Why Half-Life 2's Ravenholm Is the Perfect Horror Level

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However, in terms of design and execution, there’s one key thematic difference between Ravenholm and Sealed Section. Before you arrive at Sealed Section in Dark Project, you’re aware of the more traditional horror elements in the game. You’ve fought zombies, you’ve heard stories of the occult, and you’re aware that those elements are part of that game’s universe.

But when you get to Ravenholm in Half-Life 2, there’s very little that prepares you for what you’re about to walk into.

We Don’t Go To Ravenholm

In our retrospective on Fallout 3, we spoke about how the game’s effectiveness as a work of horror can partially be attributed to the fact that you don’t entirely expect the game to go so far out of its way to scare you. Even in that instance, though, the general tone and nature of Fallout 3 and the Fallout series strongly suggests that such outright horror elements are possible.

Ravenholm is a bit different. While Alyx, Gordon’s partner in Half-Life 2, speaks the infamous line “We don’t go to Ravenholm anymore” prior to you ever stepping foot in the town, that warning can be interpreted in so many ways given the nature of the game until that point. After all, Half-Life 2 exists in a world of oppression and hopelessness. You’d be more surprised to learn that there’s a place in that world that people recommend you visit.

Still, the odds are strong that you didn’t expect to walk into Ravenholm for the first time and hear some traditional horror music, see a pair of legs hanging from a tree swinging softly in the breeze, or to be greeted by what certainly seems to be a bonafide zombie.

While those headcrab zombies were featured in the original Half-Life, they were treated much more like the by-product of a science experiment gone wrong. The zombies of Ravenholm feel more like…well…zombies. They more closely resemble the humans that the headcrabs have assumed control of, they move in a more obvious lumbering fashion, and, oh yeah, they occupy a dilapidated village illuminated by waning moonlight and inhabited by a crazed preacher who sometimes speaks like he’s been transported directly into the town from a Hammer horror film. The suddenness of this detour into pure horror will certainly unnerve anyone who doesn’t usually fashion themselves a fan of the genre.

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