It's hard to put my finger on a "favorite" part, really—there are so many iconic moments that they all kind of blend together. But if I had to name one, it would be the bridge level.
You know the one I'm talking about. Near the end of "Highway 17," you'll arrive in a small villa that's located along a cliff. Up a hill is a long bridge, along which are running menacing Combine trains. To get Gordon's buggy up onto the track, you'll have to go to the other side of the bridge and unplug the combine force field that's blocking your way. And to get to the other side of the bridge… you'll have to go under it.
This is one of those make-or-break moments, when the designers at Valve grabbed their ambitions and carried them into the end zone so assuredly that it's still impressive, coming up on ten years later.
You enter the bridge support structure. And then you come out, and you're on a deck looking out onto the scaffolding underneath the bridge. It looks like you can jump down there… but can you? Is this safe?
The sound effects here are key. The wind, ripping into your ears, cutting through the air beneath this massive metal structure. It truly feels as though it could blow you off.
And so then, you jump. Everyone who has played this level has probably died at least once; slipping on a girder and tumbling, watching the ground come rushing up towards you. Just watching the video above gives me vertigo. I could play this level a hundred times and never tire of it—it is pure video game magic.
And once you're halfway across, things get even better. A train goes by above you, foreshadowing the coming race against the onrushing train that closes out this level. And once you've made it to the other side, cleared out the nest of combine soldiers and deactivated the force field… well then you have to make your way back. But why should you get to make your way back exactly the same way you came? Wouldn't it be much more interesting if a flying whale-helicopter attacked you and totally wrecked your shit?
This bravura section is my favorite single bit of Half-Life 2. The video of it is broken into three parts, with the middle section above. You can watch the whole thing on YouTube: Part one, part two, and part three.
Or, you know, you can just go play it again. You know you want to.
Thanks, Graag, for posting these videos.