We don”t go to Ravenholm – and if we ever accidentally end up there, we never go without packing heat. A human hideout on the outskirts of City 17, Ravenholm came to an appalling end when Earth”s slug-alien dictators carpet-bombed the place with hungry headcrabs, turning the population into a pack of savage half-cadavers. Aside from being deeply creepy and gross, it”s also where you first encounter the worst of Half-Life 2″s macabre monster enemies, like ferocious fast zombies, hulking poison zombies, and endless waves of ghastly creatures that you can barely escape, much less fight.
It”s not a happy place, and not somewhere you want to get caught with anything less than your full arsenal – unless, that is, you”re feeling creative to the point of self-destruction. Then you can shoot for the Zombie Chopper achievement, which challenges you to “play through Ravenholm using only the Gravity Gun,” a weapon that carries no ammo and can, at best, launch things you find on the floor at high speeds. So basically, you run into a room full of shrieking abominations and hope this cardboard box will stop them.
At first glance, Zombie Chopper is the domain of the challenge-seekers and achievement junkies only, designed to be as difficult as possible to increase playtime without adding anything else of value. And I”ll admit, my once-great hunger for achievement completion is what drew me to it in the first place. But after suffering through that bloody ordeal, sighing shakily with relief as I reached the literal light the end of the tunnel and the achievement pinged into existence, I realized it really wasn”t so bad. In fact, the absence of weapons forced me to think creatively about my plight and use everything around me to my advantage, in a way I never would have otherwise.
As much as I love shooters, their answer to most problems is fairly simplistic: shoot stuff “til it dies, and repeat. You have to stretch your mental muscles to figure out how to get past certain tough sections – if enemy A is here and enemy B is there, who do I shoot first – but after that, you fall into a familiar groove that tells you how to proceed. Even when you”re given the option to sneak past potential conflicts if you so desire, that doesn”t require much inventive thought either, because there will usually be some optimal paths carved out for you to take (even if they aren”t immediately obvious).
What makes Zombie Chopper so tricky (and therefore so enjoyable) is that Ravenholm isn”t designed with Gravity Gun exclusivity in mind. Characters toss you guns that you equip automatically, and you”ll often end up in areas with no discarded objects in sight, just in time for these things to come barreling at you at top speed. Pulling it off means carefully considering every move you make, coming up with ways of achieving a goal that the environment isn”t set up for, and being able to think on the fly when your plans fall apart, all without the option of falling back on your shooter instincts. It”s not the natural, primal way your brain wants to deal with this problem, so every challenge you face is a legitimate exercise in thinking better.
Honestly, it”s an approach I wish more shooters tried out. While most try to gauge how we already operate and set up objectives that fall in line with that (which is itself a skill I don”t wish to discount), few really challenge you to come up with a unique solution that involves neither bullets nor passivity.
Zombie Chopper proves that not only can it work, but it can give Ravenholm a whole new sense of dimension, completely changing your vision of the struggles you face and your ability to overcome them. Turns out you really can kill a zombie with a cardboard box (or at least the gross headcrab part), and a flung sawblade is just as effective as a shotgun at close range. Plus, if you”re light on your feet you can race across the rooftops before the devils below even know you”re there. I also personally learned a pretty funny secret: if you run in a tight circle, those horrifying fast zombies will chase you without deviating from your path like giant, bloody Pomeranians, and you don”t have to worry about them actually catching you.
Had I never tried to take on Ravenholm”s terrors with a glorified pitching machine, it would”ve just felt like another unpleasant place I escaped by shooting my way through. But with that bit of achievement bling sitting on my Xbox account (yes, console players love Half-Life too), my memory of that place is so much fuller and richer, and to this day I think it made me a tiny bit smarter.