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- "The truth...you can never know...the truth....."
- ―The Nihilanth[src]
Physically, the Nihilanth resembles a gigantic, abnormally proportioned brownish-gray (pink in some lighting instances) fetus with a massive head atop a smaller body. The creature's minuscule legs appear either to be vestigial or the remains of amputation, as the Nihilanth relies on a levitation device for movement.
His head is so large that it must be kept upright with a small cord/string that extends from the base of the spine to the back of the head. Like all of the other sapient Xen species, he has 3-fingered hands, multiple eyes, and a third appendage protruding from the middle of his chest. Underneath his third arm is a surgical scar that goes down his abdomen, Which may very well have been a result of experimentation from the Combine. He has unusually long arms, huge hands, and disproportionate fingers. In addition, the Nihilanth also wears metallic wristbands similar to those worn by enslaved Vortigaunts.
The Nihilanth came from of a powerful species that hailed beyond the Xen dimension, on their own homeworld in their own universe, long before the Black Mesa Incident. The Nihilanth's species appears to be an alien race of powerful beings, almost god-like in nature, as evidenced by the characteristics of Nihilanth himself.
During an unknown period of time, the Nihilanth species's came into contact with an immensely powerful interdimensional empire known as the Combine. What followed was a brutal genocidal campaign against the Nihilanth's species, as the Combine mercilessly invaded their world. It eventually ended with Combine being victorious and the Nihilanth's kind being hunted down to near extinction. The Nihilanth himself was the only survivor, and he and his minions managed to escape into the border world, Xen, where they barely managed to survive in a new ecosystem. Eventually, the Vortigaunts, another species that were victims of the Combine's brutality, escaped to Xen as well, and the Nihilanth enslaved and forced them under his bidding.
During the events of Half-life, during a resonance cascade event which occurred in the Black Mesa Facility located on Earth, the human homeworld, the Nihilanth saw this opportunity and took advantage of the quantum event, and sent his slave army across into the human world. In the eyes of the humanity, these Xen creatures were invading the Earth for the purpose of expansion of its species. In truth however, the Nihilanth and his Xen forces wasn't expanding, but merely running and fleeing from the Combine, and saw Earth as a new sanctuary, to hide from the ones they fear. Ultimately however, this backfired immensely, as the Nihilanth's actions serve as the catalyst that led to the Combine's discovery and subsequently invasion of Earth.
Gordon Freeman is tasked with killing the Nihilanth as he was the only force holding the dimensional rift open after the Satellite Delivery Rocket launched by the Black Mesa Lambda Labs failed to reverse the Resonance Cascade. After Gordon enters Xen, the Nihilanth regularly contacts Gordon telepathically and occasionally taunts him. These messages are often received right after teleportation in Xen.
Upon entering his lair, the Nihilanth attacks Gordon by launching two different types of energy spheres: a swarm of blue-colored electrical orbs which cause immense damage and have a small splash radius, and a slow-moving, green-colored orb which homes in and teleports him to other sections of the Nihilanth's lair populated by other Xen aliens. In addition, these green spheres teleport creatures into the Nihilanth's main chamber on impact with the cavern walls to help defend against intruders.
A series of gold-colored "energy spheres" orbit around the Nihilanth's head, rendering him impervious to damage. These are consumed as the Nihilanth takes damage, but specialized crystals within the upper portion of his chamber replenish the spheres as they vanish. After Gordon destroys these crystals, the shield put up by the orbs will not regenerate anymore. After a massive amount of damage is done, the shield drops and the orbs disappear, leaving the Nihilanth's body exposed and susceptible to damage. At this point, the glow of his brain is visible through his head.
After a large amount of damage is done to the Nihilanth's body his head opens up like a flower, revealing a shining, vulnerable brain. This appears to weaken his ability to attack, as once this happens he is only able to fire one electrical orb at a time. After a significant amount of damage is done to the brain, the Nihilanth floats up to the roof of his chamber and dies in a massive green explosion.
Dr. Richard Keller discovers an alien force actively holding the dimensional rift open from the other side, when Dr. Gina Cross and Dr. Colette Green attempt to release the dampening fields to create a resonance reversal after the Resonance Cascade, leading him to realize that not all the aliens are there by accident.
Furthermore, in the bonus chapter Xen Attacks, the Nihilanth orders two Vortigaunts, drone subjects X-8973 and R-4913, to retrieve several stolen Xen crystals from the Ordnance Storage Facility in Sector E Biodome Complex, a mission the Vortigaunts accomplish. This chapter also shows that the Nihilanth is capable of controlling when or where his minions are teleported and are capable of sending them quite close to their target.
The Nihilanth is mentioned by various Vortigaunts throughout City 17, such as the All-Knowing Vortigaunt, if they are triggered. It is through these messages that he is revealed that the Vortigaunts see Gordon as a messianic figure after he freed them by killing the Nihilanth during the Black Mesa Incident.
The Nihilanth is capable of actively holding the dimensional rift caused by the Resonance Cascade open, though not of opening a new one. He can control when and where his Vortigaunt minions are teleported to a fair degree. He also has some form of Telepathy, as evidenced by the numerous messages heard by Gordon Freeman on Xen. He is capable of using energy spheres as a shielding mechanism as well as for offense. He can regain strength to a certain extent using Xen Crystals.
There are several cryptic phrases that are either spoken or telepathically broadcast by the Nihilanth once Gordon Freeman reaches Xen, but most are difficult to understand in-game. Below are transcripts of several speech files extracted directly from the Half-Life sound files. Note that these transcriptions may not be entirely accurate, as the exact contents of the Nihilanth's speech are fairly difficult to make out due to unclear articulation and the low, gravelly manner in which he speaks. Some of them are not heard at all in-game.
- "Comes... another...": Said when Gordon first enters Xen.
- "Win... you cannot win...": Said when Gordon enters Gonarch's Lair.
- "Done... what have you done...": Said after the Gonarch's defeat, when Gordon enters the chapter Interloper.
- "You are man... he is not man... for you he waits... for you...": Said when Gordon enters the second part of Interloper at the alien camp.
- "Die... you all die... you all die...": Said in the second part of the chapter Interloper.
- "Alone... like you alone...like you alone...": Said in the 3rd map of the chapter Interloper and after the player is teleported by the Nihilanth's teleport orb for the first time.
- "The last... I am... the last...": Said when Freeman enters the final part of Interloper near an eerie, coral-like altar with a red portal.
- "Deceive you... he will deceive you...": Said when the player is teleported by the Nihilanth's teleport orb for the third time.
- "Now die... now die... now...": Said during the battle with the Nihilanth, when the player is teleported by the Nihilanth's teleport orb for the fourth time.
- "Their slaves... we are their slaves... we are..." Rarely said when Freeman enters the 3rd map of the chapter Interloper.
- "The truth... you can never know... the truth..." Said during the battle with the Nihilanth, when the player is teleported by the Nihilanth's teleport orb for the second time.
- "Thieves... you all are thieves... you all are...": Heard at the beginning of the bonus chapter "Xen Attacks" in Half-Life: Decay.
- "Freeeeemaaaaaannn...": The Nihilanth eerily utters Freeman's name at the very beginning of the game's final battle.
- "The last... you are the last... you are...": Unused quote.
Behind the scenes
Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar states that the first part of the Nihilanth's name is a reference to Nihilism, while -anth is a common suffix that is related to flowers and is a reference to how his scalp peels open like a blossom.
- Using the Xen Trampolines scattered around the Nihilanth's lair, it is possible to get into his head. Hitting him with the crowbar shows an interesting blood effect not shown anywhere else, it cannot kill him but it can damage him until his health reduces to 1 point, at which point the player must switch to a firearm and shoot his brain, a single bullet will kill him.
- Using the "notarget" or "god" console command whilst fighting the Nihilanth and later killing him will result in a continuous loop of his dying animation with no sound and the player being stuck on this stage, not teleported to the G-man.
- In an Interview with Valve News Network, Gabe Newell's son Grey Newell said that the boss was inspired by his birth saying "The final boss of Half-Life 1, the giant evil baby monster, is supposed to be me. When my mother was in childbirth they were thinking, ‘what’s really scary’? And at the time, having a child seemed to be the most scary thing to everyone.”
- According to Ted Backman, the name Nihilanth is meant not only to represent Nihilism, but flower as well. Hence the "anth" from the Greek ἄνθος. This is due to the way Nihilanths head opens up like a flower.
List of appearances
- Half-Life (First appearance)
- Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar (Non-canonical appearance)
- Half-Life: Decay (Mentioned only) (Heard only)
- Half-Life 2 (Mentioned only)
- Half-Life 2: Episode Two (Mentioned only)
- Half-Life: Alyx (Drawing only)
|Creatures||Alien Aircraft • Alien Controller • Alien Grunt • Armored Headcrab • Barnacle • Boid • Bullsquid • Chumtoad • Fast Headcrab • Gargantua• Gonarch • Headcrab • Houndeye • Ichthyosaur • Leech • Lightning Dog • Nihilanth • Poison Headcrab • Protozoan • Snark • Standard Headcrab • Tentacle • Vortigaunt • Zombie|
|Flora and minerals||Crystal • Fungus • Healing Pool • Light Stalk • Trampoline • Tree|
|Weapons||Black Hole Gun (cut) • Ceiling Turret • Grenade • Hivehand • Sentry Cannon • Snark • Snark Mine|
|Technology||Healing Shower • Thumper|
|Creatures (cut)||Archer • Charger • Fast Walker • Flocking Floater • Kingpin • Mr. Friendly • Panther Eye • Prrobot • Sand Barnacle • Snapbug • Sphere • Stukabat • Unidentified Quiver Creature|