This article is about the Combine. For the chapter, see Our Benefactors (chapter).
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- "We should thank Our Benefactors for giving us respite from this overpowering force. They have thrown a switch and exorcised our demons in a single stroke. They have given us the strength we never could have summoned to overcome this compulsion. They have given us purpose. They have turned our eyes toward the stars."
- ― Wallace Breen[src]
- 1 Overview
- 2 Combine on Earth
- 3 Combine technology
- 4 Behind the scenes
- 5 Trivia
- 6 List of appearances
- 7 References
The Combine is a vast extraterrestrial empire, spanning multiple parallel universes. The empire is inhabited by an unknown number of sentient species, and is possibly governed by a race of artificially evolved Advisors of the Combine Overworld. The Combine empire expands by invading worlds and exploiting their dominant species as it sees fit. By manipulating these species through methods including bioengineering and implantation, the Combine creates races of super-soldiers uniquely adapted for the particular environments of the conquered worlds. This process results in a highly mobile and adaptive military force which is able to respond to any threat and crush any opposition. The reasons behind the Combine's imperialism remain unknown throughout the series.
When pronouncing the word "Combine", vocal stress is placed on the first syllable. The name is pronounced COM-bine, as in combine harvester, as opposed to the verb form com-BINE, as in "to join together or unite." Dr. Breen refers to the Combine Soldiers and Civil Protection as The Transhuman Arm of the Combine Overwatch in Nova Prospekt, verifying that "Combine" is an accepted name of the empire, even by the empire itself.
It was initially speculated that the Combine possibly controlled Xen during the first Half-Life game, based on the similarities to some practices and technologies used by the Nihilanth. However, Valve's marketing director Doug Lombardi stated that the Combine had, in fact, invaded a different homeworld from which Nihilanth's race was forced to escape. The defeated Nihilanth sought refuge in Xen, where the Combine could not (or would not) follow.
"We had a glimpse of the larger threat when we were working on Half-Life. In other words, we knew that once you cleared out the Nihilanth, you were going to discover something worse beyond it. We knew that some immense threat had chased the Nihilanth and its creatures out of their own world and into Xen, from which location [i.e. the world beyond Xen] they were all too glad to seize the opportunity to continue on to Earth with suppression through the Citadels. But the exact nature of the threat was left to be solved in Half-Life 2."
The Nihilanth and the Combine are now established as former enemies who had knowledge of each other. When contacted, Marc Laidlaw provided more information:
"I'm pretty sure Doug was restating something I'd told him; I [am not] clarifying it, since it's the foundation on which the series continues. What we saw in HL1 was the very end of a long struggle between the Combine and the last of the Nihilanth's race ... The Nihilanth's "world" (if it could be said to have) was long since in the past as far as the Nihilanth was concerned; Xen was their final retreat, and they had their back to the wall, as it were, when the fissure appeared that let them spill into our dimension. Xen itself is sort of a dimensional transit bottleneck—an area of continual contention."
Subsequent to the invasion of Nihilanth's unnamed homeworld, Earth became the Combine's most recently known annexation. It was acquired directly after Earth's surrender at the end of the Seven Hour War. Following the standard Combine process, members of Earth's dominant species were modified to form a new arm of the Combine military. While these soldiers are primarily used as a permanent Combine garrison on Earth, in-game dialogue suggests that units of the transhuman arm of Overwatch are deployed across the Combine Empire. One line of dialogue supporting this theory contains a threat toward soldiers with "permanent off-world assignment" should they fail to complete their objectives.
Combine on Earth
Invasion of Earth
Following the Nihilanth's demise, the Combine were able to use the portal storm that was occurring at the time to continue on to Earth, where it launched a massive invasion that culminated in the Seven Hour War. Statements made by the G-Man suggest that the human race was unable to mount any effective resistance to the Combine armies, and that Earth's military forces were almost instantly overwhelmed. Former administrator of the Black Mesa Research Facility, Dr. Wallace Breen, negotiated a surrender on Earth's behalf and was therefore appointed the administrator of the Combine's forces on Earth - the Overwatch.
Five years prior to the return of Gordon Freeman and during construction of the Citadel, the Combine managed to locate the G-Man in an apartment complex located in the Quarantine Zone of City 17. The Combine haphazardly imprisoned him in a Vault, which they then left hovering over the zone and powered by energy harvested from Vortigaunts held captive in substations. The Combine made plans to relocate the Vault but were having delays for unknown reasons. After discovering the Vault and mistakenly believing the individual held inside to be Gordon Freeman, Eli and Alyx Vance set out to release him. Despite the Combine's efforts to stop her, Alyx manages bring down and infiltrate the Vault and open the icosahedral cell he was contained in, releasing the G-Man. The G-Man takes Alyx away with him into his realm and escapes.
Combine dominance on Earth
The Combine rules Earth from giant towers known as Citadels, the most important being in City 17 where Dr. Breen runs his administration. At the end of Half-Life 2, as Doctor Breen attempts to teleport off of Earth using the dark fusion reactor, a massive portal is created and, through it, several buildings that resemble Citadels are visible.
At the beginning of Half-Life 2, the Combine appear to have almost complete dominance of the remaining pockets of civilized Earth, and do not identify who Gordon Freeman is. However, Doctor Breen immediately informs a Combine Advisor of Freeman's appearance during a teleport accident, in which Gordon appeared in Administrator's office for a brief amount of time. Only a few handfuls of rebels, loosely organized in a ragtag resistance, are secretly opposing the Combine. Gordon Freeman's actions after his return eventually inspire a massive insurrection against the Combine in City 17, which results in a full-scale street war between the Citizens and the Combine forces.
The reasons behind the Combine's desire to control the Earth are unknown, other than the absorption of Earth's resources, the use of human teleport technology and the enslavement and exploitation of its dominant species - the humans - for either menial work or military service, considering that "permanent off-world assignment" is threatened to soldiers who fail in their attempts to kill or capture Gordon Freeman throughout the game.
The Combine, since gaining dominance on Earth, imposed a reproductive suppression field on the population. The suppression field's main effect is to bring the human birth rate down to zero by prohibiting certain protein chains important to embryonic development from forming, effectively ensuring that the humans currently alive will be the last generation. Dr. Breen addresses this issue to the people via a broadcast during the early levels of Half-Life 2 as the response to a letter written to him by a "concerned Citizen" and claims that the field will be deactivated once the humans prove they no longer need it. During the game, Resistance members occasionally make humorous remarks about the suppression field, such as "When this is all over, I'm gonna mate." Dr. Breen claims that humanity must overcome their instincts, including the instinct for reproduction, in preparation for immortality, which he claims is on the horizon thanks to the Combine. In the end, Combine propaganda may actually reflect the Combine's thoughts about human reproduction; they may indeed actually believe that they are there to help humans.
In Half-Life 2: Episode One, it has been revealed by Dr. Isaac Kleiner during his transmissions throughout the city that the suppression field has been disabled with the near destruction of the Citadel. He says that everyone who has escaped City 17 "should do their part" in the re-population of the human species "before the Combine attempt to restore their dominion." When Alyx Vance hears this, she remarks "Is Dr. Kleiner really telling everyone to...get busy?" Eli Vance would jokingly give Alyx and Gordon a similar suggestion, claiming to want grandchildren.
Water supply control
One of the Citizens at the City 17 Trainstation remarks: "Don't drink the water...they put something in it, t-to make you forget. I don't even remember how I got here." The idea of drugging Citizens through water supply is reinforced by the numerous soda machines stocked with "Dr. Breen's Private Reserve", which freely dispense water in a standard 12-ounce can.
Large video monitors are mounted on walls in public places such as town squares and railway stations around City 17. They are used by Wallace Breen to deliver propaganda announcements, known better as "Breencasts" and messages to the citizens, units of the Combine Overwatch and, later in the game, to address Gordon Freeman himself. The Breencasts are also broadcast in the homes of citizens via refurbished old televisions.
Memory replacement is a psycho-engineering process used by the Combine as part of the transhuman operation, brainwashing humans to turn them into Combine Soldiers and Elites.
The Combine heavily relies on imagery through logos, symbols, and propaganda posters to assure their influence on Earth and remind its residents of their presence. Combine units - humanoid and Synth - also bear insignias, logos, and other markings. Many Combine posters are also scattered around City 17 and its sector (including the Coast, Nova Prospekt, etc.). Most of the time they include two common Combine symbols, with variants in color and image backgrounds. The Combine imagery is quite abstract, and the intended messages can be very subtle.
There are many evident acts of genocide or at least random killing perpetrated by the Combine throughout Half-Life 2. In the Canals, a refugee base is raided, and a few members of the base are lined up against the wall and shot just as the player arrives. The town of Ravenholm was shelled with the intention of killing all the residents, and throughout the Highway 17 chapter, the player encounters numerous bodies in the houses of the coast including some that have been burnt by the Combine in a bonfire. Towards the end of the game, Eli Vance explains to Breen that he has witnessed "genocide and indescribable evil." The main purpose of Combine raids is to emphasize their dominance on Earth, and nip any resistance in the bud.
The absence of children
Shortly after their victory over humanity, the Combine established a suppression field that inhibited human procreation. As a result, no children are seen throughout Half-Life 2 and its episodes as the field had been in place for up to 20 years by that point.
Evidence such as the ghostly laughs and screams of children that can be heard in the playground outside one of the apartments in the first chapter, a crying couple that can be seen shortly thereafter, the fact that the player doesn't see any children in the most human-populated areas, remarks by Resistance members such as "I'm glad there's no kids around to see this," and the presence of discarded toys such as baby dolls can be seen during the game, being reminders of the past.
Depletion of Earth's resources
It is evident at several points in the game that the Combine are depleting Earth's natural resources. One of the most noticeable signs is that the ocean levels have dropped dramatically. This can be seen during the coastal chapters Highway 17 and Sandtraps, and the waterways of City 17 in Route Kanal and Water Hazard. The coastline is littered with boats and ships resting on what was previously the seabed, and there are various docks and piers that are no longer standing in water. At the beginning of Highway 17, Gordon arrives at a harbor which is now a considerable distance from the water's edge. Indications of the previous sea level can be judged by moss which had previously gathered on harbor structures at the edge of the water, but which now lie several feet higher than the ground level. It is mentioned in the book Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar that this massive, planet-wide water drainage is accomplished through the presence of a giant Combine "drain," actually a teleport, which sends the water to other Combine-enslaved planets.
More generally, the major part of the Earth's surface has become a Wasteland - a desolate, barren and hazardous region, inhabited with Xen wildlife, and littered with car wrecks, destroyed buildings and roads and other scenes of desolation; the only infrastructure that is maintained is the railway, which is used by the Combine to link their outposts together and to transport Combine troops, Stalkers and Citizens via the Wasteland Train. Additionally, City 17 itself is being devoured, as Combine Walls spread outward from the Citadel, consuming the city's buildings. Animals are rarely seen inside and outside of City 17, the only exception being birds, as they are present in large quantities.
Because of all of the above factors, even if Combine rule ends, extensive rebuilding, cleanup, and Xeno-extermination would have to take place to make the planet habitable again. Even then, it will not be the same as before the Combine invasion, as most of Earth's species have been driven to extinction by Xen lifeforms.
Despite the highly advanced technological capabilities of the Combine empire, the Combine seem to lack considerable skills in teleportation. Dr. Mossman explains that the Combine can only teleport from one universe to another, but not to different locations within the same universe. The teleportation method used by Dr. Kleiner and Eli Vance does this, which is why the Combine thirsts for their knowledge of teleportation. Dr. Mossman actually helps the Combine build a teleport with such capability in Nova Prospekt, but it is destroyed during Alyx and Gordon's escape.
The Combine's method of teleportation requires a large amount of power and huge machinery to perform, as seen at the end of Half-Life 2, where Dr. Breen attempts to escape from the Citadel using a Combine teleport. This device requires an entire reactor, called the Dark Fusion Reactor, to power it, while the teleports designed by humans require only small amounts of power and very little machinery in comparison. Moreover, unlike Xen teleports, which use Xen as a "dimensional slingshot," bouncing off of one universe to another, and from one location in a certain universe to another in the same universe, Combine teleports have to "tunnel" straight through dimensions to the target universe. The advantage of this method is the ability to jump to any universe at will.
The lacking teleportation ability of the Combine also explains its interest in locating the Aperture Science vessel, the Borealis.
Combine military technology
The Combine largely relies on the technological growth of others - machinery, resources, and representatives of the conquered species are assimilated for Combine use.
Humanoid Combine units
The primary military force of the Combine on Earth is the humanoid Combine Overwatch, referred to by Doctor Breen as the "Transhuman arm of the Combine Overwatch": humans who have been modified into "transhuman" (or "post-human", as referred to by Dr. Kleiner) cyborgs. They are the most frequently encountered foes throughout Half-Life 2. It is important to note that the Civil Protection foes are not hybrids and are, in fact, human.
- Civil Protection: The quasi-thoughtpolice that patrols the cities, monitor the public airways, and conduct randomized raids. Since little modification is involved, some Resistance members, such as Barney Calhoun, join Civil Protection in order to go under cover to investigate Combine activity and tip off would-be victims.
- Combine Soldier: The main military unit of the Combine on Earth, including the Shotgun Soldier and the Nova Prospekt Prison Guard. Soldiers patrol and enforce Combine law outside of the city boundaries and are also used within cities to combat insurrections that are beyond the control of Civil Protection, such as during the uprising.
- Combine Grunt: Referred to as "Echo One" in Combine terminology, Grunts are a low-ranking soldier class of the Combine Overwatch that are often seen in squads patrolling City 17 led by Combine Ordinals. Grunts wear predominantly white outfits with light armor and are equipped with SMGs and Grenades.
- Combine Ordinal: A high-ranking soldier class of the Overwatch that are usually seen heading squads of Combine Grunts alongside an individual Combine Charger or Combine Suppressor unit. Ordinals wear heavier armor than Grunts and carry a backpack with what appears to be a portable radio transceiver. Ordinals are equipped with a Pulse Rifle or an SMG as well as a Manhack that the Ordinal can deploy to harass targets that are out of their line of fire.
- Combine Charger: Referred to as "Wallhammer" in Combine terminology, Chargers are a powerful soldier class of the Overwatch that specialize in pushing through heavy resistance with their thick-plated armor and forearm-mounted shield generators. Chargers are the only known Combine units to be equipped with a Heavy Shotgun.
- Combine Suppressor: Referred to as "Antibody Protection Force" in Combine terminology, Suppressors are a heavy weapons soldier class that specialize in laying down suppressive fire with their Heavy Machine Guns as part of a squad.
- Combine Elite: The Elite soldiers of the Combine Overwatch. They have undergone extensive modifications and are seen protecting the Citadel or occasionally leading squads of regular soldiers.
- Combine Worker: A non-combatant Combine unit that participates in the maintenance or construction of Combine technology and other infrastructure.
- Combine Hazmat Worker: A non-combatant Combine unit that specializes in cleaning up areas that have been infested with alien flora and fauna from Xen, such as the Quarantine Zone of City 17.
Combine Synth technology
Synths are creatures that, over a course of imposed evolution and adaptation by the Combine, have come to fit a particular niche in the Combine military. Once organic creatures that lived on their own, they were enslaved and assimilated into the Combine to become the base of their military.
Various types of Synth have been brought over to Earth by the Combine. They were the primary forces used by the Combine during the Seven Hour War, as seen on the newspaper clippings on a cork board in Eli's lab.
- Crab Synth: Never actually fought, but seen in Half-Life 2 in the Citadel; the backbone of the Combine's subsequent armies.
- Dropship: Primary troop and weapon transport of the Combine.
- Gunship: Assault aircraft that usually fight in groups of two for protection.
- Mortar Synth: Never actually fought, but seen in Half-Life 2 in the Citadel; the backbone of the Combine's subsequent armies.
- Strider: Large ground assault weapon used by the Combine. Walks on three incredibly long legs, towering over the battlefield.
Combine organic combat technology
Technology utilizing both biological and mechanical means of suppression.
- Headcrab Shell: Contains Headcrabs, and is used primarily to flush out and destroy Resistance bases.
Combine inorganic combat technology
The Combine, since gaining dominance on Earth, has invented a large number of devices and machines, some of which are offensive, and others which are used in the day-to-day policing and surveillance of the general populace. A majority of the Combine's technology present on Earth is actually nothing more than human technology re-interpreted and manufactured by the Combine using its own materials. Helicopters, automated gun turrets and wheeled vehicles are all examples of human technology re-engineered by the Combine.
- APCs: The main mode of transport of Civil Protection, are a common sight within the cities. They are armed with a missile launcher and a mounted pulse rifle.
- Autogun: An automated, stationary Combine pulse turret.
- City Scanner: A flying security camera and scout that takes pictures of enemies and relays their location to its command center. Also "dive-bombs" its target if subject to enough incoming fire. Occasionally used as a spotter for Striders.
- Emplacement Gun: A mounted pulse gun.
- Flare Gun, Fragmentation Grenade, Submachine Gun and SPAS-12: Weapons used by Humanoid Combine units.
- Hopper: A programmable explosive mine that hops into the air and explodes when approached by anything it identifies as an enemy.
- Hunter-Chopper: Piloted by two members of the Overwatch, this vehicle is primarily used to track down solitary members of the Resistance, or small groups of Resistance soldiers. Heavily armed and armored, it features a pulse cannon and missile launcher, and can saturate an area with mines.
- Laser Tripmine: A tripmine blocking off vital areas.
- Manhack: Essentially a flying, autonomous circular saw.
- Rollermine: A ball-shaped 'mine' with a rudimentary targeting system that, once activated, follows anything it identifies as a threat and subjects it to electric shocks.
Combine non-military technology
The Combine uses a variety of devices which purpose isn't directly, or at all, military; they rather assists in overseeing Citizens or are used in controlling other machinery.
- Battery: A portable power source for several Combine devices, most notably the City Scanner.
- Binoculars: Telescope-like devices used to observe distant objects.
- Breencast: A regular propaganda broadcast made by Dr. Wallace Breen.
- Camera: A ceiling-mounted security camera.
- Charger: A wall-mounted generic power source.
- Citadel Core: A huge radioactive source of energy, located within the Citadel.
- Confiscation Field: A device quipped with four weapon strippers that confiscate and destroy unregistered weapons.
- Dr. Breen's Private Reserve: The brand of a drink manufactured by the Combine.
- Elevator: An elevator used by the Combine mostly in the Citadel.
- Emitter: A device used as an indicator to any event, emitting a chosen light or sound.
- Energy Ball: A a concentrated sphere of Dark Energy plasma.
- Emergency flare: A light provider.
- Heavy Door: A door blocking access to important areas.
- Interface: A command panel used to control nearly all aspects of Combine technology.
- Light: A portable light source used to illuminate dark areas.
- Lock: A door lock used in addition to a door handle that mechanically prevents the door from being opened.
- Medkit: A healing item.
- Memory replacement: A psycho-engineering device, used for transforming humans into Overwatch units.
- Monitor: A device used to view locations watched by one or several cameras.
- Overwatch Voice: An A.I. communication system.
- Power Generator: A Dark Energy-powered generator mainly found within the Citadel.
- Powered bridge: A type of force field platform used inside the Citadel acting as a means of reaching otherwise inaccessible areas.
- Prisoner Pod: A device used to contain prisoners and Stalkers.
- Razor Train: A train, custom-built to work on the existing human rail networks. It transports cargo, human prisoners, Combine Soldiers and Stalkers.
- Restrictor: a tall, monolithic structure used to deter Antlions.
- Security Door: A type of door used to block the three original Overwatch Nexus entrances.
- Combine Smart Barrier: A large mechanized wall that uses powerful drive systems in tandem with heavy metal blocks to slowly expand outward and destroy existing structures in the way.
- Supply Crate: A crate containing health, ammunition, and energy equipment.
- Suppression field: A field imposed which prevents human procreation.
- Television: A human device used to broadcast Breencasts.
- Watchtower: A platform usually placed on the sides of defensive structures.
Static Combine property
A common trait of Combine structural engineering seems to be making most of their creations resemble imposing, fairly featureless monolithic constructs, save for the odd irregular patterns that dot their surface. On the other hand, some seem to be unnecessarily complex, featuring inefficient use of open space, while others exhibit properties that defy conventional physics. The Combine also reuses existing buildings, customizing them to meet its needs.
- The Citadel: The headquarters from which the Combine governed the Earth.
- Barricade: A barrier used to regulate or completely deny access to certain areas.
- Bunker: A building used as outlying protection on Combine bases.
- Nova Prospekt: A facility to process and detain Citizens who were determined to be a threat.
- Overwatch Nexus: The center of Overwatch forces and operations within the City 17.
Behind the scenes
The theme and overall look of Combine technology went through a few known developments, although it should be noted that these do not represent static versions - instead, there was much overlap as a direct result of constant design iteration (a consequence of Half-Life 2's messy development). In early concept art, Combine technology was a mix of surreal/alien (occasionally organic) designs, as well as brutalist concrete and industrial steel. It is unknown whether these made it past the page, but in the maps that we have (perhaps as a result of the limitations of Hammer brushes), the latter theme took focus as the former seemingly fell to the wayside. Surrealism played a smaller part, a good example being the white marble tile of early Citadel interiors.
However, as the city environment began moving away from dull and darker colours - and slowly towards pastel Eastern European architecture - Combine technology gradually took on more and more of the intense metallic blue tones used by the Combine in the final games.
- Many Combine units were cut for a multitude of reasons, including general redundancy, later artistic shifts or unsatisfying gameplay (as the designers wanted to focus on more promising enemies). Some were recycled into other units seen in the final version. These cut enemies include the Combine Assassin, the Alien Assassin, the Conscripts, the Cremator, the Combine Guard, Combine Synth Elite Soldier, the Alien Combine Soldier, and the Combine Super Soldier.
- In early drafts of Half-Life 2's story, the Combine was portrayed as a far more unsubtly oppressive force, having set up a huge industrial facility referred to as the Air Exchange, which had made the Earth's atmosphere toxic and unbreathable for humans, forcing them to don hazmat-like rubber suits and gas masks.
The name "Combine" is used in the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey, referring to the partly imaginary powerful force that controls everything. The name implies the mechanistic way in which the Combine manipulate and process individuals.
List of appearances
- Half-Life (Indirect mention only)
- Half-Life 2 (First appearance)
- Half-Life 2: Episode One
- Portal (Indirect mention only)
- Half-Life 2: Episode Two
- Half-Life: Alyx
- Half-Life 2: Deathmatch (Non-canonical appearance)
- Half-Life 2: Lost Coast (Non-canonical appearance)
- Source Particle Benchmark (Game files only) (Non-canonical appearance)
- Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar
- Danika Wright's resume
- Marc Laidlaw Vault on the ValveTime Forums
- PC Zone magazine, September 2005.
- Marc Laidlaw on the Xen/Combine relation
- Half-Life 2 - as stated by the Overwatch Voice
- Eli at Black Mesa East: He ended the Seven Hours War by managing Earth's surrender. The Combine rewarded him with power.
- Kleiner's speech during Episode One
- How Valve Opened Up Portal 2 - Interview (Page 3) on Eurogamer
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