Stalkers are humans who have been drastically altered, both physically and mentally, through extreme, brutal Synth engineering by the Combine. They are servants, mindlessly operating machinery, and guarding the core in the Citadel.
Barely recognizable as human, Stalkers have undergone drastic surgical procedures and synthetic implantation. A Stalker's limb extremities (hands and lower legs) have been removed and replaced with bolted-on metallic augmentations, which offer reduced agility and result in a slow, zombie-like gait. Apparently unable to talk, they utter only roars and groans, probably as a result of the removal of their vocal cords or severe larynx and mental alteration.
For ease of maintenance and to ensure dependence on the Combine, the Stalkers' digestive tracts have been pulled out, resulting in them surviving solely on a nutrient solution administered via the gastric port in their sides. Stalker bodies are extremely atrophied and skeletal, with very little muscle or fat tissue remaining. Their facial features have been replaced by a metal plate, their "eyes" are mere pinholes, and all signs of their reproductive organs have been surgically removed.
They have small plates on hinges next to their "eyes", which can be closed during periods of inactivity. Opening the plates apparently activates them again, as seen in the train crash in Half-Life 2: Episode One.
In Half-Life 2, before the destabilization of the Citadel core, Stalkers were usually overseen by Combine soldiers. After Gordon causes the core to be on the verge of destroying the city, Stalkers are then encountered alone (as the Combine were mostly scrambling to evacuate) and they do not react to the deteriorating situation.
The Stalkers are naturally unsettling in both appearance and the sounds they make. Alyx Vance, usually level-headed and cool under stress, is visibly disturbed by them when she and Gordon take the train out of the Citadel in Episode One and becomes deeply unsettled when one lands on top of her after the crash.
- The Stalker transformation process is performed at Nova Prospekt, after which they are transported to the Citadel, where they perform a single job that others nexus don't need, where they are required to maintain the core and guard against intruders.
- They are transported by Razor Trains and are confined in pods during said transportation.
- Despite being seen in Nova Prospekt and the Citadel, Stalkers are never actually engaged in combat during Half-Life 2. However, it is possible to engage in combat with them to more easily achieve mission objectives in Half-Life 2: Episode One, as their lasers prevent certain tasks from being completed.
- Episode One is also where the exact nature of Stalkers is first revealed. In Episode One, the player and Alyx enter the Citadel. After a bit of progress, the player and Alyx enter a room with two Stalkers working a Forcefield, temporarily preventing progress. Alyx states that the Stalkers "shouldn't bother us if we leave them alone". Interestingly enough, when the player is in the core of the Citadel and chooses to kill one of the two Stalkers, the remaining one will turn to face the player and roar at Freeman. The Stalker will then proceed to attack the player with the laser tool. Contrarily, if the player is fast enough to cross a field bridge there before it deactivates, Stalkers can be approached face to face, and do not attack the player but instead walk away as if he weren't there at all.
- It appears that the Citizens of City 17 have full knowledge and understanding about Stalkers, what they are, and how and where they are "made." Alyx Vance comments on Nova Prospekt: "It used to be a high-security prison, it's something... much worse than that now." Barney Calhoun also makes the comment "He was about to board the express to Nova Prospekt!" at the start of the game, and sometimes Resistance members say, "They're never gonna make a Stalker out of me". However, this knowledge may just be limited to members of the Resistance.
- It could be likely that new arrivals at City 17 were sorted out if they could live as normal citizens or be identified as "unfitting" and be sentenced to Nova Prospekt. At the very beginning of Half-Life 2, this is evidenced when Gordon Freeman arrives at a security terminal and a Combine guard inspects several citizens and orders them to specific locations. Furthermore, as Barney Calhoun mentioned, he barely saved Gordon from being sent to Nova Prospekt on a train.
- According to Alyx, being turned into a Stalker is a form of punishment for captured Resistance fighters, or anyone simply "in the wrong place at the wrong time".
Behind the scenes
According to Ted Backman, the enemy's designer, the Stalker was inspired by a black version of the Half-Life Skeleton multiplayer model. The developer who created and featured it in his levels proposed that a "black skeletal character that can hide in dark shadows and leap out at you as you got close" be included in Half-Life 2.The horror aspects of this concept were then further developed.
- “The Stalker idea came from wanting something that crept around in the shadows and then lunged at you. We took a half-baked idea and turned it into something more horrific because the Stalkers are really the victims. When you face them, they are these crazed half-human things that you can't help but almost pity. I was hoping to put enough humanity into the things that it wasn't just a scary monster. Instead, it was something that presented a moral dilemma every time you had to deal with it, which I think is a more interesting problem. It is more horrific to have to deal with an insane hostage than something that just wants to eat your brains.”
- — Ted Backman
Marc Laidlaw expanded on the enemy's origins, remarking that Stalkers were one of the earliest creatures put into Half-Life 2, and the developers tried them in several gameplay environments. Initially, they were foes that crouched down in the dark and followed players from behind, surprising them when they turned around. While Valve had numerous gameplay concepts for them, such as Stalkers being used in puzzles where they could cut through sheet metal with their beams, they ultimately didn't end up being fun. As these sequences were "scripted and stagey," they decided to aim for an emotional impact instead and make Stalkers an important story element.
The first known in-game iteration of the Stalker, found in the Half-Life 2 leak, was based directly on the concept art featured in Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar. Captions included in the image provide some in-universe backstory to this cut design. Appearing even more skeleton-like than in the final version, the Stalker can be seen wearing not only a blinder but also a muzzle through which it is able to lap up fluids; both devices are said to have been installed for ease of control and handling. In addition to having portions of its forearms and lower legs severed, the human captive is hobbled during the conditioning process to further prevent escape attempts. Once it is ready to serve, braces that allow for walking are fixed to the stumps. This design was then expanded upon, equipping the Stalker with tools attached to each of its arms, resulting in the final iteration included in the Half-Life 2 leak.
Stalkers were originally planned to be featured frequently as hostiles throughout Half-Life 2, being notably fought in the Air Exchange, on the Borealis, and in City 17, among other locations. Stalkers were apparently being transported on the Borealis, one being found inside a hanging cage. A large group of them were also intended to be encountered in Kraken Base where they assisted Elena Mossman in running the underwater research base. The combat elements were ultimately cut and, later, re-introduced in Episode One. In the Half-Life 2 leak, Stalkers are much more agile, have melee attacks, a more damaging laser, and emit wilder shrieks and babbling when active.
On August 16, 2016, the source files of a Stalker model that appears to be earlier than the one found in the leak were publicly leaked. It is slightly taller and doesn't include the arm-attached tools. Of note are previously unseen animations, notably
s_runpause2 which conveys a much more cowardly personality.
- Stalkers can be spawned via the console in Half-Life 2, Episode 1, Episode 2, Lost Coast, and Portal with the command
ent_create npc_stalker.However, in Half-Life 2, Lost Coast, and Portal, the stalkers do not have sound effects, and the ragdolls will stretch upon death.
- A spawned Stalker and a Vortigaunt or Antlion will automatically fight.
- There is only one Stalker-related achievement, Pacifist, which can be gained by containing the Citadel Core without killing any Stalkers.
- Stalkers only have a single hitbox, which means if the player shoots at a Stalker's head, the damage inflicted by the player will not increase. Also, unlike other NPCs, when shot blood splash sprites do not appear, but blood can be seen on the Stalker's body when shot.