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.