The Combine Are The Good Guys
For 16 years we have been led to believe that the Combine in Half-Life are the evil overlords of humanity. They arrived on Earth, conquered it in seven hours, and then proceeded to assimilate people into a military force that maintains an Orwellian nightmare. Well, what if I were to tell you that the Combine are the good guys? They are the janitors of the universe, trying to do no more than clean up other people’s dirty work.
Thanks to Half-Life: Alyx I’ve got a new perspective on things (no bad VR puns intended). Maybe it’s the quarantine talking, but what if the Combine are actually saving humanity from the reckless act of vandalism caused by Dr Gordon Freeman? That’s right, they really are our benefactors; this really is for our own protection; Dr Freeman really has destroyed so much.
First, a short recap of the pertinent Half-Life events. First day into his new job at the Black Mesa research facility, Dr Freeman took a big crystal delivered by a suspiciously suited man and stuck it inside a spectrometer. It exploded and opened a portal to Xen, a dimension full of aliens, breathing walls, giant fungi, and other weird flora and fauna. Gordon got another job, closed the portal, and went to sleep. Fast forward an unspecified number of years: the Combine, a trans-dimensional empire of giant slugs, noticed the portal opening on Earth, arrived, took over, and instituted martial law and a worldwide suppression field that stops breeding.
Okay, so after all that how can the Combine possibly be the good guys? Well, time with Half-Life: Alyx made me realise just how much of a number Gordon’s little trick with the crystal did on Earth. There is Xen filth everywhere: goo, debris, weird cists pulsating on walls, mushrooms, giant beehive-like structures encasing entire rooms. In some places this stuff releases toxic spores that make it difficult to breathe; in others it explodes or just slowly erodes architecture and makes things impassable. Basically, the Xen infestation has made or is making a mess of things, and it all spilled out of the rupture Gordon made in space-time.
Time with Half-Life: Alyx also made me realise how much the Combine are doing to clean it all up. Quarantine zones, barrels with hermetically sealed waste, giant pumps sucking up waste, the bodies of Combine in hazmat suits: these things are almost as ubiquitous as the Xen infestation.
So that’s point one in the Combine’s favour: they are cleaning up the literal mess caused by Gordon and his employer.
The Combine don’t have to do this. They could have just flown in, harvested all the humans for their army of gas mask fascists, and flown off, leaving the Earth an ecological disaster zone. After all, they can’t be too interested in us as a species: we are downright primitive by comparison to them. But no, they have been fastidiously cleaning up the Xen infestation, often giving up their lives in the process.
So that’s point two: the Combine are making selfless sacrifices for the good of Earth’s ecology.
And we see the results: in Half-Life 2, set five years after Alyx, there is almost no infestation. The Xen goo has been reduced to a few canals and rivers of sludgy waste.
So how then do I explain all the totalitarianism? Why are the Combine transporting people to detention centres, randomly raiding premises, sending out drones to photograph everything, and suppressing breeding? Well, they need to maintain quarantine. The Xen infestation is everywhere and it’s bad for your health, people! The raids and photographs are necessary to make sure no one is growing any little spores, intentionally or by accident. The blue prison-issue jumpsuits are to guard against anyone inadvertently picking up spores on their clothes. They put something in the water to make you forget the spores. The totalitarian lockdown is to stop people transporting spores. The detention centres are there to test and sanitise against the spores. And the ban on breeding has, I suppose, two purposes. First, any inadvertent mutations: no one knows how the Xen infestation may interact with nascent human organisms. And second, to avoid a massive population spike when everyone gets bored during the lockdown.
They are harsh measures, sure, but hard times require hard solutions. Long live the Combine and their somewhat overzealous janitorial efforts!