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Nightmare Fuel / Half-Life

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Valve Software's attempt at an FPS narrative, namely replacing the generic A Space Marine Is You (battling for the fate of the universe, natch) with a Badass Bookworm who seemed to be stuck in the middle of a bad situation, made players much more sensitive to the atmosphere than before. And with each release, Valve has been making atmosphere an increasingly bigger part of the experience.



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  • All headcrabs count as a form of unleaded Paranoia Fuel, due to their tendency to show up absolutely anywhere. Hiding in alleyways, skulking in storerooms, lurking in air vents, clinging to the underside of your chair as you surf the Internet...
    • This is prevalent enough that it's actually lampshaded in Half-Life 2's second chapter; when Barney turns the lights on in the HEV Suit room, he's immediately ambushed by Lamarr, Dr. Kleiner's pet headcrab.
  • Barnacles... You suddenly find yourself being lifted into the air and looking up to see that red, bloody maw. Just seeing their "tongues" hanging around is Paranoia Fuel. It becomes Nightmare Retardant if you're feeling sadistic by feeding the said monstrosity with a poor and defenseless scientist.
    • One of the things that Valve is well aware of and comments on in their dev commentaries and interviews is "Gamers don't look up." One had to wonder how many Valve fans have been broken of that particular quirk.
    • There's the scene in Half-Life 1 where the silhouette of a scientist in a darkened room gets dragged up by the neck and then gibbed with a wet crunching noise. You will not hear the sound of a dog panting the same way since.
  • G-Man. There is just something unsettling about him... Basically, he looks and sounds like a creature doing an unconvincing job at pretending to be human.
    • It's the pauses. "Rise and... shine, Mr. Freeman. Rise... and-shine." *shiver*
    • What's really interesting is how G-Man's pauses make it sound like he's stuttering sometimes... but it's never a scared stutter. G-Man is never scared, and is always in control. The stutter further shows how inhuman he is.
    • G-Man's ability to suspend Freeman's freedom adds to his eerieness. He can pull you out of the world and hide you away in pitch darkness too. It wasn't until the Vortigaunts intervened to oppose him that his grip on you was restricted; however, G-Man was/is able to whisk you away if the Vorts are heavily occupied.
    • Also, in the first game and its expansions, if you use noclip to reach the areas he appears in and try to attack him, not only does he not respond, but if you hit him with the crowbar he produces a metallic sound effect in response. Seriously, is he a freaking T-800 or something?

  • Even before the resonance cascade, you find yourself alone in the test chamber with the anti-mass spectrometer. There's something...unsettling about it's persistent humming, made more so by the fact you're never told exactly what it's supposed to do. Obviously, what happens well...wasn't supposed to happen, but really, what else could you expect from such an enigmatic contraption?
  • Imagine yourself in Gordon's shoes, or even that of a normal Black Mesa employee, as you're hunted down by horrific alien monstrosities or by merciless Marines. It makes the game a little more unsettling when you think about that.
  • After the Resonance Cascade, you wander for a bit, find a dying guard and a zombie. You naturally take the guard's gun and proceed. Avid fans of the game will remember this, but upon progressing to the next room and making a few right turns, you'll see a scientist in a vent screaming and being dragged into a vent. Then gibs. However, the noises proceeding the gibs are that of a headcrab. These tiny creatures couldn't rip a person apart, must be an oversight, you may think. But, headcrabs turn people into zombies. Zombies have their chests ripped open. No one really knows how that happens—do the bodies decompose? Do the victims rip themselves open under the parasite's control? It's all speculation. All that's known is that it happens ultimately when a headcrab catches your head. Well, it's clear the headcrab that was definitely in that vent couldn't gib the scientist himself, so you're left to wonder...what is happening in there?
    • Not just alive, but aware. Someone extracted the sounds the zombies made..."Oh god, help me.."
    • If you're playing with the original, non-HD models, take a closer look at the zombies when you get the chance, particularly at the headcrab over their head. The former human's skull is visible through the headcrab's body. And what's even more grotesque? The Gonome, Opposing Force's showcase of what the next stage of zombification looks like, have their skulls even more deformed.
    • Early on in "Unforseen Consequences" you can find a room where the lights have gone out apart from dim red emergency lighting, and over in the corner there's a headcrab zombie seated in a chair in front of a strobing black-and-white monitor, just sitting there spasming violently as the light flickers over it. It doesn't even react if you come up behind it and beat it to death with the crowbar. It's just a small, easily-missable scene, but it's like something out of Jacob's Ladder or Silent Hill.
  • There's also a section where you ride a slow-moving platform to one of the lower levels. As the platform descends, headcrabs begin to leap towards you en masse. Granted, this might be Nightmare Retardant for some given that several of them bounce off the platform out of reach. However, they can hit you if you aren't careful, and even the ones that miss can come too close for comfort. There's also their persistent screeching accompanying you all the way down. It's, quite frankly, nerve-racking.
  • Don't forget about the Ichthyosaurs from the first game. These underwater dinosaurs would swim at rapid speeds towards you. Not to mention that, in a particularly annoying bit of realism, most of your guns don't work when submerged.
    • It depends on the power of the computer you're running it on, but they seem to move... jerkily and there is a glitch where you can make them jump out of the water... and they still chase you. Sleep tight.
  • The underwater sections of Half-Life; low visibility, the potential yield of the average Xen monstrosity lurking in it...
  • Nihilanth. The fact that he's basically a humongous floating fetus with a head four times the size of his body, plus his scream of "FREEEEEEEEEEEMAAAAAAAAAAAN!" when you finally reach him...
    • Then there's all that creepy shit he says to you telepathically throughout the entire time you're on Xen (can be seen here).
  • Its level design isn't looked on kindly, but, good lord, Xen. Once you're through that teleporter, there's no going home - and you're in an incredibly hostile alien world that's a prime source of Nightmare Fuel - it consists of small islands suspended in a great void of complete emptiness. The Alien Sky doesn't help. And inside, it became even more freaky, with Alien Geometries. The level design may not have been great for gameplay, but it does have atmosphere.
    • The trees. Good God, the TREES.
    • There's also that ambient sound in the background going on in the alien Grunt factory and just before meeting the Nihilanth. It sounds like a mixture of alien growls and high-pitched screams. Topping that off is where you can hear it the clearest: In a red-violet-lit room at the top of the factory, with a spiraling path over one bottomless pit, and dead scientist with their ammo remain next to the stored grunts. Is that Hell enough for you?
  • That one final red teleporter just before meeting the Nihilanth is pretty damn scary as well. It appears in the one area of Xen where the skybox is entirely black, it has what look like alien torches around it, and you can hear a reprise of the people you met back in Sector C talking to you, as if Gordon's having a flashback of the incident just before going in.
    • However, you could treat it as Nightmare Retardant if you pretend it's just the cover to a metal album.
    • It becomes Nightmare Fuel again, though, when you hear the line "Take him out of there. Shut down the equipment and someone get him out." You never hear that once in the game until you get near the portal, bringing into question just what the hell is going on.
  • Blast Pit. You hear the banging noise before you get to see what's causing it, and that echoing metallic sound is with you throughout the whole level. And how about those moans? Or the "death sound" that comes after you successfully ignite the rocket engine.
  • The section with all the conveyor belts and large vats of questionable substances. Not very scary... until you notice that there are other things besides you being flung onto the conveyor belts. They're body parts.
  • The Gargantua is pretty damn scary; it's huge, has a glowing red eye, is surprisingly fast, and will incinerate you on first contact. While the aged graphics make it less horrifying, its sheer presence makes the player want to rethink their path. Not to mention when they're chasing you. Who here didn't look back when in the garage in Surface Tension, when they knew there was a huge, heavily armored and quick monster chasing them...?
  • On A Rail. Throughout the level, you occasionally hear distant sounds that are best described as the screams of the damned. The music doesn't help either, giving the level an undertone that suggests that all of your allies have already been rounded up and murdered, their killers (both Xen and the HECU) know you have eluded capture and death, and they are hunting for you.
  • "They're waiting for you Gordon... In the Test Chamber..."
  • Imagine this: You're a scientist working at Black Mesa, during which the resonance cascade happens during your shift and you're stuck in an isolated area with a small team of scientists. You wait for the military to arrive, but they don't come for a long time. Then, the door opens, and a man in an armored suit is standing in the doorway. Your hopes soar, thinking that you might make it out and live to see another day... before the man turns his gun on your fellow scientists and kills everyone without hesitation. But it wasn't a military soldier that killed you, it was Gordon Freeman. explanation 
  • As if the normal Valve Vanity Plate of a man with a valve in his eye or the back of his head wasn't creepy enough, the game was originally going to use a vanity plate of a man in a factory, willingly inserting a valve into the side of his head. Said logo animation was done entirely in the GoldSrc engine, as a way of testing the engine's capabilities, and its files can still be found within the game.
  • There is a variable that dictates if a human is gibbed, there's a 5% chance their skull will fly directly at your face. If Gordon wasn't already traumatized by the incident itself and the grotesque maiming of his co-workers, getting hit in the face with the skull of a man he potentially just blew up in self defense oughta do it.

  • Black Mesa, the Fan Remake of the original Half-Life, has its own page.
  • Cry of Fear and its precursor Afraid of Monsters, standalone horror modifications of the original Half-Life, are riddled with this in every corner you'll encounter.
  • The Hidden, a Half-Life multiplayer mod. All but one of the players are part of a SWAT-ish team hunting down an knife-wielding escaped fugitive. Unfortunately, some questionable experiments have given Subject 617 superhuman speed, strength, and senses, along with the ability to cling to walls, leap down hallways, see people's auras through solid matter, and feed on human flesh. Oh, and he's invisible. There's nothing like wandering alone through a derelict apartment building at night, rounding a corner to find the rest of your squad hanging from the ceiling like slaughtered cattle, before a voice directly behind you hisses "Turn around..." Whoever's playing as The Hidden is given in-game voice taunts purely to scare the beejesus out of the opposing team, to the extent that some players will snap and start firing wildly at the slightest hint of noise or movement...or else crawl into a corner and hide.
  • Half-Life: Echoes is a rather well made fan mod of the original game that takes the GoldSrc engine to it's absolute limit and focuses on the G-Man with the UI text playing out as if it was an observation by him or whoever his employers are.
    • There's a certain part where you'll encounter a scientist spazzing out, screaming "Get it off me! Get it off, GET IT OFF!" before being shredded by a horde of Snarks coming out of his body in a gruesome detail just like if it was in Alien.
    • The end of the game is rather chilling. After a section of the facility collapses with Candidate #12 crawling through a portal, he arrives at dormitory building well away from the main facility that shows the G-Man stopping the Kingpin from abducting Alyx before saving her himself. The sound of several Castle Castings air raid sirens going off along with Alyx's crying is rather chilling the first time as it's very obvious what happens next.
  • The Citizen Returns features a part where you have to traverse through an abandoned casino. The very first hint that the place isn't as safe as it appears is the fact that once you head inside, there is a radio hanging by its power cord, playing back the scientific log of what sounds like a reanimated corpse. Right away, you'll be expecting zombies to show up at any second...but they never do. You wander around the big atrium, finding a way to get a door to open up so you can continue on your mission, all while you hear footsteps behind you, shapes running around and knocking things over. The whole atmosphere of that casino makes sure to keep you on your toes and watch every corner, even after the headcrab zombies finally do show up.

  • Someone composed a timeline video that compiles the events of the main three Half-Life games into one systematic video. It's as awe-inspiring as it is disturbing.
    • Someone made a companion video to the above one also set inside Black Mesa listing the various communications and security logs. From the medical reports of wounded guards and soldiers fighting to survive, warnings and disaster logs of a facility falling apart on itself, the growing death toll, the scrolling list of Employee names, and the Multiple Screens showing the character's views, both videos present a grim scale of the Black Mesa disaster.
      • It then goes into Nothing Is Scarier as both the announcements and music quiet down during most of Opposing Force, where by that point Black Mesa is so far beyond saving that the government has decided to just nuke the place regardless of any human stragglers that could not evacuate. Adrian is possibly the only one by Black Mesa's final hours to have survived the explosion, only because the G-Man plucked him out of the danger zone just to put him in stasis for an unknown amount of time, whereas everyone else was simply left behind to die.
    • The above fan also created a timeline of events for the world beyond Black Mesa up to the conclusion of the Seven Hour War, depicted as a series of news bulletins and a global casualty count. By the time Breen orchestrates humanity's surrender, not even a month after the initial disaster at Black Mesa, roughly a tenth of the global population is dead from the global portal storms and Combine invasion, and things are only going to get worse. The video's goosebump factor is only amplified by the combined usage of the ambient tracks from Half-Life, Portal, DEFCON, and the real-life electromagnetic recordings of planets.
  • "Epistle 3" by Marc Laidlaw (taken by many to be a plot summary for the unreleased Episode Three) is chock full of this. The Borealis is stretched thin between dimensions thanks to the Aperture technology on board the ship, Dr. Breen's consciousness has been placed in an Advisor body that begs Gordon and Alyx to kill it, Alyx kills Mossman when she tries to beach the ship, and she and Gordon are ultimately committed to ramming the Borealis into the Combine overworld on a suicide mission. Or at least that's what would have happened had the G-Man not extracted Alyx, leaving Gordon to his demise. Thankfully the Vortigaunts save Gordon, but not before he gets a glimpse at the Combine overworld, which is described as a massive Dyson sphere, and how the Borealis "would register as less than a fizzling matchhead as it blew itself apart" on its surface. The implication being that the Combine are so powerful and so vast in their scope that they're impossible to defeat entirely. Worst of all is the ending makes it ambiguous as to whether the Resistance was successful in driving them off Earth.