Rail transport such as trains, trams, monorails, railway tracks and train stations are recurring themes throughout the Half-Life series. At numerous points in every one of the games (excluding Portal), the player encounters one or more moving or stationary locomotives, lone carriages, or full-length coupled trains. There are also several instances where the player must cross or follow railway tracks, either on foot, non-rail vehicle, riding in or on the train itself, or by use of an electric monorail, the latter a prominent feature in the original Half-Life game.
Types of rail vehicles
Black Mesa uses two main types of monorail. One is provided for the security and convenience of the Black Mesa personnel, and rides along the Black Mesa Transit System. The second is a freight monorail used in the Sector E Materials Transport.
Regular trains are used to bring supplies to the Black Mesa Research Facility using the New Mexico Railroad Line. This is managed in Black Mesa's Freight Yard predominantly featuring freight trains.
Half-Life 2 and its episodes
Three trainstations are featured in Half-Life 2 and its episodes: the City 17 Trainstation and the Depot in Half-Life 2 and the Technical Trainstation in Episode One, although the Citadel also features a train depot.
The Combine heavily use the existing railway. They mostly use it for troop and Stalker transport in Combine-designed Razor Trains. Also, old existing human trains are recycled for Citizen transportation among the Combine-ruled cities, the Combine recycling human technology for their needs. This is in that kind of train Gordon Freeman wakes up at the start of Half-Life 2. The train in which the player arrives in City 17 is pulled by a railcar based on the DR1 DMU railcar produced in Riga, Latvia. Coupled with units from a different train, it is used by the Combine like a locomotive. The DR1 and its modifications (DR1P, DR1A, etc.) are common DMU trains in post-Soviet countries (Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, etc.). The freight train locomotive seen in Episode Two seems to be based on the Russian TEM2 diesel-electric freight locomotive.
Train tracks can be found in Ravenholm, and a track-mounted Zombie defense is present in a small mining section between the town and Shorepoint. The Victory Mine complex also features an old mining network where rusty carts can be found.
Railways as a literary device
The train ride at the start of Half-Life as well as the player's path through the City 17 Trainstation at the start of Half-Life 2 were meant to reveal the story setting to the player. In Half-Life, the story would unfold on a fixed rail, while in Half-Life 2, it would unfold at the player's own speed, and come about through interaction with the characters naturally found in that setting.
Railways, along with roads, rivers, and other paths, have long been used in literature and visual arts as a device representing a journey taking place, such as the railway in the film Stand By Me, or the River Congo in Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness.
Valve might have not intended this consciously when developing the environments with which the characters interact, but the effect of the motif's appearance throughout the series is a constant symbol and reminder of the long and often difficult journey each character is making as the games progress. The implications of these journeys often include an "inner journey" that each character undertakes parallel to the physical one, emerging at the end having gained something metaphysical, like a greater sense of self, a broader understanding of the world, or inner and outer strength.
In the Half-Life series, Gordon Freeman, because of the circumstances he finds himself in, is forced to be brave and strong, and endure tasks he was not prepared to undertake. In this way, he follows a "path" throughout his experiences, and is a stronger person for it.
In addition, trains could symbolize the linearity of the series, both in gameplay and in plot, and the theme of free will (or lack thereof). It is heavily implied by the G-Man, throughout the series, that Gordon's free will and choice is but an illusion. The constant appearance of trains throughout the series reflect this, as trains move in one direction along a set track; in a way, their path is already determined, much like Gordon's journey was determined and orchestrated by the G-Man without Gordon's say in the matter.
Behind the scenes
The railway theme was decided to be a major theme along the Coast very early in the development of Half-Life 2, although it was initially even more present. At some point, Gordon was to ride along the coast on a train; the vignette Alyx has his train crashing near the Air Exchange, meeting Alyx and Skitch there and being attacked by the Combine. While Gordon rides the Coast with the Buggy and on foot, the idea was kept for Alyx who arrived at the Depot by train.
City 17 was originally to feature trams; one tram can be found in the E3 map
e3_c17_02. Parts of that map were recycled in the Half-Life 2 map
d3_c17_13, the last map of the chapter "Follow Freeman!", where tracks and a shelter can still be seen. Furthermore, an early test map,
prefab_streets_blvd, features a boulevard with trams going in both directions. Moreover, an elevated railway for the Razor Train bringing Citizens into City 17 (a normal terrestrial train in the final version) was to cross the Combine Factories.
Inside the early City 17 Trainstation (possibly based on the stenographer's chasm).
Bridge along the coast (based on the WC map pack map
A ravaged City 17 street, close to the Citadel wall, recycled from the map from the previous image.
Combine Forcefield Generators along the Canals railway.
DR1 DMU railcars in the Technical Trainstation.
The first entrance to the Victory Mine.
DR1 DMU engine parked at Fairview Junction.
Unused EMD GP60 freight locomotive, originally from Counter-Strike: Source.
Ditto, originally from Counter-Strike: Source.
List of appearances
- Half-Life: Opposing Force
- Half-Life: Blue Shift
- Half-Life: Decay
- Half-Life 2
- Half-Life 2: Episode One
- Half-Life 2: Episode Two
- Half-Life: Day One (First appearance)
- Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar
- Half-Life 2: Deathmatch (Non-canonical appearance)
- Source Particle Benchmark (Game files only) (Non-canonical appearance)
- "Trains In Games - Half Life 2" on TrainInGames.com