Half-Life 2 Episode 2: T Minus One

By Shamus
on Dec 14, 2007
Filed under:
Game Reviews

hl2ep2_t_minus_one1.jpg
It’s sunset again. This means that for Gordon, it’s been about five days since he stepped off the train in City 17 and saw the smiling face of Dr. Breen. Half-Life 2 took three days. Episode One took an additional day. Episode Two seems like it should have been more than a day, but the sun never went down. (In a couple of spots in the mines you can look straight up and see the sky. It’s clearly not night. Even if it was, that would have to be be the night of day four. No matter how you look at it, it can’t be more than five days since the opening of HL2.

They should have titled this “The Cutscene Chapter”. Deprived of the ability to communicate, there isn’t much for Gordon to do in this part of the game except push the button and listen to people talk. The rocket launch goes off flawlessly, the portal energy is negated, and Earth is saved. Yay for the good guys!

And yet, this is the darkest chapter in the entire story thus far. As Alyx prepares to fly the two of us to Antarctica, Eli takes the player aside. He praises our victories and says, “I couldn’t be more proud of you if you were my own son.” These are moving words and they hit home for me. I’ve always admired Eli, and this was a touching thing for him to say. He also promises more answers when we get back. This was a great moment, but in a more cynical sense it was the writers, twisting the knife.

hl2ep2_t_minus_one2.jpg
The death of Eli Vance is a powerful, horrifying moment. When the advisors entered I realized what was about to happen. It was a gut-wrenching scene, and we are left helpless in the telekinetic grasp of the advisor while we are forced to watch Eli die. His final words to his daughter, “Don’t look, baby. Don’t look!”, was something I wish I could have done myself. It was a horrible way for such a brilliant man to go.

Going all the way back to the original Half-Life, this is the first game that ends with Gordon still awake.

Another disturbing thing to note here is that during your final conversation with Eli, he insists that “The Borealis must be destroyed, no matter the cost.” At this moment, Alyx walks around the corner and the conversation ends. Maybe I’m just shellshocked from the ending, but I can’t help worrying that perhaps this was a bit of foreshadowing, and that Alyx will die in Episode Three. I can’t imagine them killing her off, but then I couldn’t imagine them killing off Eli, either.

The writers have been very stingy with information so far, and I have this nagging worry that the series will end without answering our major questions about the G-man, his employer, the combine, the advisors, and why Barney doesn’t change out of that metrocop outfit. Maybe there aren’t any answers, and it’s all a bunch of mysterious mumbo-jumbo to serve as an excuse to move from one firefight to the next. Or maybe they are saving all the revelations for the final chapter, so that they can deliver them in one massive dramatic payload. The ending will determine if Half-Life 2 was merely a fun ride, or a great journey.

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201225 comments. Neato.

From the Archives:

  1. Henebry says:

    “Maybe there aren’t any answers, and it’s all a bunch of mysterious mumbo-jumbo to serve as an excuse to move from one firefight to the next.”

    — Indeed. Some of the best episodic TV plots follow exactly this formula. I’m thinking of The X-Files and Twin Peaks. In both cases deep weirdness propelled the central characters’ searches for answers, making for months (and, in the case of The X-Files, years) of riveting storylines.

    So be careful what you wish for, Shamus. For in both cases the story was ruined by the revelations. The pressure on the storytellers to explain (a product of the very narrative tension which kept us coming back, week after week) forced them finally to explain things. And the explanations were, of course, far less interesting than the manifold possibilities which had kept the fan base occupied. It’s almost like a quantum state of superimposed story possibilities which loses its magic once collapsed into a single narrative.

    A similar point might be made regarding The Matrix and the folly of its two sequels which had the hubris to explain the original.

  2. Allerun says:

    I’m sure they won’t leave us hanging without explaining most of it. However, I wouldn’t bet against them leaving a few questions unanswered as a cliffhanger for Halflife 4.

  3. RudeMorgue says:

    Henebry: “And the explanations were, of course, far less interesting than the manifold possibilities which had kept the fan base occupied. It’s almost like a quantum state of superimposed story possibilities which loses its magic once collapsed into a single narrative.”

    Never before have I heard this so perfectly described.

  4. Phlux says:

    Nitpick warning:

    It’s technically been around 12 days since the beginning of half-life 2, though Gordon has only experienced the passing of around 5. When Gordon and Alyx were escaping from Nova Prospekt using a combine teleporter, it exploded and they re-emerged a week later, the resistance now in full swing.

  5. Cadamar says:

    They killed Eli!?!
    You Bastards!!

  6. Maroon says:

    “It’s technically been around 12 days since the beginning of half-life 2, though Gordon has only experienced the passing of around 5. When Gordon and Alyx were escaping from Nova Prospekt using a combine teleporter, it exploded and they re-emerged a week later, the resistance now in full swing.”

    I was sort of wondering how they managed to invent and construct several devices, retrofit a rocket, and, last but not least, rig the whole thing to a single, big, red button, all in just five days.

    Then again, it’s awfully fast even if you count an extra week.

  7. DGM says:

    What, you thought Gordon was the only crystal meth use- er, I mean indefatigable member of the resistance?

  8. Rollie says:

    Eli’s death was absolutely gut-wrenching.
    Why, oh why couldn’t it have been Kleiner?

  9. DGM says:

    Precisely because Kleiner’s murder wouldn’t have been so gut-wrenching, I imagine. Nobody cares when you kill off the red shirts, and the writers want you to care.

    Also, it takes away your sense of security and makes you really wonder what will happen next, as opposed to letting you think “they’d never cross that line.” Done correctly this can be a powerful tool in the storyteller’s arsenal; see the climax of Serenity or certain episodes in the new BS:G series for examples.

  10. Lanthanide says:

    One of the reasons they kill Eli is because Kleiner says that he can’t go to find the Borealis, because while losing Mossman would be bad, losing Eli would be worse because he knows *everything* about the resistence.

    So it seems to me that Episode 3 is probably going to be very frantic, as the combine finally know all they need to know to end the resistence once and for all. There’ll probably be a race to get to the Borealis first, too.

    Perhaps we’ll be on the verge of losing and the Gman will come in and finally make it obvious exactly what he’s up to, while giving Gordon just the edge he needs to win the day.

  11. MadTinkerer says:

    “One of the reasons they kill Eli is because Kleiner says that he can’t go to find the Borealis, because while losing Mossman would be bad, losing Eli would be worse because he knows *everything* about the resistence.”

    After my shock and newly discovered white hot hatred of Advisors cooled down somewhat, a thought occurred to me: Does the Advisor that killed Eli now have all of Eli’s knowledge because it sucked his brain out?

    Gordon may be *forced* to use what they find in the Borealis to save the resistance. And the consequences of doing so may be the twist that sets up the plot of HL3.

  12. straechav says:

    Maroon:
    “I was sort of wondering how they managed to invent and construct several devices, retrofit a rocket, and, last but not least, rig the whole thing to a single, big, red button, all in just five days. Then again, it’s awfully fast even if you count an extra week.”

    Actually, the inventions were already done long before this event, and the rocket had been in production ages. This is all explained in the ingame dialog in Episode One and Episode Two. In Episode One Kleiner remarks that they have in secret made several technological advances (teleport & et al) and in the Episode Two they mention they haven’t been able to launch the rocket because the combine presence would have meant that it would have been shot down nearly instantly.

    If anyone wonders why I seem to bounce here at every junction to correct people about facts about HL2 it’s because I had a very boring three weeks at work soon after Episode Two release, and proceeded to read EVERYTHING _factual_ about Half Life 2, and also transcribed the dialog from HL2, EP:One, and EP:Two for myself, plus went through most of the audio files for all major characters in the game datafiles. So yeah… I have no life.

  13. straechav says:

    Interesting Detail about Eli: In the Episode One audio files you can hear a variant version of the dialog between Alyx and Eli in the beginning of the episode. In this when Alyx says she found Gordon Eli responds something like: “You found him? That’s just … not possible!” (this isn’t literal, my memory fails, and I am too tired to look it up)

    The weight of his words and the phrasing seems to me suggest that Eli this is a reference about Eli’s knowledge of GMan and how Gordon would be gone after the explosion – and apparently unaware of vortigaunt interference.

    Although I guess it could be just that he was 100% sure Gordon died in the explosion but really, if he’s aware of GMan that seems unlikely.

  14. Daemian_Lucifer says:

    He wasnt aware of gmans new interferences.Since black mesa he never heard of him.Why else would he be so suprised when alyx gave him the message?

  15. straechav says:

    Daemian_Lucifer: I don’t quite understand what you’re trying to say… but my point was that since Alyx survived the explosion, Eli shouldn’t be so surprised that Gordon survived too (especially since he has the hazard suit and she wasn’t) – unless he was aware of GMan interfering with Gordon’s life. Of course, this dialog isn’t used in the game.

  16. Kerin says:

    I would have been horrified at Kleiner’s death as well. He’s just such a dear fellow!

    And I’d like to note that Valve has said the Episodes are Half-Life 3 – We’re getting it in three chunks instead of as one monolithic release. Part of the reasoning was so that we didn’t have to wait so long between games, but that advantage has yet to really show itself.

  17. angora says:

    Regarding Barney, I just figured that the metrocop armor was better than what the resistance had access to. Not using a helmet is enough to show that he’s human, so he doesn’t have to be too worried about friendly fire.

  18. Daemian_Lucifer says:

    @Kerin

    More important reason was game engine which was perfected and polished instead of reinvented.Thats both a money and time saver for them,and better for fans because they dont need new configuration and it runs smoother with using less resources.I know that episode 2 runs way better and looks prettier than HL2 on my computer.

  19. MikeLemmer says:

    Yeah, the HL2 engine still looks really good, even after 4 years. As for an advantage, do you think they would package Portal & TF2 with it if they weren’t releasing in episodic format?

  20. LintMan says:

    The problem with the X-Files’ (and Twin Peak’s) failure to satisfy at the end isn’t because revelations and answers are bad; it’s that both shows were flying seat of the pants, writing the story as they went. Without a greater sense of overall direction the big picture is lacking.

    A great counter-example is the Babylon 5 TV series, which the creator largely had the 5 year arc planned out in advance. So myseteries are raised and answered, as new mysteries arise, all coherently in service to the bigger story, rather than “what cool new thing should happen this season?”

    Unfortunately, we don’t really know how well Valve has the overall story planned out. It does seem to me, though, that with just one episode left, there’s not going to be enough room to provide all the answers we’d want, likely resulting in lots of unanswered questions, a rushed ending, and/or a “continued in Half Life 3” promise.

  21. Daemian_Lucifer says:

    Yet babylon 5 revolves around numerous characters,and had 110 episodes which gives at least 2 full hours of pure story.Half life revolves around a single person(the rest do add to the story,true,but it is gordon freeman that is the essential one),and it curently has no more than half an hour of dialog(including both games and both episodes).And not all of it is story essential(elis remark on you hooking up with alyx,for example).The non dialog story revealers sure do count,but they cannot add more than 10 minutes to this.So,at this rate,we will know the whole story by half life 12,considering episodes as part 3.

  22. Arkmagius says:

    I would think it is fairly well known they are making this up as they go. I mean, Portal was based on a student project from Digipen, which Valve saw. They then hired the team members of the project (Narbacular Drop, I believe it was called) to make a similar game on the Source engine. Portal resulted. They then promised they’d make Chell part of the overall story, which seems to be why Aperture is a major part of Episode 3. So yeah, they’re definitely winging it. And they probably have been since they decided to make Portal part of the in-game universe way back when Ep2 was in production.

  23. Rehtul says:

    I’ve always wanted to play the Half-Life series, but unfortunately Steam has always turned me off, even in the early stages of their stuff. :?

  24. Bryce says:

    Hopefully the G-man will release his backup plan, a certain marine named Shepard being held in parts unknown.

  25. Bryce says:

    Good Lord…My Wavatar is Modron!

  26. Primogenitor says:

    Eli trying to hint at Gordon and Alyx “getting it on” (“thought of you as my son” == son-in-law, “theres nothing he cant handle, with the exception of you”) has always disturbed me. In HL1, Gordon must have been at least 20 years older than Alyx, one being a MIT graduate doctor and the other a small child. Yet in HL2, Eli doesn’t seem aware that Gordon has been in stasis (“look exactly as I last saw you”, “dont know how you do it”, etc) so should still be 20 years older than Alyx. Thus a father trying to pimp his 20-year-old daughter to a 45-year-old mute mass-murderer seems a little creepy.

    Oh, and Babylon 5 was dynamically modified from the original plans to adapt to cast changes etc. e.g. series 1 -> 2 change of commander and all that is related to that. Valve may have a similar organisation for HL.

  27. Stark says:

    From a writing standpoint, having an outline doesn’t lock you out of incorporating new plotline elements (ie, Portal). In fact it can make it much easier to do and lend direction that otherwise might be missing. In the case of Portal, yes, it did come to the party late but it is clear from it’s content that it was designed from the get-go to integrate into the half-life universe. Bringing it into episode 3, assuming a well written oultine for the whole story, would be fairly easy to do. After all, you’re just changing the details with something like this – not the story arc and final outcome.

  28. DGM says:

    It just occured to me that, given Eli Vance’s death, the title of this chapter is probably a pun.

    Team minus one.”

  29. Telas says:

    I just finished the game, and it was a sucker-punch. I’ve avoided the spoilers so far, and I’m glad I did.

    Damn, but that was brutal. Well done, Valve… well done.

  30. Robel says:

    I`m thinking the ending will be good, if not great. But I really have faith it won`t be some kind of X-Files, like the first poster said. That`s really old, and people never liked it. Now people hate it. Why would they do that? Unless you were right and they really have no idea where the plot is leading. ;)

    In any case, I really hope they don`t kill off Alyx :(

  31. ChuckNorris says:

    My turn to give long shot:

    Don`t think the injury is… comparable, but, as the vortigaunts fixed Alyx once, they`ll do with Eli.

    if not:

    After Alyx die (again)(not cool, but, the bets are that will happen), G-Man will do his magic and lead us back in time.

    or…
    We`ll make an new teleporter with the same go.
    As happenned once (that one week delay)(I can’t forget that “fascinating!” Kleiner’s expression, while Alyxs still perplex… That was funny), will happen again. This time, back in time.

    Hopefully…

  32. Brandon says:

    Boy this makes me sad. :( Everyone was so sure Episode 3 was right around the corner.

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