There are plenty of worthy and iconic melee weapons in the pantheon of video games — Link’s Master Sword, the Assassins’ Hidden Blade, Sora’s Keyblade, Cloud’s Buster Sword. But there is only one weapon, one instrument of doom, that, when placed in the hands of a certain MIT-educated Theoretical Physicist, rises above the others to true greatness: Gordon Freeman’s crowbar. The release of Half-Life: Alyx offers a perfect excuse to take a look back and celebrate the Half-Life franchise’s most enduring weapon.
Alyx does not wield the crowbar herself in the new VR game, though that’s not to say it isn’t mentioned at all. The crowbar is associated heavily with the series’ primary protagonist, Gordon Freeman, and both are emblematic of the franchise as a whole. For most gamers, a mention of Half-Life conjures the image of a bespectacled, goatee-fancying scientist with a crowbar in hand, combatting alien headcrabs with his weapon of choice.
The original Half-Life was released for PC on November 19, 1998 by fledgling studio Valve. It proceeded to change the landscape of video games forever by wrapping revolutionary mechanics and graphics in an exhilarating sci-fi/horror shooter. Players found themselves in the role of a Black Mesa researcher, the ever-silent Gordon Freeman. He pushes a cart, presses a button and a lot of really bad things happen.
As aliens pour in from tears in reality and the government sends in troops to cover the whole thing up with bullets, it’s up to Gordon and other surviving Black Mesa employees to save the world. It’s a lot for one nerd in a fancy hazmat suit to handle. But, thankfully, after surviving the initial accident, Freeman soon finds the instrument of his vengeance laying innocuously enough on the floor.
The crowbar was fun, effective and more than simply a weapon. Half-Life introduced new interactive environment and physic effects, and the crowbar was used as an implement to solve the many puzzles that highlighted these features. Beyond being a simple and satisfying weapon to play with, its iconic status is tied to the milestone in gaming history that Half-Life represents.
Even within the story of Half-Life, Gordon is constantly associated with the crowbar. Every new installment has quickly reunited Freeman with his weapon, usually with a funny comment from an NPC to highlight the event. In certain parts of Half-Life 2, if Gordon is killed you can hear the enemy say, “Somebody… Take his crowbar.”
Its beloved status can be felt across platform and genre, with many developers adding homages to the mighty crowbar. In Halo 3, Bungie left a crowbar lying in the multiplayer map, Sandtrap. This is no coincidence, as “Sandtraps” is also the title Half-Life 2’s eighth chapter. GTA: San Andreas has a familiar-looking crowbar resting on a table in the Area 69 government facility. If you use a crowbar to break open a crate in Scribblenauts Unlimited, you’ll earn an item called “Free Man!”
At the beginning of BioShock, Atlas tells the player to look for “a crowbar or something,” instead finding a pipe wrench. The 2013 Sim City featured a build-able factory called “Freeman Crowbar Mfg.” Valve even referenced it in one of their own games, Left 4 Dead 2, where the crowbar is one of the available weapons. The game even features a moment where the playable character Louis declares, “Man, I feel like I’m Gordon Freeman!”
Half-Life’s crowbar was an instant classic that has endured in gamers’ hearts for nearly 22 years, and it’s brief appearance in Alyx feels appropriate. As cool as it would have been to see Alyx use it herself, the crowbar and Gordon Freeman have become synonymous with one another. Much like Chell and her portal gun, another revolutionary video game weapon from Valve, it would be weird to show someone else wielding the signature weapon.
Half-Life: Alyx is now available on Steam.
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Valve's Half-Life: Alyx, doesn't feature series protagonist Gordon Freeman's crowbar, a weapon that has become synonymous with the character.