Aliens in Popular Culture: ‘Half-Life 2’

Aliens in popular culture.jpg
Aliens in Popular Culture, edited by Michael M. Levy and Farah Mendlesohn, published by Greenwood, 2019

Half-Life (2004), a game designed by David Speyrer, opens with a transdimen­sional alien invasion of the Black Mesa Research Facility from Planet Xen. It is directly indebted to the scenario of first-person shooter Quake but also inspired by Stephen King’s novella The Mist, in which an alien force has escaped from a mili­tary installation, and an episode of The Outer Limits entitled “The Borderland,” in which a scientist mistakenly invents a machine that can create a doorway into the fourth dimension,

The events of Half-Life feature scientist Gordon Freeman as he battles Xen’s own refugee life-forms from other worlds, including an enslaved race of bipedal, four-armed creatures called the Vortigaunts and the Headcrab, a parasitic life-form visually comparable to the face-hugger of the Alien film franchise but func­tionally comparable to the zombifying Cordyceps fungus. This disparate force is led by the gigantic, fetus-like Nihilanth: a Lovecraftian cosmic horror and the last of its race until dispatched by Freeman at the conclusion of the game.

Half-Life 2 reveals that, with the death of the overlord, Freeman released the Vortigaunts from their bonds with some of them choosing to remain on Earth as allies. However, Freeman also unwittingly allowed a further race to follow through the now expanded dimensional aperture: the Combine.

In the 20-year gap between the events of Half-Life and Half-Life 2, the Seven Hour War took place, with the Combine successfully taking over the Earth to install a totalitarian regime. The tone of Half-Life is essentially a B-movie explo­ration of the consequences of ambitious scientific enquiry gone wrong with an added critique of U.S. military safeguarding measures. With Half-Life 2, the inva­sion narrative is more sophisticated, incorporating and reflecting upon broader national ideologies and historical precedents


The full 1,100 word version of this article is published in Aliens in Popular Culture, edited by Michael M. Levy and Farah Mendlesohn, published by Greenwood, 2019.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.