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- "Attention ground units. Anticitizen reported in this community. Code: lock, cauterize, stabilize."
- ― Overwatch Voice[src]
The Overwatch Voice often concretizes itself in the form of a broadcaster. Using a female voice, it speaks to Overwatch units via their radios and to occupants of Combine-controlled areas as a local public address system, such as in City 17, Nova Prospekt and the interiors of the Citadel. It talks in a distinctive flat, clinical tone, and its speech is disjointed in a fashion similar to telephone banking systems. It euphemistically uses a type of medically-inspired Newspeak to describe citizen disobedience, resistance activity as well as coercive and violent Combine tactics in the context of a bacterial infection and treatment.
Its role, while easily negligible by the player, offers significant insight into the inner workings of the Combine, as its broadcasts can accurately reflect on the game's plot when related to the actual events.
The Overwatch Voice has carte blanche over the mobilization and command of Combine military and police forces, having the ability to address different orders to different individuals at different locations simultaneously. Depending on the type of troops it is coordinating, it utilizes distinct code and command systems to effectively oversee the operations of active squads.
When commanding Protection Teams, the Overwatch uses a system of codes which is inspired by legal and judicial terms as well as existing American police codes. It regularly checks the "Socio-Stability" status with patrolling officers and updates them with latest information in their helmet displays, for example transmitting a likeness of Anticitizen One to the units pursuing him. Teams in operation often receive tactical advice from the Overwatch that indicates target location, mission objective or the penalty to be given. Such advice is often followed by a set of three obscure medical or judicial code words, possibly the instruction regarding actions to be taken next. When an officer is down, it will broadcast his last known location to all squads nearby and order them to investigate the situation. In an event of city-wide insurrection, the Overwatch apparently has control over the whole Metropolice force of cities, and has the authority to declare an "Autonomous Judgement" or a "Judgement Waiver" which are instances when Civil Protection officers can sentence and execute suspects discretionarily.
Because Metrocops are still unaltered human beings, they retained their emotions and lusts. The Overwatch took this as a means to control their behavior, using things like "rank points" and "reproduction credits" as rewards for mission accomplishment, granting them the access to better living conditions, family entirety and "non-mechanical reproduction simulation". Furthermore, it encourages officers to give up their memories for more privileges, i.e. to become modified Transhuman soldiers. Conversely, when a Protection Team member fails to achieve his given task, he will be threatened with deducted credits or, in more serious cases, "team recall and recycle", which may refer to death or transformation into Stalkers. When a fight is over, the Overwatch will request the team leader to report a "sterilized body count ratio" for reward or reinforcement, showing little care for the lives of officers. This is further evidenced by it calling them "corporal social-protection units" like dispensable materials. Sometimes it can be heard allowing Metrocops working on long shifts to administer "anti-fatigue rations".
The Overwatch Voice in radios is only audible to other people in the helmets of Civil Protection officers, most likely because of its function as a "judge" and the Metrocops as the "jury", delivering sentences and convictions via the helmet radios to anti-civil individuals. For instance, "You are charged with terminal violations 148, 243, 245, verdict code is immediate amputation" means the suspect is accused of resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer and attacking with a deadly weapon, and he/she will be executed on the point.
The Overwatch Voice is inaudible to others in the radios of Stabilization Team soldiers, however its presence is confirmed by many of the soldiers' conversations. Deployed squads often report their current location, casualty status and target confirmations to the Overwatch, while sometimes the Overwatch only transmit messages to certain units, likely the squad commander, and have the orders relayed by him to the other members. When troops request reinforcements to a designated location, it will actively acknowledge and describe the details of the impending augmentation. As shown in the later chapters of Half-Life 2, the Overwatch is able to somehow communicate with Airwatch Synth units like Gunships and Dropships and can command them to reach their given destinations.
The Overwatch sometimes threatens soldiers to go on "permanent off-world reassignments" if they terminated their missions prematurely. It also orders them to "Sacrifice, Coagulate, Clamp" when an outbreak is becoming unstoppable, likely commanding them to pile onto the enemy without consideration of their own lives.
In Combine facilities like Nova Prospekt, the Depot and the Citadel, the Overwatch Voice is also a common presence. While in the former two places it mainly acts as a security broadcast, used in tandem with the surveillance systems to indicate the location of possible breaches, in the latter it is observed to function primarily as a timer for the Citadel teleport, counting down to Breen's teleportation to the Combine Overworld.
In cities, the Overwatch's primary job is to address the civic populace through ubiquitous broadcasting systems. These announcements can include orders for apartment residents to assemble at designated positions to receive checks, assignments for rewards or punishments for compliance or insubordination, or simply reminding the citizens to report anti-civil activities of fellow humans with the slogan "Inaction is Conspiracy". Similar to soldiers, residents can be permanently relocated off-world as punishment. Its constant propaganda induces distrust and fear between citizens, discouraging them from rebelling against the Combine's rule.
Apart from addressing citizens as a whole, the Overwatch also specifically speaks to individual escapees during his/her course of evasion. With the criminal's transgressions and offends accumulating, the Overwatch will accordingly sentence several accusations. When the anticitizen's violations reached a certain threshold, his/her "implicit citizenship" will be revoked, and the individual will be referred to as "malignant" from then on, often meaning that the person will be prosecuted and sought after by Overwatch troops everywhere. The Overwatch Voice calling criminals "malignants" and noting their invasion as "reinfections" showcases the Combine's general disregard and contempt for human lives, therefore making the engaging soldiers exterminate them without sympathy as fellow beings.
List of appearances
Half-Life 2 and its episodes
In Half-Life 2, the Overwatch Voice is widely encountered during Gordon Freeman's journey to rebel the Combine. It is first heard in City 17 when it dispatches Metrocops at the Trainstation Plaza to confirm and investigate a "miscount" which refers to Freeman himself. Later on when Freeman is evading pursuing enemies in the Canals, it constantly tracks on his criminal violations and orders the Metropolice forces to eliminate him, and escalates on the city's security mobilization status as Freeman's acts become more violent. It is again heard in the prison blocks in Nova Prospekt when Freeman and Alyx Vance's incursion is beginning to get out of control, and is last heard in the teleportation chamber of the Citadel, when it counts down to Breen's teleport. It didn't appear again when the teleporter failed and the Citadel's top exploded.
In Episode One, the tone of the Overwatch Voice changes drastically. Inside the Citadel, her voice is slowed down, looping and showing general confusion and detachment; she issues long strings of nonsensical directives that are clearly being ignored by the soldiers still present which adds to the feeling that the Citadel's functions are failing. All of her statements, such as "Warning. Bypass detected" and "Deploy, Diagnose. Deploy, Diagnose. Resonant singularity. Resonant singularity." are reused from City 17 broadcasts, some Citadel broadcasts, and some are possibly from Nova Prospekt. However, when Freeman goes through a confiscation field beyond a red evacuation room which supercharges his gravity gun, she does manage to declare an alert, the same as when Gordon falls from a pod into a similar field during Half-Life 2: "Security alert, unregistered weapons detected; confiscation field engaged. Security alert, counter-resonance singularity device detected. Confiscation field failure, Deploy, diagnose, dissect." The nonsensical directions continue after this event though. Later on in the street battles , the Overwatch dispatch for Civil Protection units remains the same as in Half-Life 2 which could mean that the Civil Protection has a separate system. The Overwatch Voice's citywide broadcasts are only encountered during the chapter Urban Flight while the player is in the area outside the hospital. It is still repeating its distant unintelligible messages which seem to be coming faintly from the general direction of the Citadel itself.
In Episode Two, the Overwatch Voice is first heard during the chapter To The White Forest, specifically right after Alyx's video conference with her father and Arne Magnusson is disrupted and the signal drops out. Its voice underwent a dramatic change which seems much colder and more imposing, speaking in short, fragmented sentences during the few times it is heard, e.g. "Anticitizen One engaged. Vance subprime engaged. Expunge. Mandate removal of active signature imprint. Cauterize and expunge." This behavior could be attributed to the destruction of the local Citadel and the Advisors taking direct control of the Combine forces after Dr. Breen's possible death. The Advisors are simply much less subtle in their intentions and the Overwatch reflects this in its speech. In Episode Two, its lines are also shown in the subtitles which are not displayed in previous games.
In Alyx, the Overwatch Voice is heard giving similar commands as heard in Half-Life 2. Due to the game taking place five years before the events of Half-Life 2, the tone and style of speech of the Overwatch Voice is again drastically different from the previous iterations. Its broadcasts are much more clearly heard, and its voice noticeably shows more cadence and emotions.
Throughout the game, the Overwatch can frequently be heard addressing warnings to citizens or directing troops. Its first appearance is in the opening chapter, when she initiates a massive Combine manhunt to quell an "invasive operation of anti-civil origin", which ended with the capture of Eli Vance. Later on in Alyx's quest through the Quarantine Zone , she is heard again from time to time, either acknowledging the situation or commanding Combine squads. She is last heard after the fall of the Vault, requesting soldiers to "Shield, Key, Migrate" seemingly in an effort to defend or move the Vault's occupant. Although cannot be heard by the player, it is inferable from the Combine units' dialogue that the Overwatch Voice still communicates with them inside their radios, and is also able to regularly transmit "Cognitive Suppression Biodats" to actively inhibit the units' minds.
Behind the scenes
The Overwatch's voice and tone are reminiscent of Fahrenheit 451, where a PA announcement uses almost the same style of speech. Parallels can also be drawn with the telescreen news announcer in the 1984 film version of Nineteen Eighty-Four, who serves a similar role and is somewhat similar to the Overwatch Voice in terms of voice. It also shares similarities with the MFP dispatcher from the film Mad Max.
List of appearances
- Half-Life 2: Episode Two subtitles
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