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"We should thank Our Benefactors for giving us respite from this overpowering force. They have thrown a switch and exorcised our demons in a single stroke. They have given us the strength we never could have summoned to overcome this compulsion. They have given us purpose. They have turned our eyes toward the stars."
Wallace Breen, addressing citizens' concerns about the Combine negating human reproduction.[src]
 
 
"Their slaves... we are their slaves... we are..."
Nihilanth. [src]
 

The Combine, abbreviated as CMB, and referred to in propaganda as "Our Benefactors"[2], is an immense and powerful inter-dimensional organization. The Combine comprises both allied and enslaved species, the Combine's collective goal is to dominate and absorb the Multiverse into its inter-dimensional empire.[3]

Following the Black Mesa Incident and the death of the Nihilanth, the Combine invaded Earth and won the ensuing war against the humans on Earth in a mere seven hours. However, they failed to completely subjugate humanity due to the Resistance, culminating in The Uprising, where the Combine were beaten thrice in pivotal battles.

These events were led by Gordon Freeman, having been released by The G-Man from stasis. The Combine serves as the overarching antagonists of the overall Half-life series and is the main antagonists of Half-Life 2, its episodes, and Half-Life: Alyx.

Overview

Introduction

A Combine Advisor.

The Combine is a massive empire that spans countless parallel universes and dimensions and includes an unknown number of sentient species. The Combine with these details in mind project a type 7.0 Civilization, which means they can harness entire universes and dimensions.

Details of the Combine's leadership and administrative structure remain unknown if they consist of an economy or even a society that exists beyond the limits of human understanding. On Earth, aliens called the Advisors are responsible for facilitating and overseeing all communication and interaction between the Combine and the Humans. Dr. Wallace Breen serves as humanity's Administrator and de facto leader of all Combine forces on Earth.

The Combine is composed of an untold number of species, with entire races enslaved to their will. They only assimilate intelligent species from the universes they conquer and manipulate the enslaved species through many means, including bioengineering and artificial implantation. The products of the Combine's re-engineering process are known as "synths." Synths are biomechanical organisms that serve a variety of functions within the empire.

The Combine uses their technology to create armies of super-soldiers. These soldiers adapt to the particular environments of the conquered worlds. This process results in a highly mobile and adaptive military force that can respond to any threat and crush any opposition.

The Combine Overwatch on Earth is a notable example of this, Overwatch Soldiers, who were humans surgically modified with Combine technology, are a much deadlier, resilient overall than normal Humans. They are highly trained and with their air-filter helmets. Overwatch Soldiers can adapt well beyond the confines of Earth, in other universes and dimensions if needed.

Vocal stress is on the first syllable. The name is pronounced COM-bine, as in Combine harvester, opposed to the verb form com-BINE, as in "to join together or unite." Dr. Breen refers to the Combine Soldiers and Civil Protection as "The Transhuman Arm of the Combine Overwatch" [2] in Nova Prospekt, verifying that "Combine" is an accepted name of the empire, even by the Combine itself.

It is unknown how many worlds the Combine has under its control. The Combine is an inter-dimensional empire meaning they have tens if not hundreds of universes under their control. At least more than it is known that in addition to Earth.

The Combine invaded the homeworld of the Nihilanth's species. The defeated, Nihilanth escaped the onslaught and sought refuge in Xen.[4] It brought with it members of several enslaved or allied species, including the Vortigaunts.[4][5]

Earth became the Combine's most recently known annexation. Following the Black Mesa Incident, the Combine obtained Earth following the Earth's surrender at the end of the Seven Hour War. Following the standard Combine process, Earth's dominant species were modified to form a new arm of the Combine military.

In addition to forming the bulk of the Combine garrison on Earth, in-game dialogue suggests that units of the Transhuman arm of Overwatch deploy across the Combine Empire in a "permanent off-world assignment."

Assignment on other worlds is considered a terrible fate for Overwatch soldiers unfortunate enough to be stuck with it and is often used as a punishment. Equally dire is the threat of "permanent off-world relocation." Judging by dialogue from Breen, many of the territories under control by the Combine are nigh-uninhabitable by humans without life support systems.[6]

Combine teleportation

The Combine Empire is immensely technologically advanced, able to teleport to an entirely different plane of reality. Through this technology, the Combine can traverse across universes and dimensions in their conquest of dominating the Multiverse.

Despite their highly advanced technical capabilities, the Combine appears to have a limited grasp of local teleportation. Dr. Mossman explains that while the Combine can teleport from one universe to another, they do not know how to teleport between different locations in the same universe.

The teleportation method developed by Black Mesa enables same-universe translocation. As a result, the Combine aims to obtain as much information on their teleportation technology. Dr. Mossman helps the Combine build a teleporter with such capabilities in Nova Prospekt but destroyed during Alyx Vance and Gordon Freeman's escape.

The Combine's teleportation is more resource-intensive than Black Mesa's teleportation. The Combine is teleporting in-between universes. A large amount of power and massive pieces of machinery are required to perform teleportation, as seen at the end of Half-Life 2, where Dr. Breen attempts to escape from the Citadel using a Combine teleporter. This teleporter requires a dark fusion reactor to power it. Xen teleports appear to require almost no machinery or energy of any kind besides maybe Vortigaunt energy.

The explanation of teleportation physics is little, but it's known that Xenian teleporters use Xen as a "dimensional slingshot." The teleports bounce off of one universe to another. The teleports also go from one location in one universe to another in the same universe. Combine teleporters do not do this, instead of having to "tunnel" through the dimensions of the target universe. As opposed to the "slingshot" method, they used "string-based" technology, similar to the Resistance Calabi-Yau model.

Combine on Earth

Invasion of Earth

Newspaper clippings found in Eli Vance's lab in Black Mesa East depict scenes from the Portal Storm and the following Seven Hour War. Note the sections stressed by a yellow highlighter pen.

Following the Nihilanth's demise, the Combine found that the Nihilanth could use the portal storm that was occurring at the time to reach Earth. The Combine's technology could use these and launch a massive invasion that culminated in the Seven Hour War. Statements from the G-Man suggest humanity could not resist the Combine armies, and Earth's military was overwhelmed.

This quick invasion of Earth makes it appear as the Combine used weaponry and synths, powerful enough during the seven-hour war to make currently mounted synths on Earth look extremely weak.

The former administrator of the Black Mesa Research Facility, Dr. Wallace Breen, discovered how to communicate with the Combine and negotiated a surrender on Earth's behalf and was appointed Earth's administrator of the Combine's forces.[7]

Combine dominance on Earth

The Combine rules Earth from a massive structure known as the Citadel, this one being in City 17, where Dr. Breen runs his operation. At the end of Half-Life 2, as Doctor Breen attempts to teleport off of Earth using the dark fusion reactor, a massive portal is created several giant buildings that resemble Citadels are visible through it.

At Half-Life 2's start, the Combine has almost complete control of the remaining civilized Earth. The Combine does not identify who Gordon Freeman is. However, Doctor Breen immediately informs a Combine Advisor of Freeman's appearance during a teleport accident, in which Gordon Freeman appeared in Doctor Breen's office for a brief amount of time. Only a handful of rebels, loosely organized in a ragtag resistance, is secretly opposing the Combine. Gordon Freeman's actions after his return eventually inspire a massive insurrection against the Combine in City 17. A full-scale street war between the citizens and the Combine forces begins.

The reasons behind the Combine's desire to control the Earth are unknown. Although, they may haven't destroyed Earth as they wanted to study the use of human teleporter technology.

Suppression Field

A symbolically empty playground in City 17.

Main article: Suppression Field

The Combine imposed a "suppression field," inhibiting human reproduction. The field prohibits certain protein chains vital to human embryonic development; this has effectively reduced the global human birth rate to zero and has ensured that the humans currently alive will be the last generation.

Doctor Breen addresses this issue to the people via a broadcast during the early levels of Half-Life 2 as the response to a letter written to him by a "concerned citizen." Avoiding answering the question itself, Breen explains that he believes the field is a positive influence. Breen claims it supposedly nullifies one of mankind's basest, most instinctual urges claiming the field deactivation will happen once the humans prove that they "no longer need it."

During Half-Life 2, Resistance members occasionally make humorous remarks about the suppression field, such as "When this is all over, I'm gonna mate." Initially thought that the suppression field somehow prevented human sexual urges, mainly due to Dr. Breen's statement that it suppressed "the urge to reproduce." This statement may be referred to as the suppression field's physiological effects causing human "urges" to diminish rather than to stop outright.

In Half-Life 2: Episode One, it is revealed by Dr. Isaac Kleiner during his transmissions throughout the city that the suppression field has become paralyzed with the Citadel's near destruction. He says that everyone who has escaped City 17 "should do their part" in the repopulation of the human species "before the Combine attempt to restore their dominion." When Alyx Vance hears this, she remarks, "Is Dr. Kleiner really telling everyone to... get busy?" Eli Vance jokingly gives Alyx and Gordon a similar suggestion, claiming to want grandchildren.

This field poses the idea the Combine could use fields like this in combat to attack organic enemies.

Mind control and memory replacement

Main article: Memory Replacement

A Combine soldier connected to a memory replacement device.

Comments at a train station at Half-Life 2's start suggest the Combine has been drugging the populace through their water supply. One of the citizens' remarks, "Don't drink the water... they put something in it, to make you forget. I don't even remember how I got here." This drugging is never mentioned again after this. This drugging becomes reinforced by the numerous soda machines stocked with "Dr. Breen's Private Reserve," which freely dispenses water in a standard 12-ounce can.

The insinuated reason for this supposed mind control is humans forget why they hate the Combine. This mind control makes the Humans accede to the Combine's (and Breen's) demands. This mind control creates a fresh mental template for forced re-education.

A Combine radio transmission to Civil Protection officers states: "Reminder, memory replacement is the first step to rank privileges." This statement could explain why none of the CPs can join the Resistance after the Uprising (apart from Barney Calhoun, a double agent for the Resistance, to begin with.) Their memories may either forbid them from harboring any negative thoughts toward their Combine overlords or program them to believe in protecting the Combine.

However, Barney suggests the opposite when, during Episode One, he states that "now it looks like we're gonna have to cut a path through every chicken-shit Metrocop who's having second thoughts about defending City 17!"[8] What Barney says could mean is the Combine presents an illusion of free will by promising privileges to CPs willing to give up their memories, despite their loss of humanity. A possibility is the Combine takes CPs into Nova Prospekt without their knowledge.

Forced memory replacement information is in the game's data files, specifically, this model (above) named "soldier bed," seen later inside the Citadel during Episode One. This model closely resembles that of concept art in Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar. The machine itself consists of Combine emitters and equipment; attached is an arm-like device holding a human body. Lastly, a shell-like apparatus containing three different screens and panels envelops the head. Accompanying this model is a small group of sounds resembling harsh subliminal messaging; this audiovisual messaging system explains the military training used by normal post-human individuals.

This model, in addition to several bizarre sounds of voices in the data files. These sounds suggest that this "brainwashing" memory replacement is an important part of the Transhuman operation. The process of erasing memories, Combine propaganda, and eventually, memory replacement results in a soldier incapable of rebelling against the Combine influence, as well as enabling Transhumans with no military background training to become part of the Overwatch forces.

Human genocide

Graffiti sprayed near Black Mesa East and other places (such as Matt's home), with a Combine (or possibly Resistance, or even a recycled Conscript) soldier holding a baby next to the word 'Caste'.

Killings

The Combine does not flinch at committing acts of extreme brutality and even genocide to maintain control over the human populace. In the Half-Life 2 Chapter Route Kanal, a refugee base is raided, and a few members of the post are lined up against the wall and shot just as Gordon arrives. The town of Ravenholm became shelled to kill all residents. Throughout the Highway 17 chapter, the player encounters numerous bodies in the coast houses. Some bodies in these houses have been burnt in bonfires by the Combine.

The absence of children

There are no children present in Half-Life 2 and its episodes. The reason is the placement of the Suppression Field by the Combine, right after their victory at the end of the Seven Hour War. Given that the Combine has been occupying Earth for nearly twenty years, many humans Gordon Freeman sees throughout the game are possibly the last humans born naturally.

Evidence such as the ghostly laughs and screams of children heard in the playground outside one of the apartments in the first chapter of Half-Life 2 a crying couple showed shortly after. The player does not see any children in the most human-populated areas, remarks by Resistance members such as "I'm glad there are no kids around to see this." The presence of discarded toys such as baby dolls during the game but seem to be past reminders.

According to Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar, children were present in the early stages of the game development in City 17, called the Combine Factories. Adults and children were to work in this area closely watched by Metrocops and Combots. In the Cremator Factory, children were supposed to build enemies called Cremators. As the concept of human reproduction disabled by the Suppression Field evolved, children finally got cut with the whole area, along with the Cremator.

Depletion of Earth's resources

The draining of Earth's oceans is easily the most striking sign of the Combine's rule on the planet.

It is evident at several points in the game that the Combine is depleting Earth's natural resources.

One of the official Half-Life 2 descriptions details how Gordon Freeman must return to "an Earth infested with aliens and being picked to the bone." [9]

One of the most noticeable signs is that Earth's ocean levels have dropped dramatically. During the coastal chapters Highway 17 and Sandtraps and the waterways of City 17 in Route Kanal and Water Hazard. The coastline littered with boats and ships resting on what was seabed, and various docks and piers are no longer standing in water but instead standing on the old seabed.

At Highway 17's beginning, Gordon arrives at a harbor a distance from the water's edge. Indications of the previous sea level judged by moss gathered on harbor structures at the edge of the water. (although the moss levels are somewhat inconsistent.) But the moss now lies several feet higher than the ground level.

The book Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar mentioned that this massive, planet-wide water drainage is accomplished through the presence of a giant Combine "drain," actually a teleporter, which sends the water to other Combine-enslaved planets.

More generally, parts of the game world are flooded with parasitic Headcrabs and toxic waste, making them inhospitable to human life. Infrastructure is either decaying (as with Highway 17, which is in a state of incredible disrepair and littered with old rusting cars). Infrastructure rendered useless (as with Nova Prospekt, where the traditional prison area is mostly flooded and run down, if not outright destroyed by the explosion at the end of the chapter Entanglement).

Animals are rarely seen inside and outside of City 17, suggesting that they are critically endangered; strangely, birds are the only animals seen in Half-Life 2. The Fisherman in Lost Coast comments that there is no fish left to eat, only leeches that devour anyone who steps into the ocean, posing a further threat to humanity.

Additionally, City 17 itself is becoming devoured, as Combine Walls spread outward from the Citadel, consuming the city's buildings. It is unknown whether the Combine is purely using this method to destroy the city. Or whether the Combine is gathering raw materials from the city's structures.

During the development of Half-Life 2, the Combine originally had an industrial facility called the Air Exchange, which gradually absorbed Earth's air and replaced it with chemicals and other murky gases. These gases were harmful to humans but most likely ideal for an environment that the Combine master race could inhabit. It was up to Gordon Freeman to travel to the Combine Air Exchange after the prison levels. Gordon's actions at the Air Exchange were to trigger the human insurrection against the Combine in City 17 but dropped and made to happen due to Gordon's actions at Nova Prospekt.[1]

Propaganda

"Dove" poster commonly seen through City 17.

Imagery

The Combine heavily relies on imagery through logos, symbols, and propaganda posters to assure their influence on Earth and remind its residents of their presence. Combine units - humanoid and Synth - also bear insignia, logos, and other markings. Many Combine posters are around City 17 and its sector (including the Coast, Nova Prospekt, etc.). Most of the time poster includes two common Combine symbols, with variants in color and image backgrounds. Most Combine imagery is quite abstract, and the intended messages can be very subtle.

Breencast

Main article: Breencast

Breencasts are regular broadcasts made by Earth administrator Dr. Wallace Breen, delivered to the populace of Combine-controlled towns and cities via private televisions and, more commonly, large video monitors mounted on walls in public places such as town squares and railway stations. As the messages loop, all announcements could be pre-recorded. A few citizens in the first chapter say the messages are pre-recorded.

Combine military technology

The Combine uses the technological growth of other civilizations against them. Weapons, vehicles, and other technology assimilated into the Combine armory; the Overwatch utilizes Earth's small arms, armored personnel carriers, trains, and helicopters, often re-designing them for greater efficiency.

Most of Combine's military units on Earth are either Human or originated from Humans, like Overwatch Soldiers. Other vehicles and machines used by the Combine are clearly of non-human origin; examples of this are the Strider and the Gunship, both derived from living creatures that are possibly Transbeings of other enslaved civilizations.

Nova Prospekt, while a Combine stronghold, has very little evidence of occupation. The building itself and its coastal defenses seem to be recycled human structures thrown together hastily. Indeed, most areas used by the Combine feature little unique architecture.

Combine Soldier fighting Antlions along the Coast.

Combine Overwatch

Main article: Overwatch

The primary military force of the Combine on Earth is the Combine Overwatch (referred to by Dr. Breen as the "Transhuman arm of the Combine Overwatch."[2] Breen could be referring to the overall Combine military presence on Earth as Overwatch and its ranks, including augmented humans, are known as the Transhuman arm.) Humans modified into "Transhumans" (or "post-human," as referred to by Dr. Kleiner) cyborgs. They are the most frequently encountered foes throughout Half-Life 2.

Although primarily used on Earth, a mention made is that the Combine deploys to other Combine territories throughout the empire, whether willingly or as punishment. These modified humans have proven to be efficient killing machines against any foe that stands in their way.

It is important to note that Civil Protection units are not hybrids and are human.

  • Civil Protection: The quasi thought-police that patrols the cities, monitor the public airways, and conduct randomized raids. Since little modification is involved, some Resistance members, such as Barney Calhoun, join Civil Protection to go undercover to investigate Combine activity and tip off would-be victims.
  • Overwatch Soldier: The military force of the Combine's occupation of Earth. Overwatch Soldiers patrol and enforce Combine law outside of city boundaries. They include the Shotgun Soldier and the Nova Prospekt Prison Guard.
  • Overwatch Elite: The Elite soldiers of the Combine Overwatch. They have undergone extensive augmentations and are seen either guarding the Citadel or leading squads of regular soldiers.
  • Stalker: Mutilated, drone-like slaves created from dissident Citizens and captured Rebels.

Combine Synth

Main article: Synth

Synths are creatures that, throughout imposed evolution and alteration by the Combine. Synths have come to fit a particular niche in the Combine military. Once, self-replicating organic creatures that originated from different worlds, they were enslaved and assimilated into the Combine to become the military's backbone.

Various types of Synth have been brought over to Earth by the Combine. Synths were likely the primary forces used by the Combine during the Seven Hour War. The human-derived Combine units, and technology such as hunter-choppers and APCs, would have only been developed after the Combine's rule on Earth had been established.

  • Advisor Pod: The escape pods used by the Combine Advisors.
  • Crab Synth: Never actually encountered, but seen in Half-Life 2 in the Citadel files and the Half-Life 2 Beta.
  • Dropship: Primary troop and weapon transport of the Combine.
  • Gunship: Assault aircraft that usually attack in groups of two for protection.
  • Hunter: Medium ground assault units, similar to Striders but still quite different.
  • Mortar Synth: Never actually encountered, but seen in Half-Life 2 in the Citadel files and the Half-Life 2 Beta.
  • Shield Scanner: An organic version of the City Scanner. Transports hopper mines into battlefields.
  • Strider: Large ground assault units used by the Combine. Striders walk on three long legs, towering over the battlefield.

Combine Combat Technology

The Combine employs numerous devices and weapons used in the day-to-day policing and surveillance of the general populace. Some of these are merely human inventions that have been re-designed by the Combine purposes better suit, while others are either original or re-designed technology of other civilizations.

  • Manhack: Essentially, a flying, autonomous circular saw capable of tracking targets.
  • Rollermine: A ball-shaped 'mine' with a rudimentary targeting system that, once activated, follows anything it identifies as a threat and subjects it to electric shocks. They can also attach themselves to vehicles such as the Scout Car.
  • Hopper Mine: A programmable explosive device that hops into the air and explodes when approached by an enemy.
  • City Scanner: A flying security camera and scout that takes pictures of enemies and relays their location to its command center. Also "dive-bombs" its target if subject to enough incoming fire. Occasionally used as a spotter for Striders.
  • Sentry Gun, Ceiling Turret, and Ground Turret: Programmable, autonomous sentry weapons.
  • APCs: The main mode of transport of Civil Protection, is a common sight within the cities. They are armed with a missile launcher and a mounted pulse rifle.
  • Hunter-Chopper: Piloted by two members of the Overwatch, this vehicle is primarily used to track down solitary members of the Resistance, or small groups of Resistance soldiers. Heavily armed and armored, it features a pulse cannon and can saturate an area with mines.
  • Razor Trains: Combine trains made to transfer Combine Troops, supplies, and prisoners to locations.
  • Headcrab Shell: Deployed onto resistance outposts and base areas. These are deployed more often in the Uprising. A common sight in City 17 and the Outland. It contains several Headcrabs of varying species.
  • Sky Shield: Referred to in Overwatch radio chatter, "Sky Shield" is some military surveillance technology used by the Combine. Overwatch soldiers report their target or are given a target through "Sky Shield," which may be a satellite array of some sort.

Combine Architecture

Most examples of Combine structures are large and imposing, with very blocky, monolithic shapes with sharp angles made of dull, blue-gray metal. Various tubes, wires, and pipes can be seen running throughout gaps in the walls and down along corridors and tunnels. Their buildings are purely functional, with no thought given for aesthetics, comfort, no embellishments or decorations. Some examples of aesthetics show infrequent Combine signs, logos, and rare artificial brightness creating harsh, dark shadows throughout the Combine's complexes.

Steep, deep drops and lack of guardrails are in Combine complexes as well. This lack of railing and deep falls are likely due to the Advisors' ability to fly and thus not need bridges. Although, bridges are in places where Combine soldiers move and operate; another example of the Combine's assimilation of human technologies.

  • The Citadel - The large building looking after City 17 and Combine forces serving as the main base of operations and the headquarters for the Combine.
  • The Depot - A building looking after prisoners at Nova Prospekt.
  • The Vault - A floating prison in City 17's Quarantine Zone used to store The G-Man.

Behind the scenes

  • The Combine originally was to use Earth's building materials and twist them to construct their buildings. This mix of materials resulted in odd designs, such as the Citadel's interior made out of ceramic tiles. The material mix became the more familiar building material used by the Combine in the final version.
  • Some Combine units were not from the final version of Half-Life 2 for various reasons, such as redundancy or unsatisfying gameplay. Some Combine subdivisions became into others seen in the retail version. These cut enemies include the Combine Assassin, Beta Combine Elites, Combine Sniper Elites, the Alien Assassin, and the Conscripts (Which become allies with the destroyed air exchange). Other cut enemies include Cremator, the Combine Guard, Combine Synth Elite Soldier, the Alien Combine Soldier, the Combine Super Soldier, Combine Mobile Mine, and the Sacktick.
  • During the E3 demo, the Citadel is called "the Combine." This name implies the Citadel could originally have been the Combine.
  • The Combine's name inspiration was likely by the 1962 Novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey. The novel's narrator mentions an oppressive, manipulative, and mechanistic authority that rules the masses, that he referred to as "The Combine."
  • The Combine was originally going to use scrapped HECU voice lines and cut during the making of Half-Life 2.

List of appearances

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Breencasts
  3. Marc Laidlaw Vault on HalfLife2.net
  4. 4.0 4.1 PC Zone magazine, September 2005.
  5. Marc Laidlaw's e-mail on Xen, Planet Half-Life Mailbag.
  6. Half-Life 2 - as stated by the Overwatch Voice
  7. Half-Life 2 Walkthrough - Chapter 5: Black Mesa East. Planet Half-Life.
  8. Half-Life 2: Episode One. Chapter: Urban Fight
  9. Half-Life 2 on Steam
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