Valve’s 2004 game, ‘Half-Life 2’ is rightfully regarded as one of the greatest first person shooters ever released, featuring (for its time) unparalleled physics, a gripping story, and one of the most oppressive atmospheres ever encountered in a video game. Playing as silent scientist Gordon Freeman, the player fights to free humanity from the Combine, an inter-dimensional alien empire that has conquered Earth (instead of, as you might think, a race of sentient grain harvesters).
Throughout the game, the player often hears from Wallace Breen, a human who has allied himself with the Combine as humanity’s ‘administrator’. Though he presents a friendly, almost grandfatherly face to the public, complete with speeches explaining why humanity should work with the Combine, it eventually becomes clear that Breen is not a nice guy. But is he truly a villain?
In-game, we’re told that, during humanity’s hopeless, seven-hour war against the Combine, Breen intervened and managed to negotiate a surrender, where, in exchange for not being wiped out by the Combine, humanity is allowed to exist, but as a subservient race who has to endure a life of nonstop oppression and helplessness. But did Breen do this to save the human race, or to gain power for himself? We’re never told, leaving it up to the player to come to their own conclusions. I like to think that Breen did want to save humanity, and hates the Combine, but he also wants power, and realized that working with the Combine was the way to get it. But in the end, it was all for naught, and he met his end falling to his death from the top of the Combine tower.
But what if he had lived?
‘Half-Life 2: Breen’s Redemption’, by Youtube user Crunchy Soap, examines what might have happened had Breen survived the events of Half-Life 2. The result is a hauntingly beautiful look at a man who realizes the misery his actions has caused, and a prime example on how to redemption a villain:
How to redeem a villain
1. Have the villain lose everything they gained from becoming evil:
Breen loses his position of power with the Combine and becomes an ordinary person with nothing to his name.
2. Have the villain reach their lowest point:
Breen is injured and alone, and knows that he’ll probably be shot on sight by the Resistance, or any member of humanity with a gun.
3. Have the villain face the consequences of what he/she has done
Unlike other stories, Breen doesn’t face imprisonment or execution for his actions: instead, he comes face to face with the suffering his alliance with the Combine has caused, regardless of any good intentions he might have had when he made said alliance.
4. Have the villain turn against the organization he/she created
Even though he’s an older man and past his physical prime, Breen takes on the Combine elite with nothing but a pipe to save the lives of two Resistance members, and later, three of them with only a submachine gun. In doing so, he reaches a point of no return: by killing members of his organization, he cements his decision to change sides, for good or ill.
5. Have the villain help his former enemies/work to restore what he/she has destroyed
Breen saves the lives of two Resistance members, then a child, and then becomes a full-fledged member of the Resistance, joining their fight to save Earth from the Combine. By doing so, he now does what he can to undo the damage he caused on behalf of the Combine.
While there are deeper villain redemption stories out there, ‘Breen’s Redemption’ is a short, effective tale that’s told without any dialogue(outside of the opening). While he probably would not be given a chance of redemption based on how much the in-game characters despise him, I like seeing him get a chance to turn back, making this video a personal favorite… but if you’d rather see Breen get his comeuppance in hilarious ways, this should help scratch that itch: