Skip to main content

Half-Life 2's Zombie Chopper achievement elevates Ravenholm to a true horror masterpiece

The first time I've ever truly cared about failing to get a cheevo

Several bodies burn on a pyre in Ravenholm in Half-Life 2. The RPS 100 logo sits in the top right corner.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Valve

"We don't go to Ravenholm…" Half-Life 2's sixth chapter heading warns, and when you arrive at the outskirts of this abandoned mining town, you immediately see why. This headcrab and zombie-infested cess pit is an absolute horror show right from the off. Moans and screeches assault your ears from every nook and cranny of this dark murder hole, and if the hoarse crow calls and suspiciously high number of propane barrels weren't enough to put you off, the bloodied torsos lodged against its log cabin walls by deep set saw blades certainly will. Every fibre of your being is telling you to get the hell out of this place, and that surely, the Combine forces chasing you down here can't be worse than what's in front of you.

But I'd also add an addendum to that heading that goes something like this: "We don't go to Ravenholm, and definitely not with just a gravity gun." This is a place that demands you to have as much firepower as you can possibly muster, such are the monstrosities that lie in wait here. But what did baby Katharine decide to do when she was playing it alone on her terrible university laptop in the dead of night back in 2010? She decided to have a go at that old Zombie Chopper achievement for no good reason whatsoever. And what followed was even more horrifying than Ravenholm had any right to be.

A human has been sliced in two by a saw blade in Half-Life 2
At the start of Ravenholm, you've got saw blades galore to help you on your Zombie Chopper mission. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Valve

Looking back 13-odd years later, I'm still not entirely sure why I did it, to be honest. I normally don't care two figs about achievements, and I can count on one hand the number of times I've actively pursued a specific challenge like this. But for whatever reason, I clearly thought, "Yeah, I'll have a pop at that," without fully realising what I'd set myself up for. In some ways, though, I'm sort of glad I did, as it revealed to me arguably the greatest horror in all video games: running out of chuffing ammo you've pieced together from a sparse smattering of saw blades, wood planks and anything else that you can possibly glomp into your gravity gun's claws.

At first, you've got saw blades up the wazoo. They're all over the place, lodged into floors, lying on tables, wedged into those aforementioned torsos… You've got plenty to pick from if your current serrated edge of choice accidentally pings off into the distance when you lob it an oncoming crowd of zombos, or the sheer number of headcrabs surrounding you makes it difficult to retrieve it from where its landed on the floor. You can't carry them with you like regular ammo, of course, but the ready availability of them lulls you into a false sense of security, and for a while I thought I'd have the Zombie Chopper achievement bagged in no time at all.

The player holds an explosive barrel in mid-air using the gravity gun in Half-Life 2
It's never a good sign if you've resorted to firing explosive barrels. That way madness (and almost certainly instant death) lies. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Valve

But as soon as you meet Father Grigori raving from his rooftop, that supply of one-hit kill blades almost instantly dries up. Your options to defend yourself rapidly shrink down to that one last death disc you've been carrying around for the past 15 minutes, and that single blade suddenly becomes your entire lifeline. Honestly, the frantic pace at which I searched nose to the ground, desperately scurrying past the hordes in front of me trying to find my beloved saw blade again so I could fire it off a second time only got tenser and tenser as time wore on, and I even started positioning myself into tight, badly lit corridors so I stood a higher chance of retrieving it without the fear of losing it for good.

Indeed, the thought of being without my saw blade was more terrifying to me than some of the lightning fast monsters stalking Ravenholm's streets - though their gangly, oil-slick limbs certainly made them scary in their own way, not least when your torch light is running out of battery and they end up vanishing into the shadows at the last minute. I'm too much of a wuss to play a lot of horror games these days, but I've found that most are actually okay as long as you've got something to defend yourself with - see your Resident Evils, Dead Spaces et al for more details. A lack of ammo can certainly rachet up the tension in these games (and can often be a source of frustration if they're particularly stingy with it), but more often than not you've usually got something to fall back on if all else fails, be it a knife or a generously stocked, if weak, pistol, for example.

The player looks down on a mill yard in Half-Life 2
Ravenholm is a warren of sharp corners and angled surfaces just waiting to launch your saw blade into oblivion. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Valve

But when you're faced with just a single bullet, so to speak, albeit one you can use over and over again as long as you keep track of it, that dread starts to teeter into full-blown horror territory. Even though you know full well that this is an entirely voluntary situation you've put yourself into and there's really no reason for you to do this whatsoever, you can't help but feel frightened and desperate as you fiercely cling to this rusty, septic circle in the hopes a small box will pop up on your screen at the end of it congratulating you for being out of your hecking mind. Self-imposed fear is perhaps the most terrible horror of all, because honestly, what sane mind does all this for fun?

And inevitably, that moment of pure devastation did indeed come during my first visit to Ravenholm. For all my weaving, ducking and diving, one particularly tough battle to the death out by the mill yard saw my beloved blade fly off into the night, never to be seen again. And with nothing but a sliver of health left, a save file dated a whole 30 minutes ago, and a bedside clock that said, 'Katharine, go to bed, it's 2am in the morning, you have a 9am law lecture tomorrow, you need to go sleep, you fool', I decided to finally bite the bullet (literally in this case) and reluctantly pump my shotgun into the Poison Zombie's face. I couldn't bear doing all that again, not now, and probably not ever again. I let the achievement go and moved on, happy that I'd tried and had the experience (sort of), but also mildly relieved that I could just play the game normally again now and not scare myself silly with this ludicrous restriction. We already know why we don't go to Ravenholm, so let's just leave it at that.

Read this next