Diecast #206: Another Funeral for Half-Life - Twenty Sided

Distec says:

Monday Apr 16, 2018 at 12:23 pm

In addition to the Combine Overwatch’s appearance (and Overwatch is the name I believe you two were grasping for!), what sells them for me is their radio chatter. Their associated audio always gives them a “presence” in any map they’re on. And like most things Half-Life, further digging rewards you with additional cool context. I first though the Overwatch just sounded cool the same way the HL1 grunts did. But when you dig into the sound files they’re employing vaguely medical terminology like “area sterilization”, “full biotic overruns”, or “necrotics”. When paired with the Overwatch Announcer’s broadcasts – a disembodied voice broadcasting commands to and coordinating the entire city’s transhuman military – they have the air of surgical/chemical instruments to be used on a patient; City 17 itself.

Faceless gas-mask baddies should be beyond generic. Valve has a knack for a clean and distinct aesthetic that can make even a standard Alien Invasion/Dystopia story and its attendant tropes seem fresh. But like a lot of individual elements, the Combine soldiers are made even more compelling by their place in the world’s structure. I’d wager that a lot of this stuff probably works subconsciously on a first playthrough, even if you’re not fully paying attention to the Broadcast Lady or analyzing enemy barks.

I really think enemy barks and radio chatter are sorely undervalued or done poorly in a lot of cases. Even when devs put a lot of work into them, they typically fall into the trope of having them be fearless assholes who won’t stop insulting the protagonist that slaughtered all of their friends and peers within the last 30 seconds. I know this is supposed to make me feel good or at least justify me caving their skulls in, but it gets to be ridiculous.

HECU grunts, Combine Overwatch forces, and the Replica Forces from FEAR are excellent designs that are fun to fight, and it’s no accident they’re so similar: clean, efficient, professional, and only seem to display any “humanity” when they’re truly caught off guard or surprised.

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