Half-Life 2: Women

Apparently the folks at Valve decided that one of the flaws in the original Half-Life was the lack of sex appeal. Every human (or apparently human) character is either a wrinkled scientist, a security guard 1known as Barney — yes, there are multiple security guards, but they’re all known as Barney with an unflattering uniform and a hick accent, a faceless enemy soldier, or a creepy probably-alien G-man. And with the exception of some special-forces ninjas who you hardly ever see (because they’re ninjas), they’re all male.

Half-Life 2 corrects this by (a) handsoming up Barney and making him into a hero of the resistance, and (b) introducing the young, attractive, tough-as-nails Alyx, daughter of one of the scientists and occasional companion to the player on missions. Alyx provides essential technical support as well as essential dialogue, driving the plot whenever she’s present. She’s handy in a firefight, too, helping you to flank the enemy: there’s one bit where she suggests that you surprise some CP troops by coming through two different doors at once, and it works beautifully if you follow her advice. And when you part ways, she says “Gordon… Take care of yourself” in a tone of voice that makes it clear that she’s the action hero’s designated love interest.

But personally, my heart belongs to another: the nameless resistance sqaddie who, alone with me in a courtyard littered with dead soldiers, spontaneously shared with me an incredible insight into her character. “Sometimes,” she said, “I dream about cheese.”

I’m probably not doing justice to the profundity of that statement. The delivery probably has a lot to do with it. But this is a person who’s living in a battlefield, who has to fight for every moment of her existence. And still, sometimes, she dreams about cheese. It was just a strange and beautiful moment.

The tragic thing about nameless squaddies, in both Half-Life and Half-Life 2, is that they always die. They come to you with great faith: you’re the famous Gordon Freeman, hero of the Black Mesa incident! With you on their side, they stand a fighting chance! And then they start following you around, and they help you survive encounters that would have been very difficult otherwise, and then, one by one, they either get killed because you told them to go somewhere, or get killed because you didn’t tell them to go somewhere. But I took some personal interest in Cheese Girl, hoping that she, if no one else, would survive until we parted ways. No such luck. She was, in fact, the first to die. Later, though, thanks to the fairly small NPC pool, I met her again. And she joined my team again, and got killed again. It’s just like Silent Hill 2.

1 known as Barney — yes, there are multiple security guards, but they’re all known as Barney

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