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Guest Post - A Look Back At Half-Life 2 with Emmanuel Alejandro.

Warning: Some light spoilers from Half-Life 2’s campaign.

Image provided courtesy of Emmanuel Alejandro.

It is the mid-2000’s at a video game store Toy & Game Land in Jersey City, New Jersey. He stares at the used original Xbox section because all he can afford was a game under 10 US dollars. Then a game caught his eye: Half-Life 2.

He recalls seeing a review of the game on an episode of X-Play on G4TechTV. All he can remember is host Adam Sessler giving the title a “5...out of 5.” And even better, the game was under 10 US dollars!

He grabs the title and went straight to the checkout line. He rushes to his parent’s apartment, pops the disc in the Xbox, and waits for the game to boot. As he plays the game, he realises that a game can become a masterpiece.

He spends late hours figuring out the gameplay and what the game can do. He becomes enamoured by the story of Gordon Freeman as he sees an uprising from the citizens of City 17 where the game takes place.

Cut to the present, the boy grows up and moves to Austin, Texas during a pandemic. He moves on from playing Half-Life 2 in place of better titles. When a gaming convention is around the corner, he remembers the late nights playing Half-Life 2. It is his mission to get the title within reason much like his young counterpart.

A few hours, and an original Xbox purchase later, he finds a used copy of the game. He rushes home and pops the game in after setting up his Xbox. Much like his younger counterpart, he spent a late night playing the game from the start. And thank goodness it was a weekend!

Who the heck is this guy in this story? Well, that was me if you haven’t figured it out yet! What makes Half-Life 2 so great all these years? Let’s take a look.

A Living and Breathing World

Image provided courtesy of Emmanuel Alejandro.

The Half-Life franchise redefined the first-person shooter genre into a more cinematic approach. Instead of cutscenes, the story is unfolding right in front of your eyes. Shooters before these would have a cutscene or two to set up a level before going guns blazing. Even better, players can do pretty much anything within the confines of the game. But there are consequences with those actions.

Take the first few minutes of the game for example. You meet the G-Man who sends you off on a mission with little information about what is happening. The G-Man is the supernatural “employer” of the Half-Life universe. He sends unknown subjects to various locations. You are transported to City 17 riding on the train. As you leave the train, the area comes to life.

A huge screen with a familiar face shows up: Wallace Breen. He was Gordon’s former boss at Black Mesa who moved up in life as the face of humanity under the Combine. You are introduced to the result of the Combine invading Earth.

The constant state of surveillance is prevalent as drones follow your every move. A passenger is being rushed by one of the Combine police to set up the luggage for the next train scheduled to leave. He complies only to be pushed harshly by the soldier causing all the luggage to fall off the cart.

As you walk through the train station you are stopped by one of the police for questioning at a security checkpoint. Turns out it’s your friend from the first Half-Life, Barney Calhoun! And he’s glad to see you as a rebellion is slowly starting to fight against the Combine.

Gordon becomes the symbol that sparks the revolution! The amount of work in the opening is astounding even within the limited capability of the Xbox console. And the team at Valve pushes the envelope on what a shooter can be.

Check out the link on the right to see the first few minutes of Half-Life 2: Point Insertion.

Variety is the Spice of Life

Half-Life 2 will never bore you with the number of levels the game throws at you. Sure, there are run and gun levels where guns are blazing. There are also driving levels in between levels that have puzzles to solve to progress through the level. And at one point you are operating a crane as part of a puzzle.

Image provided courtesy of Emmanuel Alejandro.

But one level really captivated me as a player. I spend late nights how this level ticks and how well-paced it can be. “We Don’t Go To Ravenholm” takes two genres and creates a perfect harmony with each other: Horror and Puzzle.

The level shows tension as Ravenholm becomes a zombie-infested town and small creatures called Headcrabs inhabit the area as a result of an attack by the Combine. Headcrabs latch on their prey and they become zombified soon after.

Even better, a new character appears as he “shepherds” his flock as a priest. He fights alongside you as helps you escape this hellish landscape. As you leave the level, one line from the “Priest” sticks with me: “Look to your own...SALVATION!” He cackles as he fights off the remaining Headcrab zombies.

Not only is “We Don’t Go To Ravenholm” such an interesting level. This also gives you free reign to use one of the most creative gadgets in gaming…The Gravity Gun!

The Zero Point Energy Field Manipulator (if that’s what you want to call it)

Image provided courtesy of Emmanuel Alejandro.

Why does the Gravity Gun have its own little category? As I mentioned earlier, every object can be interacted with. The Gravity Gun takes that interactivity and turns it up to a new level. For starters, it uses no ammo whatsoever.

The only way to use the weapon is when there are objects that are near the barrel of the gun. The object will be dragged to the gun once activated where you can put it down softly. Or use it as a projectile weapon by shooting. This gadget can multitask from solving puzzles and moving crates.

As the game progresses, it can become a lethal weapon as saw blades and other lethal projectiles litter the level. You can push your car on the driving levels in the game. Even better when the Gravity Gun gets a needed upgrade later in the game, you can carry actual people around and throw them like a ragdoll or use them as a human ballistic missile. The possibilities are endless with this gadget.

Image provided courtesy of Emmanuel Alejandro.

Even titles after Half-Life 2’s release take inspiration from the capabilities of the Gravity Gun. One notable title is an early concept of Doom 3 where a physics-based weapon called The Grabber would be used but was scrapped in the final game.

However, an expansion of Doom 3 called Resurrection of Evil where The Grabber would be used more prominently in the expansion. The only difference is how long an object can be held while the Grabber is activated. While the Gravity Gun can hold items for an unlimited time, the Grabber has a short time to hold the item.

Not only that, many games are re-creating their own version of physics-based features in games. Take for example the stasis module in the Dead Space franchise. Though a weapon is not used, the protagonist Isaac Clark unleashes a wave of energy that slows anything down.

Image provided courtesy of Emmanuel Alejandro.

The Necromorphs who are the enemies in the game don’t stand a chance of being slowed down by stasis! Other titles like Bioshock, Crysis, and even Portal have taken the concept of the Gravity Gun. It has transcended to other games and has left a mark in first-person shooter titles since Half-Life 2’s release.

Looking back

Half-Life 2 is a great title then and now. With a living world, the game takes on a more cinematic approach in first-person shooters. With such a variety of levels, players can find something they enjoy while playing it.

Finally, the Gravity Gun is a groundbreaking weapon that every other first-person shooter has taken an element of or even copying and pasting the concept of the Gravity Gun. This title shaped the first-person shooter landscape and made waves on future titles to come.

Now the question remains: When is Half-Life 3 coming out? The world will never know!


Based in the Lone Star State of Texas, Emmanuel is a creative who happens to be an accountant by profession. As a contributing writer for the Retro Replay website, he writes about all things gaming and pop culture.

His crowning achievement is interviewing Funhaus/Inside Gaming co-founder Bruce Greene on his career in content creation. He also streams on Saturdays and Sundays on Twitch.

You can reach Emmanuel on his Twitter, Instagram, Email - – and on his Twitch (streams on Saturdays at 3 PM CST and Sundays at 12 PM CST).

If you enjoy this article, make sure to check out Emmanuel's socials and chuck him a follow. Have a great weekend and I'll catch you guys next week.


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