffee break room there’s a television. Several channels show soldiers coming to murder me. This would probably be helpful if I knew where the cameras were. Another channel shows one of my big, big bug friends beating up Combine soldiers. Intriguing! I get to fight side-by-side with the Antlion King!

- Anyway, I continue through the prison. Terrified. Just storming that little series of rooms at the end of the last chapter made me realize that Nova Prospekt wouldn’t be easy. There were lots of corners…enemies could come from anywhere. Every so often a flying razor bug bot would turn up to cut my face. Combine were pitching grenades that I couldn’t always back away from. (Oh, by the way…I absolutely LOVE the way your character’s hearing goes away after he stands too close to an explosion…the ringing that subsides to total silence, and then, slowly, the sounds of the environment coming up again…lovely stuff. Almost makes holding an exploding barrel during a turret charge worth it.) Now I get the same thing in an enormous, winding, unending prison environment. Times a zillion.

- Before long I’m fighting actual Combine. I’m also joined by my wonderful insect friends, who get torn apart in the fracas, but do some tearing apart of their own. I can’t seem to figure out a good plan of attack for these stationary turrets; I just grab a barrel to block the shots and tank it right up to them, using it to knock them over. Which doesn’t always work, as I tend to miss with embarrassing frequency. Which leaves me retreating for another barrel while turrets shoot me, Combine shoot me, Combine blow me up, and friendly antlions block my path so that I fall, get killed, and my vision fades to red. Nova Prospekt sucks.

- This is actually really hard. Anywhere else in the game I’ve been able to count on just rushing up to soldiers and getting a quick, easy headshot…but now there are so many of them, and turrets, and guys at mounted chain guns, and I have to be a lot more careful and take them out from afar…which isn’t easy. Sometimes they manage to shoot me from so far away that the game isn’t even rendering them as anything more detailed than grey shadows—they expected me to turn into Annie Oakley pretty quickly I think. I end up dying. A lot. Granted, I would much rather die at the hands of actual soldiers dolled up like the Michelin Man than fucking antlions who swarmed me because a booger dropped out of my nose and landed in the sand…but at least there was loads (and loads, and loads) of extra health in the last chapter. Here I keep expecting to find some after a particularly violent firefight, but I never do. I tend to find a lot of ammo, but almost never for the shotgun, which has been my weapon of choice since Grigori saved my life with it back in Ravenholm. As a result my health drops to 16…and stays there. I let the antlions do a lot of my fighting…and thankfully they’re pretty reliable. But I feel like kind of a dweeb hanging back, around a corner, listening to the sounds of antlion chaos. I should be fighting…but I’m a bullet or two from death and it isn’t easy.


- Every day I’m a little more grateful I didn’t keep that dentist’s appointment in City 17.

- When I come to the Antlion King I expect he’s going to assist me in battle. Yeah…assist me right into Heaven. He rams me, rams me, slashes me, bites me, rams me, tramples me, bites me, gives me a very thoughtful gift for Christmas, rams me, tramples me…and I die. The second time around I survive, but I’m terribly weak afterward so I reload and try again, slightly more successfully. This bastard. There are a few boxes but I hate the damn gravity gun. I pick them up to hurl at the beast and then I can’t see around the crate to FIND the beast. So he just comes up and beats the fuck out of me while I’m twirling in circles with a crate in my arms. I’m such a bozo.


- I hear Breen broadcasting again, but I can’t see his adorable little beard on any of the monitors. (What I do see is a little weirder…one of those stress-relief dolls with its eyes permanently bugged out.) He’s asking a perfectly valid question: why on Earth have hordes of soldiers been unable to kill one single guy with a twig and a crowbar? He tells his soldier boys that he’s getting mighty tired of looking bad due to their incompetence. His propaganda works. I feel bad for him and all the trouble I’ve put him through, so I surrender to the next Combine I see. They tell me they appreciate me being the “bigger man” (their words) and give me that position I wanted as night watchman. My first night on the job I turn up with a plate of cookies for my new boss and coworkers. “You didn’t have to do that, Gordon,” they say. “I know I didn’t have to. I wanted to.” We all hug. Breen says he promised himself he wouldn’t cry. Gordon tells him it’s okay. It’s okay. Let it out. It’s okay.

- I find another monitor I can flip through. Jeez…four hundred channels and nothing’s on apart from Combine rushing to kill me. Oh, here’s an old favorite…Combine vs. King of All Antlions. The Antlion King is butting them all around the room and crushing their spines between his forehead and the concrete wall, so I guess it’s a comedy. I watch it for a while to see if anyone wins. Nobody really does. Guess it’s ANOTHER job for Gordon Freeman. No. No, it’s cool. It’s not like I had any plans this weekend. I mean, I was going to maybe see a movie, take Alex out to dinner but no, no, this is good too.

- There are several more encounters with bad guys and turrets, some of which I even survive, but my health is still very low. At one point I need to crawl through a vent to make it around a force field, and, on the way, I find a big fan and some debris. Cool! Another puzzle! I like these. I wedge a cement block in the blades, it sparks and…that it? Fuck. So much for brains over brawn…I’ll be back to getting my teeth kicked out in the next room, I’m sure.

- And what do you know…there’s a Combine in there who shoots me while I’m still in the vent! It would have made a really cool screenshot, I swear. But part of the problem with taking my own is that I’m never comfortable reaching for F5 until I’m the only living creature left in the area…

- Some more turrets, some more Combine, somebody’s cooking area that I accidentally set ablaze. Just another day in Nova Prospekt…world’s worst go-go bar.

- Oh, hey, there’s that room I saw the Antlion King in. Great. He’s probably mad about me killing his wife earlier. Probably won’t even listen to my side of the story!

- This time Combine are fighting him with me! But I know I can’t trust those bastards so I take them out first, probably stupidly, and then get roughed up by the Antlion King. Balls. I see the King hanging out near an explodable barrel so I take aim…steady my shot…and then get creamed when he kicks the barrel into me. Son of a bitch.

- When finally he dies I try to smack the corpse around a little but the game won’t let me…the crowbar sails right through. What the hell? (Oh, I just remembered…I noticed a long time ago that if you kill one of those naked zombies, you can see him still breathing on the ground. Kind of creepy.)


- I make it into the garbage compactor, which I only recognize as a garbage compactor for two reasons: 1) there is garbage everywhere and 2) I get compacted into a bleeding, crying cube every minute or so. I reload, keep making it to a dead end, and can’t figure out what to do from there. (It doesn’t help that every second I spend exploring moves me one second closer to being combined with a mattress and shattered toilet.) Sure enough the escape route was further back, and, as if to rub it in, I find a headcrab in there already. “What,” the game says to me, “you had trouble locating an exit even a HEADCRAB can find?” Thanks game. As if I haven’t had a rough enough day as it is.

- Looks like there’s nowhere to go but down into this little pit here…

Chapter 10: Entanglement

- What? Chapter 10? That was it? Nova Prospekt is DONE? To hell with you fuckers, that wasn’t so bad.

- Oh…spoke too soon. I’m not out of here yet.


- I hear some noises up ahead and…Alex! She made it. And not a moment too soon. (Actually, considering that I physically died around a dozen times, she’s quite obviously far too late.)


- It’s so nice to see you again, Alex.

- We zap some Combine (Alex dies once and my contract is terminated. Honestly, I’m cool with that…) and then she finds a little room with a terminal that looks like dozens of terminals in dozens of rooms I’ve seen with no distinguishing features whatsoever. Obviously she recognizes it as The Awesome Coolest Most Helpful Terminal Everrrr and uses it to locate her father’s pod, or something. Where he actually looks quite restful. I mean, it’s probably safer for him to be in a lead-lined pod than it is for him to be limping one-leggedly around, dodging Combine fire and bug bots while we break him out of this place. Can’t we just come back for him when…you know…it’s safer here?


- Some dead soldiers later and we find the place where her father, Fred Sanford, has been deposited. It’s kind of funny how conversational he is considering he’s basically a head sticking out of a steel pod which itself is dangling from a crane. But I really want to leave semen in his daughter so I don’t giggle.

- Alex tells me she’d rather talk to me through a microphone in my suit than have me zoom in on her butt every few minutes, so I’m on my own again. I come to a room and find Alex’s face on the monitor. Hmm…that’s a little excessive…especially when I later find out that her face is on ALL monitors, EVERYWHERE in Nova Prospekt. Way to stay undetected, dear.


- Mmm, free cans of Breen’s baby gravy. (PS: I love how the greater-than symbol gives away that the Combine Marketing Squad were holding down shift rather than using caps lock.)

- There are a lot of battles and things…yawn!…and I lose more blood than any human being could possibly produce in a lifetime. I come to a security post that Alex tells me is occupied. Thanks, darling! I would have gotten the drop on him, too, if your voice didn’t come blaring through the speakers of my robo-suit right when I was gonna club him. Anyway, she says there are more on the way (story of my life) and that I should set up some turrets to protect the room.


- Every so often a soldier shoulders a turret aside and I’ve got to lay the personal smack down, but usually I can just kind of hang out in the middle turning my head from side to side and enjoying the robotic firefight. This is fun. This is awesome. This is awesomely fun.

- …but Alex has to go and spoil it all by doing something stupid like falling through an overhead vent. She tunes into JTTV (all Judith turncoating, all the time) and we hear that Judith tried to sell me out to Dr. Breen! Oh well, at least I have a partner again…right? No. Alex tells me to move my ass along so she can stay behind and search the room for makeup, or emery boards, or whatever else it is that women can’t get enough of.


- Neither awesome nor fun, I end up in a flooded basement where a computer terminal that’s SO MUCH DIFFERENT than one we saw before is sending pulses of electricity through the water. So basically I have to do what I did with the antlions…create a little bridge across so’s I don’t get ‘cuted. Only this time there’s less stuff to make a bridge. And it’s wooden, so I keep accidentally shooting my lifesaving platforms into walls and breaking them. Eventually I give up and just sprint through the electrified water. I somehow survive this, as I’m entirely sure I would in real life, and never look back.

- I’m told to set up some more turrets…this time the room is smaller, and the hallway stretches out in a total of FOUR directions. With only three turrets I’m not sure what to do…so I set them up pretty poorly, I guess, since they’re all kicked over in about five seconds and I’m blown up, shot, throttled, and hacked apart by bug bots. I even tried to plug myself into energy box in the wall…while actively being shot full of holes…with disastrous consequences.

- It takes me three tries to clear this section. It was less fun than the previous turret fight, I have to say…but that’s only because I HATE THE WAY MY MURDERER GLOWERS AT ME AS I DIE.


- Fucking gloater.

- Finally Alex returns, just in time to not have to do anything at all (I’m starting to get suspicious of this girl…) and I tap out the energy boxes. Which are covered in my own blood. Which should make her feel a little bit guilty. She tells me she won’t leave me again. I move in for a kiss (which is what I call a grope) but she keeps backing away from me. Gordon Freeman…shot down in a go-go bar.

- We find Judas OH SORRY I MEAN JUDITH OOPS in the room Alex trapped her in earlier. Anyway the ladies bitch at each other through the glass (girls will be girls!) and then we join her inside.


- Fred Sanford swoops in like the Archangel Gabriel and he and Judith climb into the transporter and beam off to some other dimension, or something, where dogs talk and birds have human pets. Alex is pissed (she always wanted to be bossed around by a cockatoo) and—surprise!—she tells me to set up turrets so she doesn’t get shot while she’s trying to reboot the transporter.

- This turret battle is more fun…mainly because I set two of them up next to each other in a place that’s difficult for the Combine to reach. I never have to move or reset them even once…leaving me free to defend Alex from anyone who might try to come in from another direction. Which is a lot of them. And I run out of shotgun shells and need to use that damn Combine Pulse Rifle I picked up God knows when. Alex keeps shouting updates to me like, “We’re halfway there now!” and “We’re almost there!” and “We’re almost halfway from where we were before!” and “We’re almost halfway to being halfway between the halfway point and the next halfway point, almost!”


- The transporter is fixed (in due time, of course) and I climb in with Alex just in time to find the whole place swarmed by Krytens and Michelin Men. One of them comes right up to the teleporter, so I give him a raspberry. (I had them with breakfast but wasn’t very hungry, so I put them in my pocket for later.) We escape into Farnsworth’s lab, where he points a gun at Alex because he’s an old man and can’t get used to black people.

- He tells us we’ve been gone for a week, but I know he’s lying, because I’m still bleeding. Dog pops in, my government-appointed dentist appears on the video screen, and basically we got us a big ol’ Half-Life family reunion. Which can only mean one thing: everyone wants me to leave again.

- And, sure enough, Alex “I promise I won’t leave you again” Vance boots me out. She wants me to take Dog for a walk. Personally I think she’s going to make Farnsworth comfortable with black people the only way she knows how. They’ll probably even let Barney watch. :-(

- I step into a pit (shorthand by this point for “chapter loading screen”) and see that the next segment is called Anticitizen One. Pfft, to hell with all this revolution stuff; I’m taking Dog to Lego Land.

About this entry


Is it wrong of me to want to play this game a second time on God mode, just so I can explore absolutely everything and soak up every detail without having to worry about death?

Will that rob the game of its charm or enhance it?

Phil Reed's picture

By Phil Reed
October 14, 2008 @ 8:05 pm

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You’re playing the PC version, right? I played through it a second time with cheats, and I thought it added to the experience. If you play with Buddha mode, you can run out of ammo and you can still lose health, you just wont die. You still have some pressure, but there are no *pressing* negative consequence. You can let your enemies live for a while and actually see how the AI’s “strategy” plays out, etc. No-clipping to check out inaccessible parts of the map is also fun.

If you play through Episodes 1 and 2, you should check out the developer’s commentary on your second play through. I wish it spent a little more time discussing story decisions instead of technical stuff, but it’s still really interesting.

I’m really enjoying the commentary, btw. Great job!

By Briatx
October 14, 2008 @ 9:42 pm

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