HL2E1: Ending

Spoilers strut about boldly in the daylight ahead.

It turned out that I had only one major set-piece battle to go before the end of the episode, against a tripod in an enclosed area full of boxcars and other obstacles. The tripod is too large to follow you as you wend your way through the maze-like environs, but its weapons are strong enough to physically alter the environment in ways that must have taken a good deal of careful planning on the part of the designers.

After that, Gordon and Alyx set a train in motion, hop into the caboose, and watch the city explode noiselessly in the distance. At least, it’s in the distance at first, as you see the ships flying out of the towering citadel just in time to escape and speeding off in all directions. Then the fireball (plasmaball? otherworldly-dimensional-energyball?) engulfs the places your train has just sped through — it’s sort of a “Yee-haw!” moment, staying just ahead of the wall of white in your wake, until you have the dismaying realization that you’re not going to make it.

I’ve had nightmares like this. Dreams of near-escape, followed the realization that you’re doomed and powerless to do anything about it. The sense of doom can be surprisingly peaceful at these moments, because if there’s nothing you can do, there’s no need to react in any way. Being on a train isn’t completely necessary to the feeling, but it adds a lot to the sense that your course is beyond your control. And that’s Gordon’s life in a nutshell, isn’t it? Trains have been a major part of Half-Life all along, bringing Gordon to places he doesn’t want to be, literally railroading him.

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