Girl Talk: Alyx Vance

by Jennifer Culp

As I sat down to Thanksgiving dinner last week, I had a number of things to be grateful for — family, food, shelter, the usual; the persistence of my friend Bethany, who finally convinced me to play Half-Life 2; and Alyx Vance. Guys, I’ve got it bad.

In the eight years I’ve somehow managed to move through life without personally experiencing the magic that is Half-Life 2, I thought I understood the widespread Alyx attraction. She’s gorgeous! She’s got a great voice. She’s talented and athletic and intelligent. She’s funny! She’s one of the few women of color I know of to feature prominently in a video game. She wears clothes. I knew these thing about her, but I didn’t know the half of it.

Alyx is one of the first friendly faces you encounter in the game (after Barney, but he’s kind of a dope. No offense, Barney!). Where other allies offer instruction, a health pack, and a lot of encouragement to “get going,” Alyx saves your ass. Like it’s no thang. ‘What up, dude who vanished off the face of the earth following the Black Mesa incident when I was a kid. Nice to meet you!’ Her initial response to the Free Man’s presence stands in sharp contrast to most people you come across, particularly the sycophantic Judith Mossman, and she just continues to get more incredible from there.

The woman just. doesn’t. get. flustered (except when her dad embarrasses her, and damn, is that endearing). Upon meeting up with her in Black Mesa East, you learn that Alyx has a dog. And what a Dog it is! Who has a pet that can hurl a 16-passenger van into a crowd of aggressive enemies? Alyx Vance, that’s who. And she added all his spare parts herself! Of course Alyx is the character to introduce you to the gravity gun. Dream first date, right there.

The combination of Half-Life 2’s first-person view and lack of cutscenes with Alyx’s matter-of-fact attitude toward your accomplishments contributes significantly to her appeal. In HL2, you never see Gordon Freeman. You never hear from him. You are him. Or he is you! And you are a badass. You’re already a hero to nearly everyone you meet based on your doings during the course of the Black Mesa incident (which I, personally, did not do, but was more than happy to take credit for). Black Mesa incident or no, you run through HL2 picking random weapons up off the ground and using them to blow away intimidating enemies with aplomb! You jump into experimental vehicles and speed off like you’re playing a casual game of Mario Kart! You continually triumph over increasingly impossible situations, and most people you run across in-game regard you as some sort of Messiah figure. As you progress through the game, you blow through levels accomplishing outlandish feats of derring-do, music blasting, slaying enemies on all sides … or you limp out of the end of a dark, hard-won fight against terrifying zombies. Either way, your adrenaline is pumping, you are flush with the thrill of victory, and then you run into Alyx, and … wait, what?!

Alyx, how the hell did you get here? Alyx, you’re … just wearing your usual old jeans outfit! I wore an HEV suit and used God-knows-how-many health packs to survive this chapter, and you’re all, “Oh hey, Gordon; I thought I’d find you here.”

How does she DO that?! It’s ridiculously attractive. She just SMOTE me with capability. I am smitten.

Alyx can hack into computer systems you can’t touch. Alyx can reprogram turrets. Alyx has a zappy multi-purpose tool that can bypass security systems. Alyx jumps over rails instead of climbing stairs. After a ridiculous firefight in which you guard her back while she hacks a gate, does Alyx need a break? Does she need you to figure out how to get to the next area (*ahem,* Barney). NO, Alyx does not! Alyx just scales some damn pipes and climbs up the side of the building to tell you where you need to go. Please do tell me more, Alyx. Whenever she tells you to be careful upon parting, I swoon a little bit inside.

Alyx loves her dad. Alyx loves her Dog. Alyx fights for the Resistance, and is not about to be swayed by any bullshit excuses about allying with the Combine for the good of the human race. But Alyx is also generous! She can forgive, if need be for the sake of survival.

I’ve often compared video game crushes on non-protagonist characters to a motivational dangling carrot, but I should probably switch that to, I don’t know, some kind of delicious candy on a string. Seeing your game crush intermittently isn’t the only thing that keeps you playing through tough sections of a game, but it’s a helluva lot of fun to spend a minute or two with him between hard-fought battles. Or in this case, her. Alyx’s appearances functioned very handily in the delightful-reward-between-killing-dudes regard, in my experience. I was PSYCHED to see her each time I got a chance. And the one time I fell back too far in Nova Prospekt and let her die in combat … well, we won’t talk about that.

Though I already knew better, I was so ready to make out with the girl at game’s end. And dudes, did I feel CHEATED when that kiss-blocking G-Man showed up to whisk me away to whatever inter-dimensional space Gordon hangs out in between games! Fortunately for me, I still have yet to play Episodes 1 and 2. Barring tragic plot developments, I’m going to enjoy this particular crush as long as Valve will let me. And! Since only the G-Man knows when Half-Life 3 might become a reality, that could be a very long — time — indeed.

Previously: Garcia Hotspur.

Jennifer Culp is also fond of Father Grigori, and would love to have a Lamarr of her very own.