Half-Life 2

Developer: Valve
U.S. Publisher: Valve
U.S. Release: Nov. 16, 2004
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Format: CD-ROM, digital download

Based on: F***in' da po-lice, overthrowing interdimensional empires ruled over by giant grubs, natty glasses.

Games | PC Gaming | Half-Life 2: Sympathy for the Combine

Article by sarcasmorator | April 8, 2008

If you've played Half-Life 2, you've killed a lot -- a lot -- of Combine troops, starting with those poor Civil Protection officers.

"Poor"? Why so poor, you ask? Here's why: These guys are just working-class stiffs, trying to make a living at their 9-to-5. You should feel bad for caving in their heads with a crowbar or siccing angry alien bugs on their faces or disintegrating them with energy orbs. You're a terrible person for doing these things. Seriously, what would your mother say?

Which isn't to say you should stop killing them. Hell, no! They'd just kill you instead. That's their job, see.

Combine Civil Protection officers in pursuance of their usual duties.

But take a moment now to experience a twinge of sympathy for the unfortunate Combine CP officer you just nudged into a barnacle's tongue or twanged in the crotch with twelve inches of red-hot rebar. Put on the gauzy filter of flashback and imagine this is your life:

Two decades have passed since the Combine defeated the entire military might of the world in the space of seven hours; twenty years since Dr. Wallace Breen brokered "peace" and was installed as administrator of Earth. Twenty years since the Combine sank a mile-high Citadel into the earth of Eastern Europe and activated whatever hell that thing was that suppressed humanity's reproductive urges.

And so, there are no children. In fact, no one is much, if at all, younger than 20 years old. And no one who was much younger than 10 at the time of the Combine takeover has ever had more than a vague memory of how things used to be. Add to this the memory-altering effects of the Combine's water treatments, and you're part of an entire generation that has little concept of how things were; they know only how things are. There is only now, and whatever happens between that now and the end of your short, miserable days. (I could mention how similar all of this is to P.D. James' "Children of Men," but that ground has already been trod.)

Inside population centers like City 17, you're always watched and under guard. You live in a crappy apartment. The TV is all Breen, all the time. The food is terrible. You're searched and beaten at a whim. But outside the city walls is worse: a wastelands ruled by headcrabs, zombies, antlions and barnacles.

There is relentless, grinding boredom, like being in line at the DMV forever, except without the promise of being a licensed driver at the end of it all. The people of Earth under the Combine do not work, unless they work for the Combine. Civilian life is lived in a prison. You have no rights, no culture, no power, no vocation, no station, no way to improve your lot.

Well. There is one way.

It is easy to see why, in this world, a person like you might decide to join the Combine Civil Protection force. If you join up, you get better food. You get clean, high-quality clothing to replace your filthy jumpsuit; leather boots to replace your ratty shoes. You get a bunk in a Combine barracks instead of a crummy room in some dilapidated former Soviet bloc tenement building.

A diagram helpfully number everything deadly to a member of the Combine Civil Protection force.

And beyond that, you get power -- some small measure of control over a world gone to hell. You have a gun and an electro-baton; you have authority, if only a little. This is where normal guys (and maybe gals? Those suits obscure an awful lot) go when they want something to do besides wait for death. The bar is set pretty low. Gordon's pal Barney didn't even have to infiltrate this group -- he just signed right up.

And that makes it all the more tragic when this geek in Buddy Holly glasses shows up and hooks you in the neck with his crate-breaker while you're trying to carry on with an official beating. Or maybe he blasts your head off with his magnum revolver in an unconvincingly mute Dirty Harry impersonation. Or, even worse, uses a weird claw thing to smash in your face with a kitchen sink, speaking of which where the goddamn did he get that stupid thing, anyway? And the last thing you hear is your radio bleating out a tone like a flat-lined EKG. What a way to go.

So next time you're playing Half-Life 2, take a moment to contemplate what you've done after disintegrating a CP. These guys were just like you, once upon a time.

And after that, well, you know what to do: Kill some more of them. This is a video game, after all. It not like anyone at Valve could be bothered to add some moral ambiguity or choice to the gameplay; you've got tightly-scripted setpieces to experience, m'boy!

If you're a CCP officer fighting in the canals, barnacles can be your best friends. Crowbars, not so much.