Gordon Freeman, in the flesh—or rather, in the Hazard Suit. A prodigy who made his way into the Black Mesa Research Facility as a research associate at the young age of 27, Doctor Freeman has been the protagonist of most, though not all, of the games in the Half-Life series, and while his appearance has remained relatively consistent throughout—auburn-haired, bespectacled, usually wearing an Hazardous EnVironment (HEV) Suit and often seen with a crowbar in hand—, there are still enough differences in each installment to warrant a style review.
So, then, let’s take a look at Mr. Freeman through the years and rank each and every of his looks throughout the official Half-Life games, from the early days of development of the original Half-Life up to modern times. Beware of spoilers though, as we do cover, well, everything, so if you’re not fully up to date with the series, you may want to skip this. Just trust me on that.
Bear in mind that we are only ranking official appearances here, so fan-made models and art are very much excluded from this list, although we might do a separate list somewhere down the line. That said, both models and art are being ranked here, mostly because there are a variety of differences even between representations of Gordon Freeman for the same game across mediums, but also due to the fact that some games didn’t even get their official model, while Gordon was still ever-present in artwork.
Credit and thanks in advance to the Combine OverWiki, both as a source of images as well as actually featuring some of the more obscure Gordons out there.
“player.mdl”, from Half-Life 2
I mean, technically this is a Gordon Freeman model?
Believe it or not, this is actually how you look in-game in Half-Life 2 and its episodic sequels. You never do get to see your reflection, mostly due to engine limitations of the time (reflections are hard), so you never actually realize you look like a low-resolution, Half-Life 1-era grey Gordon Freeman model.
Either way, however you want to put it, as a Gordon Freeman model, this is pretty lackluster, and not at all a good look. Moving on!
“playerstart.mdl”, a.k.a. “info_player_start”, also from Half-Life 2
Yes, this is, again, a technicality, but I’m hoping you let it slide. I mean, it has a goatee and glasses! That’s definitely Freeman.
This model is never actually seen in the games themselves, but it is used in Source mapping to represent where the player’s going to spawn in the map, hence info_player_start. So it doesn’t just represent Gordon Freeman but rather any playable character in Source engine games, though it certainly resembles him anyway in a low-poly, green way.
I’m putting this above player.mdl because not only has it become somewhat iconic—you can even buy a 3D-printed model on Etsy, which is awesome—, but it also looks way cooler. There’s just something about this model, whether it be the simple, stylized shape or just the hilarious way the defining facial traits stand out against the green, that makes it stand out.
Still, as Freemans (Freemen?) go, this still has to be pretty low on the list. But I’m still getting a 3D-printed one.
Apple Gordon Freeman(?)
I almost didn’t include this one, but it was an official piece of art from Valve, after all, and it’s too quirky and unique not to mention.
Back in 2010, Steam and Half-Life 2 were brought to the Mac, which Valve teased by releasing this image of Gordon Freeman in a decidedly Apple-themed HEV suit, with that familiar white aesthetic and, of course, the Apple logo replacing the usual lambda.
Is it ever seen in the games? No way. Did it spawn a series of memes? Not that I know of. Is it all but forgotten now? Well, yes, but it’s not a terrible reskin. It’s just not Gordon Freeman. Not really.
Scientist Gordon Freeman, from Half-Life: Blue Shift
As cool as it is to see Dr. Freeman in his scientist attire from the start of Half-Life 1, let’s face it: this is just a regular scientist model from the Gearbox High-Definition Pack head-swapped with Gordon Freeman’s head, albeit sans a very particular trait of the Half-Life 1 era (which we’ll get to later).
It also loses points for the lack of individuality. Because of his trademark HEV Suit, Gordon tends to stand out from his fellow lab workers, but here, he’s just another scientist, running late to work. You put him alongside all those other scientists wearing “those ridiculous ties” and you’ll have a hard time distinguishing your Freeman from your Walter Bennett.
I do like the detail of his security card having a very tiny, low-resolution Gordon photo, though. Nice touch for a model only seen for a split second.
Early Half-Life 1 artwork Gordon Freeman
By all intents and purposes, this Gordon Freeman looks basically the same as he does in later HL1 artwork, but there’s a small difference that makes this one a bit unique. Can you tell what it is?
Well, if you can’t, you’d best put your glasses on, because it is pretty obvious that Dr. Freeman lost his!
Gordon’s eyewear is a vital piece of his iconic look, as much as his goatee and his HEV Suit, so it’s weird to see him lacking it in early art—although, to be fair, it’s also a lot more faithful to his actual in-game look, where (gasp!) he’s also missing them. But he’s just not the same without them.
The multiplayer model from Half-Life 1
Another deep cut, and one that is very similar to his singleplayer variant; in fact, the model is pretty much the same, but with enough differences texture-wise to set it apart.
Much like his campaign counterpart, this model of Gordon Freeman is glasses-less, but he also stands out due to his HEV suit’s color scheme. Rather than the bright orange of the regular Mark IV, this model has a more drab and subdued palette, closer to browns and dark reds. And while that tone does fit the Quake-ian origins of Half-Life, it really doesn’t do Gordon any justice.
The Dreamcast and PlayStation 2 Half-Life 1 models
I’m bundling these two together because, frankly, the Dreamcast version doesn’t really “exist” in an official sense, as the game ultimately never came out for that gone-too-soon platform. Which, Gordon Freeman-wise, is for the better, as this model is just awful.
The PlayStation 2 model fares slightly better, actually being a pretty faithful representation of the character, although quite a lot chubbier than the original PC model. I suppose, in this alternate PS2 timeline, Freeman spent more time hanging out with Gearbox’s donut-eating security guard Otis rather than Barney.
Early Half-Life 1 high-res render Gordon Freeman
Another close-but-not-quite HL1 model following the multiplayer version, this rarely-seen model actually has a few noticeable differences from the in-game version.
Most notably, this HEV Mark IV suit looks like it’s a deep shade of red (though admittedly that could be from the scan quality), which actually doesn’t look half-bad and definitely would help hide all the blood stains. He also happens to have glasses, unlike the game model, but, somewhat hilariously, these are sunglasses.
I admit, it’s a cool look, hence why it’s higher on the list than the other variants, but the Matrix fashion doesn’t really fit the dorky silent protagonist we all know and love.
Final Half-Life 1 artwork Gordon Freeman
Now, this is more like it. The version seen in most Half-Life official art—as well as the Steam version’s menu background—is very much quintessential Freeman. All the elements are finally here: the right suit colors, the expertly-trimmed goatee, those thick black-rimmed glasses, and even those green eyes that the official models of the time couldn’t do justice to.
I suppose this is also the best time to address the HEV Mark IV itself. While I love it, I have to admit, I think it’s a bit too orange, and the subsequent Mark V from Half-Life 2 onwards does a much better job of balancing the colors and getting a sleeker look that’s just as iconic.
“Ivan, the Space Biker”
Okay, yes, I know, how dare I put this beta version who looks nothing like the final Gordon Freeman above the actual box art and Steam artwork. To put it simply, this early version of Gordon Freeman— affectionately nicknamed Ivan, the Space Biker by fans—has just grown too familiar and, dare I say, memetic not to earn a high-ranking spot on the list.
As early versions go, this couldn’t look less like the Gordon Freeman we’ve come to love in the games. The basics are sort of there, although what eventually became a goatee is here a full-fledged beard, earning this version the apt “biker” moniker, and there are also no glasses, much like the final model. It’s a very ’90s action-game look that I think fits early Half-Life before it was essentially scrapped and developed anew.
The fact that so many people seem to actually love this version better than the actual “real” Gordon Freeman cements its position as one of the best Gordons, faithfulness to the final version be damned.
Half-Life 2: Survivor’s Gordon Freeman, a.k.a. the lost Half-Life 2 model
Now this one stings me a bit personally. As previously pointed out, there was no actual in-game model for Gordon Freeman in Half-Life 2 beyond those excuses for a representation of the player early in the list. But, as it would later transpire, there was a perfectly good model.. just one we only got way too late, and not quite officially either.
Half-Life 2: Survivor was an arcade spin-off/adaptation of Half-Life 2 developed for the Japanese market, both a multiplayer game with some really weird player models and a shortened remix of sorts of Half-Life 2. As it so happened, it also included a proper, official Half-Life 2 Gordon Freeman model, but one that the Western markets never got until the game was ported to PC in 2013.
As models go, this isn’t actually too bad. The head itself was actually created by morphing four Valve employees together (namely, David Speyer, Eric Kirchmer, Greg Coomer and Kelly Bailey) and used as a basis for most of the official artwork. There’s even a high-resolution face texture for the model that leaked around 2016-2017! Sadly though, it took too long to get this one, forcing fans to make do with recreations over the years, and the fact that it’s never even used in-game bar Survivor brings it down a notch.
Final Half-Life 1 model Gordon Freeman
Classic as classics go, this is a highly nostalgic Gordon Freeman, and also an excellent one at that. While he does lack those characteristic glasses (though he does get them back in Opposing Force), everything else is low-polygonal perfection, from the slender elegant frame to the glorious bright orange and Goldsource-era metal textures. This is really, without a question, Gordon Freeman at his prime.
And, of course, I have to mention… the ponytail. This model actually has a tiny ponytail that is never seen anywhere in the artwork nor ever again in the series, which doesn’t make it any less beloved by fans. It’s so popular it even earned a special mention at the start of the Half-Life remake Black Mesa.
All that being said, I’d still argue it’s not quite pinnacle Freeman. Not by any fault of its own aesthetically, but the late-’90s graphics fidelity doesn’t do Gordon full justice, and—to my shame amongst the hardcore Half-Life 1 fan crowd—I think it has been surpassed as an icon by number 1, too.
Half-Life: Alyx’s Gordon Freeman
Hey, I warned you there would be spoilers.
Somewhat unexpectedly, Dr. Gordon Freeman actually makes a cameo appearance at the very end of the newest title in the franchise, the presumed prequel Half-Life: Alyx, which also marks the first time he’s properly seen in-game since the end of the Half-Life 1 expansion Blue Shift.
While very fresh and not nearly as iconic as the HL1 model, this one has it beat by sheer fidelity alone. It’s the best-looking in-game Gordon Freeman model by far, and I can’t help but love all the little details added to the model, like the growing stubble and the gaping wounds and holes in the HEV Mark V that scream, hey, man, Gordon’s been through some shit.
It also gains points by being the very first time we get to officially see Dr. Freeman again in over thirteen years, and we can’t wait to get back in his boots in the (hopefully) near future.
Half-Life 2 (and episodes) artwork Gordon Freeman
This is the one. The One Free Man, Opener of the Way, in all his glory. The survivor of Black Mesa, the destroyer of Citadels, the one and only… Gordon Freeman.
It wasn’t the first and definitely (thankfully) won’t be the last, but the Gordon Freeman present in the various pieces of Half-Life 2 artwork is, in my book, the Gordon Freeman. It’s the most iconic look, not just because of that sweet and beautiful HEV Mark V, but also because it’s the Gordon Freeman that we all saw at the height of Half-Life mania, from the announcement of Half-Life 2 right up to the climactic ending of Episode Two.
Somewhat disappointingly, it’s also the Gordon Freeman we’ve been stuck with for the past decade and a half, as Valve moved on from the series until its VR return in 2020, but I’d say that only makes him all the more iconic. This is the Gordon Freeman we’ve seen in every art piece and Half-Life 3 publication or video from 2004 up to now, at least until Valve decides to release another Half-Life game, and it’s become the definite article.
If you agree or disagree with the list, or if I’ve neglected to mention some official Gordon Freeman appearance in the Half-Life series, let me know in the comments below!