Alyx Vance: The Best Thing About “Half-Life 2”

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Now immediately I would just like to correct something wrong about that title: this amazing woman is not a “thing.” She is not a trophy. She is not a prize. She is a full fledged human being, and a strikingly unique individual. But more than that, she is a friend, she is an ally, and she is extremely skilled in numerous disciplines. Not the least of which is her ass-kicking.

For Valve Software’s second installment of the Half-LIfe series, they went a boldly new route compared to their previous game. The first Half-Life was a bit more like your typical first-person-shooter. And can be best compared to the Deus-Ex and System Shock games around the same time period. However, Half-Life seemed to be trying to build a bit more of a mythos with what little story it had. It was trying to hint at a larger scheme playing out behind the scenes, until ultimately you are brought face to face with someone from the big people pulling all the strings. And the game soon sets itself up for a continuing story full of new possibilities. (SPOILERS AHEAD!)

But then immediately upon emerging back into reality in the 2nd game–after you had literally gone to the nether world to kill a floating big-headed alien entity–you find yourself in a post-apocalyptic landscape, and a city ruled by a white-haired dictator, not unlike President Snow from The Hunger Games. Apparently, despite having very few defined characters in the original game, this individual, called Professor Breen, was part of the same scientific outfit that you were: called the Black Mesa laboratories. And you of course are Gordan Freeman, the man who saved the world. Or so you thought.

Apparently all of the creatures and dark entities that had been brought through during the Black Mesa incident–which tore open a portal to the world of Xen–have infested society to such a degree, that marshal law has been enacted by those who felt it was their duty to shepherd the less fortunate. So now guards are posted at every exit and entrance, all persons are checked and double-checked. And since many people are now part of the resistance attempting to take down Professor Breen and the military force known as the Combine, trying to carry on any form of a normal life is next to impossible.

So with all of that back story pretty much told to you backwards, where does Alyx Vance come in? Well she just happens to be the best thing that ever happened to you, when she appears for the first time in the game. Because she saves your ass from an ambush of guards, coming in from all sides. Upon introductions, you find out that she’s the daughter of Eli Vance, who was also a colleague of yours at Black Mesa. But of course now he’s voiced by Robert Guillaume, Rafiki from The Lion King.

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Now Alyx, for all intents and purposes, does not feel like your typical NPC character. Despite you’re quiet and non-talkative personality (as Gordon Freeman), Alyx quickly forms a bond with you, and you–as a player–quickly form a bond with her. The other main characters you meet are extremely likable, most are charismatic, and they’re all very well written with their dialogue, and equally well performed to a T by the entire cast. Even Barney and the good Doctor Kleiner, who both started out as generic NPCs who were all doppelgangers of each other, have been refined and upgraded to total individuals with unique personality traits that fit their designs and their voice actors. The rest of the people in the game are much less defined, and serve as your more typical war-zone NPCs. They’re helpful, many are reasonably capable with a weapon, and we’re all fighting for the same cause. But above anyone else in this game, Alyx is the star character. She is a Godsend and an incredibly charming ally. Sure, her personality, when you look at it from just the second game, may still be rather idealized. She’s easy to get along with, she’s very personable, rather happy even in the face of danger and difficult odds, and she never gets angry with you. But that’s probably because you don’t talk, and you’re a rather kind and moralistic person.

When you get right down to it, though, and you start to notice all of the changes that Alyx goes through and the struggles that she has to deal with, especially during Half-LIfe 2: Episode 1 and Episode 2, she begins to feel more and more like a real person. She has fears, she feels pain and loss, she feels fatigue. And at one point, you spend such a long continuous time with her, that she even nearly dies, and you have to be the one to protect her and the creatures bringing her back to life. And you do it because not only has she become one of the only friends you have in this game, but she has become one of the most important things you are fighting for. And I have to say, I found myself falling for this amazing lady every single time I played the game. I may have bought it for the dark atmosphere, the creepy and mysterious story-line, and the intense and tactical combat. But if there is one thing I will always look forward to, it’s the time that I get to spend with Alyx that means the most.

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She has a warm-heart, she has a lovable laugh, she has that spunky attitude that I just can’t get enough of. And despite being a full-grown woman, she still likes to be like a kid. And not a dumb kid, but just… a kid. You know. Break stuff, climb trees, play around with her dog, shoot bottles off of fences with a zero-point energy gun. The usual stuff.

Something I found odd while looking for pictures of Alyx, is that there were a couple of game moders that have made their own redesigns of Alyx, both with a so-called prettier face, more make-up, skimpier clothes, and bigger more visible cleavage. And while I totally understand why these exists, I also kind of don’t. Most of the time when guys want more cleavage or a sexier look for a game character, it’s a character that didn’t have much of a personality and was mostly there to serve as an NPC that spout information. Either that or it’s your own character that you’d prefer to make female and make look like a sex goddess. And yes, it is extremely shallow and perhaps insensitive to do that. But it’s a video-game. And as long as you can differentiate between a game and real life, and respect all of the women in your life outside of your game time, then I don’t think it’s wrong to have your little fantasies. I’m certainly not one to judge. But in the case of Alyx, I don’t think it’s the same.

I mean first of all, Alyx is a character. And as a character, she was designed and modeled in a particular way to match the personality that was given to her. The way you act and they way you look and dress yourself go hand-in-hand. And when you don’t dress or look like what you personality suggests you are, then it can often come off as either awkward or surprisingly weird, especially if you yourself don’t like doing it. And in this case, these pictures don’t reflect “who” Alyx is. They take a character who was feisty and strong-willed and confident in who she was, and took what physical protection she had away from her, forcing her to look pretty for the sake of giving the player something pretty to look at. But despite clearly wanting to do this, I just feel like these game moders did a disservice to Alyx. I feel sorry for her to see her have to walk around and fight off alien zombies with her pants riding low and her tata’s hanging out, because I just know that she really wouldn’t want to go around like that unless it was for a special occasion: like a date or a dance or a party, where she would have a reason to want to dress loose and show a little more off. I don’t think it’s beyond her character. But what I definitely know is not beyond her character is practicality. And wearing heavy makeup, her hair in stringy bangs, and an open crop top is the least practical thing to have on in the middle of a war-zone.

And in the end, I think Alyx, more than any other character I’ve ever seen in a game, doesn’t need to be changed. She doesn’t need anything more than what she’s got. And she doesn’t need to show more skin unless she wants to and it makes sense for her to, because I think of her as a real person: a person that has real thoughts and feelings, and someone that I should not be oogling over. When we go into battle, she has my back, and I have her’s. And in the middle of a fire-fight, I don’t need to be lookin’ at her breasts. When we’re talking, my eyes are locked on her’s because she deserves my full attention. And despite all of the feelings that I slowly build for her throughout the course of all three installments, I never once wish that I could see her naked, because that would instantly cheapen the experience and make the uniqueness of this relationship meaningless. Throughout the later episodes, Alyx does feel like she’s starting to fall for you. You can hear it in her voice and in what she says, but it’s only hinted at. And yet I would take the subtle flirts and the merest hint of a possible deeper relationship, rather than full-on in-game love-making any day. And sadly, someone has apparently made a game mod of that as well.

I suppose the most impressive thing about this whole thing is how Alyx’s character drew me in. I mean, she’s a human-like character in a video-game from 2004. She’s made of polygons, digital joints, and textures taken from somebody’s photographs of their pair of ruddy jeans. And yet nothing about her distracts me. This character, and in fact, this entire game of Half-Life 2 has absolutely no “uncanny valley” issues as far as my personal experience is concerned. I never once felt like Alyx wasn’t a real person. Her eyes didn’t feel like marbles, her face wasn’t stone cold, her disembodied hugs felt warm and genuine. And that smile. Oh WOW… that smile. That smile could knock you flat, son. But of course, the whole reason her character works still comes back to the subject of good writing and good characterization. And you know what, maybe that’s why films like The Polar Express and Beowulf are so creepy: it’s not just because of the bad animation or horrible character models, it’s because the characters are lame.

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I really cannot stress this more than other people must have, but writing a compelling story, and writing a story with multi-dimensional characters should not be an after-thought, it should not be a waste of time, and it should not be the icing on the cake or some sort of bonus: it should be one of THE MOST important things that you do. Because any video game, and any movie, and any TV series is automatically twice as good, if not more, if it has amazing characters in it. And I would not have loved Half-LIfe half as much as I have if I didn’t get to play it along side Alyx Vance. Because I played the first Half-Life not even two weeks ago, and it was not nearly as amazing or enjoyable as this. And maybe I should not have expected it to be. Most games that were made back then didn’t run on complex or well-written stories, and they often didn’t have much dialogue. But you know what, they freaking should have, because there’s not a damn reason I can think of why they couldn’t have had all that.

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Alyx Vance, I don’t know who I can thank for creating you and bringing you into the world of fiction. But whoever they are, they have my undying gratitude. And I also must thank Merle Dandridge, for giving you the best voice and best performance I could have ever asked for. And even if Half-Life 3, whenever we finally get it, somehow screws up your entire story, and ruins everything, I will still be thankful for the time we spent together in Half-LIfe 2. 

Alyx, you are an angel. Don’t go changin’ nothing for nobody.

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