Half-life doesn’t have a good story

halflife face

So, sometimes I see people claim that Half-life has an amazing story, one of the best stories in video games.

I think these people must be mistaking story for storytelling technique. Because, while Half-life might have some very interesting story telling techniques, let’s remember what Half-life’s story actually is:

Gordon Freeman, a theoretical physicist with a PhD from MIT, pushes a magic crystal into a laser. Naturally, this opens a gateway to another dimension filled with monsters. The scientists are totally surprised by this because it seems more like medieval fantasy/horror and less like science fiction, which is what they signed up for.

The monsters invade! For some reason!

The monsters’ invading army consists primarily of tamed animals and naked slaves. Some of these monsters can turn people into zombies. Sometimes these monsters fight each other instead of fighting the humans. None of the humans are able to defeat these monsters. But Gordon is! Gordon Freeman, a theoretical physicist with no combat training, single handedly fights off the monsters with weapons like crowbars and crossbows.

The human military shows up. They fight the monsters. They fight the unarmed scientists. They fight Gordon Freeman, and he fights back! Gordon Freeman, theoretical physicist with no military training, single handedly fights the coordinated effort of the entire army. They try to kill Gordon, but he kills them all instead. He kills their vehicles. He takes their weapons and uses them with more skill and proficiency than they ever could.

And then…



At this point I might as well stop. There’s still more story, but let’s face it: once ninjas start popping up out of nowhere (ninjas that work for the government, presumably), that ends any argument about whether Half-life has a good story. I mean, it’s like Valve got all their ideas by giving a six year old some crayons, some paper, and telling him to have fun. “And then the army guys start shooting everyone. But not Gordon because he’s so tough and smart. And some of the monsters have beehives for hands, and some monsters shoot lighting, and some monsters turn people into zombies because zombies are cool. And ninjas come and start fighting too because ninjas are cool. And Gordon beats them all because that’s how good he is at everything.”

The story is silly, amateurish, and in general, kind of stupid.

What’s funny is that Half-life 2’s story is even worse. It’s so much worse. Mainly because it’s trying so hard with the characters, and fails. At least Half-life isn’t trying to do anything except be a fun and entertaining game, story be damned. And it works out. Half-life’s story is dumb, but it doesn’t give a shit and just wants to have a good time. Half-life 2 tries to be so much more in terms of story and fails. Even HL2’s Alyx Vance is a poorly written female character, one of the worst female characters in video games, if you really think about who she is and what her role is as a woman in the story. Maybe I’ll write about that in the future.

Anyway, point is, Half-life is an awesome game, but it’s story is bullshit. No one should ever praise Half-life’s story.

half life ninjas

And here’s a bonus, longer, summary of the Half-life story; it was my first draft before I decided to do something more succinct:

Gordon Freeman, a theoretical physicist with a PhD from MIT, spends fifteen minutes riding a tram from one end of a government facility to the opposite side of the facility which is where he actually works, rather than driving his car to a conveniently located parking lot and then spending two minutes actually getting to his work station. The tram passes over lakes of radioactive waste, and sometimes has to pause to make way for spider legged automatons carrying wooden crates or metal pipes.

A security guard recognizes Gordon by sight alone and unlocks the one door to the research facility.

Gordon Freeman, employee of a government funded research facility that deals with dangerous and experimental technology and weapons, proceeds to a laboratory without clocking in, and without checking his company email for any memos or messages from his supervisors or administrators.

Gordon Freeman, theoretical physicist, puts on a metal suit to protect himself from dangerous materials, rather than letting a spider legged automaton handle the materials for him.

Gordon Freeman arrives at his work area only to find his coworkers waiting impatiently; this implies that Gordon has been late for work this whole time. Apparently they don’t teach you punctuality or professionalism at MIT.

Gordon Freeman, PhD in Theoretical Physics, physically pushes a magical crystal into a laser beam and opens a portal into another dimension filled with monsters.  Let me reiterate: a magic crystal opens a gateway into Monster World. Resonance cascades are not a thing, they are magic If you replace the scientists with wizards, the story would remain identical.

The monsters are able to appear at any location on our planet, as long as that location is somewhere within this underground facility, for some reason.

Chaos ensues, revealing how close to complete disrepair this facility has been this whole time; elevators collapse at random, deadly lasers emerge from nowhere to tear apart hallways, and pipes of boiling steam erupt everywhere. The disaster also reveals that no one has reviewed the emergency procedures for this facility.

Gordon’s metal armor suit has an energy field that protects him. There are stations all over the facility designed to recharge this energy suit. The energy rechargers are everywhere and seem to have no purpose other than recharging the energy on these metal armor suits. No one else is seen wearing a metal energy suit.

None of the human beings are capable of stopping the monsters’ invasion even though the initial wave consists of nothing more than wild animals and naked slaves. Gordon Freeman, theoretical physicist with no combat training, is able to subdue these monsters with a crowbar. No other human beings have crowbars. Some of the other humans have guns. Only Gordon Freeman survives.

Some of the animal monsters attack by sounding like dubstep.

Some of the slave monsters shoot lightening from their hands. The slaves are naked except for a collar; interpret that however you will.

Later, we see some soldier monsters. We know they’re soldiers because they wear hats and have beehives for hands. They shoot bees.

The energy field on Gordon’s metal armor is supposed to protect against stuff like radiation. It ends up protecting him from acid, poison, teeth, claws, dubstep sounds, bullets, rockets, bullets, explosions, fire, bullets, super sonic bees, breaking his legs, and drowning.

Gordon Freeman saves the other humans, or he doesn’t, it doesn’t really matter. No one is important except Gordon Freeman.

Even though it takes a fifteen minute tram ride to get into the facility, Gordon Freeman decides that he will walk out of the facility, resulting in a ten hour long game.

The monsters are winning. We know this because military forces begin arriving in the facility to fight off the monsters, a mere hours after the portal is opened. The human soldiers start killing human scientists, presumably for being whiners since there is no other explanation for indiscriminately killing the only people in existence who know what is happening and who might know how to close the gateway to where the monsters are coming from.

None of the soldiers are wearing the metal energy shield armor that Gordon is wearing.

The human soldiers try to kill Gordon. Gordon kills them all instead.

Gordon Freeman, theoretical physicist, circumnavigates the facility in order to press buttons and pull switches. All other human beings fail at pushing the buttons and die.

Gordon Freeman, theoretical physicist with no combat training, is able to use a variety of military weapons, without prior training, perfectly and with greater skill than the soldiers he takes them from.

Gordon Freeman, theoretical physicist with no combat training, defeats a military helicopter armed with missiles.

Gordon Freeman, theoretical physicist with no combat training, kills a tank.

Gordon Freeman, a man who arrives late to his job and whose coworkers think he’s only suitable for menial labor, kills several giant monsters that no other humans, not even groups of trained soldiers, are able to kill.

Gordon Freeman defeats the entire army.

Gordon Freeman defeats all the monsters, even the ones with beehives for hands.




  1. Worldturtle

    Holy crap. I forgot there were ninjas in that game.

    You bring up Alyx Vance, who was lauded as a strong female character because:

    1) She wasn’t dressed slutty.
    2) She had speaking lines and
    3) the lines she spoke were not overtly slutty.
    4) Her character in game was an invincible AI helper most of the time.

    I feel like that last one is interesting because, to a gamer of the era, what makes an AI companion a damsel in distress is their vulnerability. They are an agent that you cannot control but most protect or its game over.

    Ashley from Resident Evil 4 is a great example of this (and yet miraculously that mechanic didn’t soil that game, somehow). Yorda from Ico is another damsel. Amusingly, Dom from Gears of War also fits this mold, further highlighting the “bromantic” element of that series.

    Alyx, being invulnerable, becomes instantly capable. The simple fact that you can ignore her, or let her stand in harms way and distract enemies means that she is stronger than Gordon is, and stronger than you as the player are. Again, I think this is interesting because the gameplay makes her a strong character even though the true arc of the story ultimately casts her as the damsel in distress.

    What do you think?

    Liked by 1 person

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