Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.
The gravity gun, for all its usefulness in Half-Life 2, can only pick up non-organic objects. But when it passes through the confiscation field in the Citadel, it isn't destroyed like the rest of your weapons. It becomes supercharged. The tool that could do everything except that one thing now does that one thing, too. And it's a glorious, cathartic moment. Instead of just picking up objects you can pick up people, and it's a blast, yanking surprised soldiers off the ground, pulling them wriggling through the air, their limbs violently jerking and flopping in a way that makes Darth Vader's Force Choke look like a gentle embrace. And then you can blast those Combine ragdolls around the room, send them spinning and slamming into each other. In a corridor packed with Combine you can rip a soldier from his spot and send him pinwheeling back through the rest. It's the gravity gun's final form and it made the perfect tool, surprisingly, even better.
What made the gravity gun so cool in Half-Life 2 wasn't just that it could lift stuff—it was all the different things that could be accomplished by lifting stuff. When it first fell into our hands we played catch with Dog, which wasn't just a cool sequence but functioned as a sneaky tutorial. We learned how to pick up, throw, and catch, we increased our bond with the eager robotic companion, and we discovered how to defeat rollermines, an enemy we wouldn't encounter until much later in the game. The first time one came tumbling down the road at us, we'd already been trained to handle them without even realizing it. That's just cool.
And there was more. Physics puzzles began presenting themselves, solvable using the gravity gun. We could weigh down one end of a board and turn it into a ramp. We could knock wrecked cars out of the way. We could clear barricades from the far side of a door, letting us access new areas. We could even yank ammo and health kits right into our hands from across the room. With each chapter, the gravity gun felt more and more useful.
It was a weapon too, a deadly one, and often served as protection from other weapons. We could yank a metal radiator off a wall and use it as cover from gunfire, then fling it into the soldier firing at us. When a grenade landed at our feet we could scoop it up and launch at whoever threw it (or drop our own grenade, then fling it, turning the gravity gun into a cannon). An orb fired from a Combine pulse rifle could be snatched from the air and spit back, disintegrating a handful of soldiers—and once again teaching us another use for the future, in solving orb-based puzzles.
It was a tool, a brilliant weapon, and protective shield, and by the end of the game it felt like Valve had given it as many uses in Half-Life 2 as was humanly possible. Then they gave it another use. They turned it from orange to blue.