Okay, let’s acknowledge this: the Half-Life series was mechanically and narratively transformative for the first-person shooter genre and gaming as a whole. Many among us loved the first two games, are still bitter about the loss of Half-Life 3, and are tentatively optimistic about the upcoming Half-Life: Alyx, the first full-length game in the series since 2004. But now that we’ve gotten those plaudits out of the way, let’s talk about Half-Life’s other glorious afterlife: the fan works.
Half-Life 2 was extraordinarily extensible. Its modding system was an accessible way to learn game design, and the popular Garry’s Mod let people pose and move characters to make videos and comics. Half-Life was moddable as well, and over time, fans have built everything from a full-scale Half-Life remake to a first-person cat mod (named, naturally, Cat-Life) to some crucial pieces of ‘00s internet humor. I’d love to hear other people’s favorite projects; these are three of mine.
Half-Life: Full Life Consequences
Full Life Consequences was part of a whole genre of deliberately awful fan fiction, similar to the infamous Doom: Repercussions of Evil. The four–part series follows John Freeman (Gordon Freeman’s hitherto unknown brother) on a gloriously nonsensical, creatively misspelled, and fourth-wall-breaking journey through the events of Half-Life 2. Because as John puts it, “its a good day to do what has to be done by me and help my brother to defeat the enemys.”
I can quote a frankly embarrassing amount of the first Full Life Consequences story by heart, thanks to the excellent narrated dramatization seen below. Every time someone mentions Half-Life 2’s Ravenholm level, I have to resist whispering “u shudnt come here.”
Concerned: The Half-Life and Death of Gordon Frohman
Concerned was a more traditionally funny (and legitimately skillful) Garry’s Mod web comic, lampooning Half-Life 2 specifically and first-person shooter tropes in general. Its anti-hero is Gordon Frohman: a hapless, amoral everyman who keeps getting accidentally mistaken for the scientist who might save humanity from the alien Combine. Unfortunately, Frohman loves the Combine — but he’s so incompetent that he might accidentally become its greatest enemy.
The Stanley Parable
Okay, hear me out. Yes, The Stanley Parable is best known as an absurdist, highly self-aware standalone video game released by studio Galactic Cafe in 2013, not by its original status as a Half-Life 2 mod posted in 2011. No, it has no narrative connection to Half-Life and could have been made in effectively any game engine, and it was one of multiple indie games to use Half-Life 2’s Source software as jumping-off point.
But The Stanley Parable feels inextricably linked to Half-Life 2 for one reason: the mod’s original protagonist was “played” by Citizen Male 07. Male 07 was simply one of Half-Life 2’s handful of generic oppressed citizen models. But thanks largely to Concerned and Full Life Consequences, where he plays Gordon Frohman and John Freeman respectively, he became a shorthand for a certain kind of goofy, guileless male protagonist — like the NPC version of a character actor. And The Stanley Parable played him perfectly to type.