The Strider is the greatest of all Half-Life’s creations, if you ask me. Sure, you could argue that it’s just another spin on HG Wells’ tripods, but seriously, look at the thing! Those legs, so horribly long and horribly jointed, that hideous hint of poultry flesh and machinery spliced together, all pain and wrongness. In Half-Life 2, I watched one of this awful lot stoop to duck under a bridge, and the thing about the Strider is that it never reminds you of just one thing, always a horrible bodging-together – almost a flamingo as its joints worked, yet almost grandparent nipping up into the attic for something heavy too. An internal life: that sense of self-preservation and cruel intelligence they have, of seeing only their own priorities. That sense of being autonomous in the moment, but also deeply mission-driven. They give me goose-bumps because it’s so entirely clear that they can probably get goose-bumps themselves.
I had been waiting for this moment, then. Half-Life: Alyx, set five years before the events of Half-Life 2 and delivered sixteen years – is that possible? – since Half-Life 2 and thirteen years since Episode Two, the last installment. (How we had talked at the time about that gap between the first two Episodes. We had no idea.) Suddenly, City 17 lies before me once more. I am on a rooftop somewhere: Alyx Vance, 19-year-old daughter of Eli Vance, on reconnaissance for the resistance.
The metropolis is a mess of alien cables, black and heavy, draped thoughtlessly and sagging over honey-coloured European architecture with its weary finials and tiles and crenelations. It’s VR, so a moment or two to look at the creamy skybox dithering into distant mist, then another moment to delight in a nearby radio, fiercely analogue tech, that can be picked up and heaved around, the dials turning and moving a little marker along the display, an aerial that properly extends and everything.
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