Set in Valve’s world of Half Life 2 and animated with their animation software Source Filmmaker (SFM), Obey the Nightmare is the journey of an elite soldier of the Universal Union, also known as the Combine.
He’s the best of the best and was tasked with taking control of parts of White Forest, an untouched mountain region where resources and nature were still abundant, while the rest of the world was suffering the disastrous effects from the draining of the oceans by the Universal Union, and wildlife extinction that was caused by the infestation of Xen wildlife after the Black Mesa incident.
But due to the tricky terrain and lack of strong initial footholds, the Resistance was in full control, which only spelled disaster at every corner, every stone, every forest.
For even the best can’t be expected to conjure miracles. With that came the elite soldier’s failure and near-death experience where his head was pierced by a steel, molten rod. But due to the severe body augmentations, that usually lethal hit only proceeded to destabilize him, which also created issues in his indoctrination process.
When a human would join Civil Protection (something like becoming a police officer), if they’re capable enough and show loyalty to the Universal Union, rather than loyalty to the human race, they are given an opportunity to merge further with technology, which requires them to undergo processes of reprogramming, also known as indoctrination.
This would usually lead to loss of memories and identity, which created the perfect soldier, but due to the nature of the human mind, when the subject wouldn’t repeat the process at set intervals, the programmed beliefs would weaken and cause insubordination or questioning of orders.
In this elite soldier’s case, not only was the indoctrination weakened, but it was damaged in such a way that now things were flooding back to his memory, only to be conflicted by the repetitive voice of Overwatch, for him to stick to the code and follow his orders.
In the case where his fellow soldiers were seen as nothing more than tools at his disposal, now they were comrades… now there was this feeling of loss, of pain, of guilt. Had it not been him who had organized and led this attack? Had it not been him who had thrown away all their lives?
For that is why when he puts down one of the soldiers who had been in his squad for as long as he could remember himself, he just couldn’t watch. Helping him out was out of the question since they were deep in enemy territory and the metal piercing his chest was the only thing holding him alive.
In that very moment the elite soldier had become his own very enemy, as the thoughts of going against his orders were triggering others of self-termination since his skills and knowledge were too dangerous if left uncontrolled.
But in his moment of insanity his attention was taken by a troubled rebel medic who was in need of help. His code demanded information and termination of this futile insect, while the human part in him demanded… humanity.
Since his body was so well-connected with technology, the systems that kept him standing had managed to stabilize him while also giving more and more room for the brain to find balance. It was obvious, he wasn’t following the orders anymore. All he wanted to do was to just… be.
So after helping the woman rebel, with her uttering an apology for shooting him in the arm beforehand and then running away, he found himself a view from a higher point on the mountain. The view was beautiful and his leftover vision could slowly remember the times of his past.
But just as some joy spread through his stomach so did the unending rattle of ‘critical failure’ zoom out of his head as his whole body crashed on the soft grass. Might as well he go out like this, as his fight had ended and he was given one last chance to feel human.
Already he had accepted his death, already he had cherished the short moments as he was given back that which had been willingly forfeited. His choices weren’t forced upon him, as he always had the option to not become what he had.
But even through all the discontent and resistance to the failure of his programming, part of him still believed that the only way for humanity to survive was to outgrow itself, to go beyond… to, as his administrator Dr Breen would say, ‘be amongst the stars’.
He knew that humanity would’ve destroyed itself, that even now it was struggling, fighting, causing endless conflict. If only they knew what he knew, if they had seen what he had seen, they would all know how futile it would be to even consider that they had a chance of survival in this huge and dangerous universe.
After all, he had been tasked and sent off-world more than once as a way to prove humanity’s worth to the always-critical benefactors. Out there it was such chaos, such hostility, such a brewing Armageddon.
The ending can be seen in two ways, as he is saved by the very woman that tried to kill him. In a way he has become more human because of his injuries, but due to the fact that he willingly became part synthetic, this gives us the understanding that he would do whatever it takes to contribute to the belief of saving humanity and delivering it amongst the stars.
This was carefully inserted with the discordance at the end where the elite soldier and woman medic walk up the ridge of the mountain. The voices that are heard are the same conflicting orders of Overwatch that never left his head, orders that guide him to make the right choices and most efficient results.
His struggle wasn’t over. After all, who said that he had to win through brute force?
Overall the final result of this long animation, 8 minutes, was rather satisfying since it delved into something that wasn’t before explored as such. Just because someone went through an indoctrination process doesn’t mean they’re victimized, because if they did that so willingly, then they would do anything to fulfill their beliefs.
Such a sacrifice can only be found in the best of the best, those willing to throw away everything for the good of the world, even if this good is labeled as evil.