Halfway through reviewing Half-Life 2: Episode Two for PC Gamer about a month ago, Valve PR Doug Lombardi asks me if I know about the gnome achievement.
“Did you find the gnome near the start?”
“You have to put him in the rocket before it launches.”
“But isn’t that right near the end of the game?”
“Doesn’t that mean you have to-”
“Oh I’m so doing that.”
A month or so later, I have.
Obviously any time you know you’re going to be coming back to an area, you can set him down there and go off on your own. My tendancy to put him in areas where I knew something dramatic was going to happen cost me my gnome once or twice.
You’d think the defense section in the mines would be an easy spot – just leave him there and come back. Yes. But don’t leave him near the people you’re protecting. It turns out there’s a bottomless chasm directly behind them with inadequate safety railings, and antlion swipes send the little guy flying.
The gnome adds poignancy to any scene.
But he’s a liability in lifts – put him on the floor and he sometimes gets stuck, jamming part of the lift but letting the rest move up, fatally crushing everyone inside. Except the gnome. The gnome, I discovered after a quick save-and-load test, is indestructable.
Like The Freeman, he’s a good listener during exposition.
He managed to fall out of this lift while it was going up, meaning I had to throw myself off a cliff with 3 health to get back down and retrieve him, and pray that the lift was summonable again from the gound floor. It was.
Ah, how easy all this would have been if Alyx really did hold him on her lap. And an extra 3% onto the score, by the way, Valve. But no, he clips through her, and half-rests within the chassis of the car, sliding around it wildly with the slightest acceleration and hurling himself dramatically out of it at even the gentlest turns.
You get the car after a long trek through some sludge and abandoned buildings infested with zombies. I left the gnome with Alyx and the Vortigaunt, because I knew you come back to that area once you get the car. But then I remembered with some degree of horror that you don’t actually get back into that room again – you have to open the door to it for the two of them using a switch in another room, and it only stays open for a few seconds.
Could I, if I pulled the switch from as far away as it was usable, then spun one-eighty, jumped off the ladder, dashed up the stairs and barged my way past Alyx and the alien, get back in there and grab the gnome?
I could, however, pull the switch, spin one-eighty, leap off the ledge, dash up the stairs, barge past the NPCs and suck him to me with the Gravity Gun just microseconds before the door slammed back shut. If I’d left him a few feet further from the exit, I would have had to repeat the whole section. Holding a fucking gnome.
Strapping him to the bonnet does not work.
Here’s the gnome at the end of the Hunter-Chopper pursuit section. That section is tricky for a few reasons.
1) If you steer at all, the gnome falls out of your car. If you don’t steer at all, you run straight into the Chopper’s mines and die.
2) If you go fast, he falls out. If you go slow, the Chopper switches to direct-fire mode, hovers in front of you and fires directly in your face, killing you.
3) If you stop to pick up the gnome when he falls out, the Chopper swings down low over your vehicle, and the downdraft sends the gnome flying. It’s impossible to put him back in the car under these conditions, or predict where he’ll go if you fire him into that downdraft with the gravity gun, or survive for more than a few seconds because of all the gunfire.
So it plays a little like a nightmarish version of Speed – you have to keep your velocity above a certain margin to avoid certain death, but at the same time drive as slowly as possible and incredibly carefully.
Alyx sometimes gives the gnome funny looks.
He is also more photogenic in bright lighting conditions, and prefers studio lighting where available.
I could have left the little guy here while I dealt with the Autogun, but I couldn’t remember if you go back into the garage after the rebels have fixed your car, or if they take it out to you and the garage is shut. I left it on the road outside instead.
I’m not really sure what happened here. I left him to stand sentry on the high wall outside the Inn, and after the Hunter fight he was face-down in the dirt at the scene of what looks like it must have been a fairly serious explosion.
The gnome knows no fear. He knows nothing.
White Forest, at freaking last.
The gnome is keen to learn of your ‘AR3’s.
Who watches the watchers? The gnome does. He watches everyone, unblinkingly.
His presence starts to get a little creepy during the more personal moments.
Ah, his chariot at long last. Lamarr is permitted to enter first, being named after a female.
Farewell, brave traveller! May I never, ever set eyes on your stupid fucking face again.
The hatch is sealed, the deal is done. The achievement is not unlocked. The worry begins here, and does not end until after the credits roll – the achievement never actually pops up.
But there he goes, exploding in space alongside everyone’s favourite headcrab eunoch. I’m guessing Kleiner won’t have time to grieve in the rather more serious context of Episode Three.
It had indeed registered the Achievement. It’s nice to have a permanent record of the insanity Valve have inexplicably put me through, but by the end of it the satisfaction of doing something really, really difficult and really, really pointless was enough.
Up-update! Chris Livingston, author of the superb webcomic Concerned, had a much, much better idea. He’s screenshotting the gnome as if he is Gordon Freeman, and it’s already produced three completely priceless images. The rest are here.
Up-up-update! Er, a few things seem to need clarifying. In descending order of obviousness:
- This is not Halo (!). It’s Half-Life 2: Episode Two.
- This isn’t a review (!?). My Episode Two review is online here, along with my Portal and Team Fortress 2 ones.
- There isn’t really a Gnome Supply Closet in the silo at White Forest (!??). I was joking in the comments.
- There isn’t a second gnome near the rocket launcher cache – Kotaku commenter Thorn thought he saw one there, but later realised he was thinking of the same place we all got it from near the start.
- I was playing on PC. Steam has an Achievements system just like Xbox Live.
- It has been established that due to its design the gnome is probably, but not definitely, an Amelie reference.
- My screenshots are definitely Amelie references.
- This run through actually took less time than my first, gnome-free play-through of the game. It’s harder, but it’s not significantly slower.
- ‘Pentadact’ in the comments is me, Tom Francis, master of stealth. I don’t know why that’s not made clear anywhere on this site.
Tip! If you’re trying for the Grubs achievement, you’re insane, but commenter Escobard points out a guide by bdmason over at the Steam forums that will help. It tells you how many you should have killed at the end of each section.
Lastly: Garry has more gnomes than you or I: