HL2E2: Final Fight

The scene I abandoned at the end of my last session is in fact the final combat sequence of the game, and quite a scene it is — by far the most satisfying fight in the episode, full of fiero and adrenalin. Let me describe it in detail.

First of all, as I said in my last post, Striders are marching on your base, which is located on a lushly-wooded mountainside dotted with rustic cabins. The cabins hold supplies, including dispensers for a kind of sticky bomb that you can lob at the Striders with your Gravity Gun, then shoot with a pistol while they’re stuck to destroy the Strider instantly. The bomb dispensers are important because you can only carry one bomb at a time. The Striders more or less ignore you, but they’re escorted by their smaller cousins the Hunters, which don’t. So right away there’s a tradeoff in where you devote your attention: you can’t ignore the Hunters, but it’s bad to let the Striders stay alive too long too, especially since they can blast apart the cabins where you get your bombs. In addition, Hunters have weapons that can disintegrate the bombs you’ve tossed (without detonating them), so if you’re going to try to kill a Strider before demolishing its escort, you have to at least make sure the Hunters are distracted or too far away to do anything about it — which is actually pretty easy to accomplish, because the Hunters will break off to chase you while the Strider just keeps on walking.

Except if you wind up in a running battle like that, you’re probably going to wind up too far away from the bomb dispensers to attack the Strider. The battlefield here is large, and what’s more, too heavily forested to see more than a small part of it at a time. You have a car: it lets you get around faster than you could on foot, it’s equipped with Strider-detecting radar, and if you have room to accelerate, it makes a pretty good anti-Hunter weapon. But it’s not as maneuverable as you might like on those rough mountain roads, and you can’t launch bombs from it, so you have to get out sometimes, and it’s all too easy to get separated from it when you’re dodging Hunters.

So there’s a whole mess of conflicting motivations that you have to sort out on the fly as the situation evolves: attacking the Striders vs defending yourself, staying maneuverable vs getting places fast, going where the enemy is at the moment vs staying where you can get more bombs. It’s all a mad scramble. There are friendly soldiers stationed here and there to help you through it, but, since they don’t have any anti-Strider weapons, their main role in combat is distracting the Hunters. Their real purpose in the game, though, isn’t tactical at all, but emotional: they’re there to give a sense that you’re not fighting this battle singlehandedly (even though you pretty much are), but that you’re all in this together. Whenever a Strider is downed, they let out hearty yells of triumph and congratulation. The whole level would feel very different without that detail. Where most of the combat scenes in the series are designed to give a sense of calamity or panic, this is the “Oh my god we’re actually winning” level.

Afterwards, all that’s left is some staged scenes where plot events occur around you as you walk to the final room, where there’s a dramatic reversal and a cliffhanger. And now, for the first time since I began HL2, I have to wait along with everyone else for the next episode.

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