Why Half-Life 2’s Ravenholm Is the Perfect Horror Level

Horror has lengthy been considerably free from the contempt that familiarity brings. At worst, the style’s oldest trappings (darkish and stormy nights, pearl white ghosts, bats, witches, and vampires) normally put a smile in your face as you recall your earliest recollections of not solely being scared, however being handled as in case you have been outdated and courageous sufficient to be scared. We’re reminded of that feeling each Halloween.

However, in case you’re an grownup and somebody does one thing like wave a paper bat in entrance of your face with the intention of scaring you, not solely will you not be scared however you may really feel insulted. The cliches of horror are sometimes solely interesting as long as they’re handled like one thing that’s enjoyable. The second that somebody really tries to make use of them in a real means is normally the second when you could begin to really feel contempt in the direction of them.

There have been few examples of horror through the years that handle to function comfortably acquainted horror tropes and be, at the very least at instances, genuinely scary. Bloodborne completed one thing comparable when it comes to the gothic horror style. Creepshow (and the same Tales from the Crypt) blended enjoyable and frights remarkably easily. You might even argue that at the very least the primary season of Stranger Things managed this uncommon feat.

Yet, on the subject of balancing the contemporary and acquainted in horror, there may be actually nothing fairly like Half-Life 2’s Ravenholm. It not solely boldly tried to each have a good time and successfully make the most of the familiarity of the horror style, however within the course of, it outlined the legacy of a 15-year-old title that many nonetheless take into account to be the best and most necessary recreation ever made.

The Old Creepy Town Road

Ravenholm is a city with two tales, and you must know each of them to completely perceive what makes it so particular.

The first is the story of the city itself as introduced in Half-Life 2 and associated supplementary supplies. Before the occasions of Half-Life 2, Ravenholm was a small village that consisted largely of shabby picket homes. It was seemingly based as a mining city, however when the Combine (the invading antagonists of Half-Life 2) took over a lot of the world round Ravenholm, that rustic mining city quickly grew to become one of many final secure havens from the technologically superior Combine and their evil intentions.

Whatever peace Ravenholm supplied was shattered when the Combine bombarded the city with Headcrab Shells. Essentially a organic weapon, the Headcrab Shell is an particularly merciless instrument of warfare. It appears like a bomb, however as an alternative of exploding upon affect, the Headcrab Shell unloads lots of and lots of of headcrabs upon a populated space. These headcrabs then burrow into the world simply ready to search out somebody to assault, infect, and successfully enslave.

It’s not clear why the Combine determined to make use of so many of those shells on Ravenholm given the comparatively uncommon makes use of of the weapon outdoors of this occasion, nevertheless it’s attainable they felt the concept of enslaving a city whose residents resisted them for thus lengthy was too poetic of a chance to move up. In any case, the end result was harrowing. The resilient residents of Ravenholm have been basically become zombies by the headcrabs, and any rebels who have been fortunate sufficient to dwell outdoors its boundaries on the time of the shelling started to solely converse of the city in whispers as they warned the curious to remain far-off from it.

The second story you must find out about Ravenholm is the story of how the extent got here to be within the recreation within the first place. While parts of that story are up for debate, the favored consensus is that Half-Life author Marc Laidlaw, who has acknowledged up to now that he is a giant fan of the Thief collection, at the very least partially based mostly it on a piece in Thief: The Dark Project referred to as “Sealed Section.”

The Sealed Section of Dark Project referred to 1 / 4 of an awesome metropolis within the recreation that had change into infested with undead creatures. Much like Ravenholm, lots of those that knew in regards to the nature of the Sealed Section didn’t go close to it. The Sealed Section was additionally a dilapidated nook of the world that stood in stark distinction to the developments that surrounded it.

However, when it comes to design and execution, there’s one key thematic distinction between Ravenholm and Sealed Section. Before you arrive at Sealed Section in Dark Project, you’re conscious of the extra conventional horror parts within the recreation. You’ve fought zombies, you’ve heard tales of the occult, and also you’re conscious that these parts are a part of that recreation’s universe.

But if you get to Ravenholm in Half-Life 2, there’s little or no that prepares you for what you’re about to stroll into.

We Don’t Go To Ravenholm

In our retrospective on Fallout 3, we spoke about how the sport’s effectiveness as a piece of horror can partially be attributed to the truth that you don’t totally anticipate the sport to go thus far out of its strategy to scare you. Even in that occasion, although, the overall tone and nature of Fallout 3 and the Fallout collection strongly means that such outright horror parts are attainable.

Ravenholm is a bit totally different. While Alyx, Gordon’s associate in Half-Life 2, speaks the notorious line “We don’t go to Ravenholm anymore” previous to you ever stepping foot within the city, that warning might be interpreted in so some ways given the character of the sport till that time. After all, Half-Life 2 exists in a world of oppression and hopelessness. You’d be extra stunned to study that there’s a spot in that world that folks advocate you go to.

Still, the chances are robust that you simply didn’t anticipate to stroll into Ravenholm for the primary time and listen to some conventional horror music, see a pair of legs hanging from a tree swinging softly within the breeze, or to be greeted by what definitely appears to be a bonafide zombie.

While these headcrab zombies have been featured within the unique Half-Life, they have been handled rather more just like the by-product of a science experiment gone improper. The zombies of Ravenholm really feel extra like…properly…zombies. They extra intently resemble the people that the headcrabs have assumed management of, they transfer in a extra apparent lumbering vogue, and, oh yeah, they occupy a dilapidated village illuminated by waning moonlight and inhabited by a crazed preacher who typically speaks like he’s been transported immediately into the city from a Hammer horror movie. The suddenness of this detour into pure horror will definitely unnerve anybody who doesn’t normally vogue themselves a fan of the style.

For horror followers, the sudden change in tone signifies that the sport goes to attempt to scare them and they should now be on their guard. Such vigilance is shortly rewarded, as Ravenholm reveals itself to be greater than a group of horror cliches. Between the toxic headcrabs that drain your life with stunning ease and the extra aggressive variations of headcrab zombies which are agile and in a position to shortly overwhelm you in shut quarters fight, Ravenholm is well essentially the most harmful a part of Half-Life 2 that gamers will expertise up till that time.

It’s that mixture of real hazard, robust environment, and shock that makes Ravenholm such a memorable horror degree. Players didn’t go into Half-Life 2 anticipating to take a detour into one thing that appears like a haunted home. Once there, they in all probability didn’t anticipate it to be so efficient. Make no mistake that Ravenholm is a genuinely efficient piece of horror gaming whose attraction extends well-beyond the enjoyment of experiencing its acquainted trappings in such an unfamiliar means. Yet, it’s these acquainted points of Ravenholm’s horror that permit the extent to successfully convey Half-Life 2’s defining trick and one of the crucial revolutionary gameplay mechanics of all-time.

The Gravity of the Situation

It’s been broadly steered that the design of Ravenholm modified fairly a bit over the course of the sport’s growth. While a few of these adjustments are well-documented (an notorious E3 demo of Half-Life 2 referred to a really Ravenholm-like space as Traptown or “phystown” within the recreation’s information), others appear to be based mostly on info mined from a leaked model of Half-Life 2 in addition to early information information. You can see reported movies of gameplay from the rumored early model of Ravenholm by way of movies like these

While the small print of those adjustments are largely speculative, they’re fascinating nonetheless. For occasion, evidently an early construct of Ravenholm featured Combine troopers and zombies as enemies as an alternative of simply zombies (we see this within the aforementioned E3 video). It’s additionally been steered that the unique construct of Ravenholm targeted rather more on its mining city historical past and even allow you to take management of a big digging machine. Some even theorize that the unique model of Ravenholm occurred earlier than you bought to Eli’s lab and purchased the gravity gun. 

What a distinction that may have made. For those that don’t know, the gravity gun is a weapon/instrument in Half-Life 2 that allows you to pull gadgets to you from across the map and shoot them again at your enemies. It’s the spotlight of Half-Life 2’s revolutionary physics system which allowed gamers to control the world round them in ways in which few video games had allowed earlier than.

Prior to buying the gravity gun, that physics system was primarily used to point out dangerous guys falling into barrels and different apparent parlor tips. It made motion really feel vigorous and was the idea of some neat puzzles, however till you bought the gravity gun and have been in a position to successfully use your environment as weapons, few individuals actually appreciated how the implementation of physics in gaming might basically alter how builders approached online game motion. It was a uncommon occasion of a technological development in gaming not simply main to raised graphics however totally new gameplay ideas.

As it seems, the horror-inspired world of Ravenholm was the right platform to showcase simply how the gravity gun was going to vary our expectations of what motion gaming might be.

Our shared information of the horror style’s tips, and the prevalence that information presents, is a part of the rationale why motion pictures like Scream have been such successful within the ‘90s. That shared information is very true of zombie-based horror. Remember that Half-Life 2 was launched a couple of 12 months after the publication of The Zombie Survival Guide. It was across the time when everybody was speaking about their zombie plans and celebrating the truth that they “knew” what to do with zombies once they noticed one.

So, when Half-Life 2 exhibits you its model of a zombie standing subsequent to some noticed blades, you don’t even want the well-placed impaled gentleman hanging out on the close by wall to grasp you must use these sawblades (and the rest you’ll find) as makeshift ammo for the gravity gun. Half-Life 2 used the cultural shorthand of zombies and horror to instantly inform the participant that they wanted to search out some strategy to decapitate these zombies even when they’re low on (or out of) ammunition. It’s a superb strategy to reveal the probabilities of a brand new mechanic with out forcing the participant to endure some extended conventional tutorial interval.

At one level throughout your Ravenholm run, you’re supplied a shotgun that almost all gamers doubtless selected to disregard. Sure, the shotgun is an iconic zombie killer (and an emblem of participant energy in video video games ever since Doom), however utilizing it simply feels fundamental in comparison with the enjoyment of utilizing an unbelievable new instrument to dispatch acquainted (however harmful) foes in thrilling new methods. The gravity gun not solely empowered you in an space outlined by dying and decay, nevertheless it confirmed you that even horror and FPS genres’ outdated canine may benefit from new tips.

Ravenholm was an unbelievable mix of such contradictory concepts as outdated and new, consolation and discomfort, and familiarity and discovery. It’s a disgrace, then, that our first go to to Ravenholm will seemingly be the final we ever get.

That Familiar Feeling

We don’t get to go to Ravenholm once more throughout Half-Life 2‘s marketing campaign and the city isn’t featured in Half-Life 2: Episode One or Episode Two. Given the present state of the Half-Life franchise, it’s extremely uncertain we’ll ever be capable of run via it once more outdoors of replays of the unique recreation.

Did you recognize, although, {that a} new recreation that includesRavenholm was as soon as in growth? Half-Life author Marc Laidlaw revealed that Valve was working alongside Dishonored and Prey developer Arkane Studios on a Half-Life spin-off referred to as Return to Ravenholm. While that sounds merely superb, Laidlaw says that he’s fairly positive the challenge fell aside as a result of the timeframe of the concept (it might have occurred earlier than the top of Episode 2 with a purpose to not considerably intervene with the principle story) would have positioned chronological inventive constraints on Valve and Arkane. He additionally means that key parts of Ravenholm (similar to headcrabs and zombies) have been “pretty much played out” by that point.

It’s straightforward to really feel slightly bitter about that sentiment, however possibly there may be some fact to it. Maybe Ravenholm simply occurred to be the right concept launched on the excellent time. To be honest, replaying the extent right this moment does reveal some minor design flaws, similar to an over-reliance on slim platforms and different platforming hazards, and the extent definitely doesn’t really feel fairly as groundbreaking because it did on the time.

A return to Ravenholm might not have been fairly as revolutionary as our first go to, however simply as we really feel a wierd sense of belonging at any time when we’re surrounded by ghosts, ghouls, and goblins each Halloween, it’s arduous to disclaim that one other go to to Ravenholm could be value it simply to expertise slightly extra of what could also be horror gaming’s biggest degree.

Matthew Byrd is a employees author for Den of Geek. He spends most of his days attempting to pitch deep-dive analytical items about Killer Klowns From Outer Space to an more and more perturbed collection of editors. You can learn extra of his work right here or discover him on Twitter at @SilverTuna014

Read and obtain the Den of Geek NYCC 2019 Special Edition Magazine proper right here!

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