Learn a range of combat tactics for Half-Life 2: Deathmatch, from basic to difficult.

Why Half-Life 2 DM?

Goldeneye was my favorite multiplayer FPS back in the old days. Half-Life 2 retains most of the good parts about Goldeneye: the weapons are highly varied, the pace is frantic, and the control is excellent. It also contributes some good ideas of its own:

In Half-Life 2, one life can last anywhere from 1 second to 5 minutes or more. Luckily, you respawn almost instantly after death, so things like spawn camping or armor/health camping really don’t matter. As long as you are constantly playing and having fun, who cares if you just died? The fact that you respawn so fast actually makes the game more fair and more fun.

Oh, and instead of spawning with a pistol and maybe a weak melee weapon like most FPS games, you spawn with a crowbar that can kill in about 2 seconds, a pistol with a clip of 18, a fast firing machine gun with 90 rounds, 2 grenades, and the gravity gun, which can easily get multikills if you know what you are doing. Sounds a little better to me.

It’s great that you can easily get into a 0-lag match with 8 other people within seconds of running the game, then go get a few dozen kills in no time. You come and go as you please with no waiting.

My Controls

I use the standard FPS control scheme: w, a, s, and d act like arrow keys. You move back and forward with w and s and strafe with a and d. ctrl crouches, shift runs, and space bar jumps. The mouse aims, left click is fire and right click is alternate fire.

Life just started

You just spawned, there’s action everywhere—what do you do!? Chances are, you can probably already see someone, and it’s only going to be a couple seconds at most before they start shooting you. Assuming they are fairly close, you’ve got to act now.

You start with the gravity gun drawn, so if you see some deadly objects nearby, you can try flinging those at your opponent (see the the weapons guide, coming soon, details on the grav gun). Usually there are also powerful weapons nearby the spawns, and if you have time to go for one, great. If not, your best bet is probably to mouse wheel up to the sub machine gun and start firing right away. If they are REALLY close, you can always try your luck with the crowbar.

Combat Basics (dogfights)

No matter how much you like sniping, eventually you are going to get into a toe-to-toe dogfight at close-medium range. And by eventually, I mean all the time. Here are some tactics that work well no matter what gun you are using.


You want to be strafing almost constantly if you are in a dogfight. This makes you harder to hit. But you don’t just want to strafe in one direction. The best idea is to use strafing and forward/backward motion to zig-zag around your opponent, constantly keeping your crosshair trained on them with the mouse.
If you need accuracy more than dodging (maybe because you are using a slow weapon), you might want to try matching your opponent’s strafe. If they strafe right, you strafe right… they go left, you go left. This makes it easier to hit them, especially if they are fairly predictable, or slow at changing their tactics.


Just strafing isn’t enough, because you move too slow walking. Use the shift button with your pinky finger to run. My usual tactic is to turn run on and off frequently to keep my speed high, but also erratic. This will make you harder to predict. Luckily, you know when you are going to run and strafe, so you can compensate equally with your mouse movement so that you don’t end up just shooting blindly into the blue.


Strafing and running are good, but there’s more. Occasionally crouching for just a second during a dogfight can really throw your opponent off, because now they have to aim downward and your speed just dropped suddenly. Once they’ve adjusted their aim and compensated for your slow down, you are already standing up again and running, giving you precious seconds in which they are confused, but you know exactly what you are doing.


Now we add the final element to the equation: jumping. Some people jump constantly, but I haven’t got to the point where I can do it and still aim well enough to do any damage. Jump-crouching makes it even better, but it takes a little bit more coordination. I jump-crouch during normal combat once in a while, mostly while running forward to throw an opponent off and close the distance.

Keep in mind that jumping on a low gravity map can put you in the air for about 3 seconds. Many players think “Hey, jumping makes you harder to hit normally, so it’s probably even better if it lasts longer,” and they jump all time on low gravity maps. This isn’t the best idea. Because the jump occurs so slowly, your vertical motion is easy to predict (unlike normal jumping, which only lasts about a half second). Also, although you can move around during a slow jump, you can’t change your velocity anywhere near as quickly as when you are on the ground. Zigzagging is out of the question, so overall you are easier to hit. It’s still useful in a lot of cases though. One good time is when you feel like jumping directly at your opponent at high speeds with a fast weapon. It’s pretty surprising, and the fact that you are getting closer speeds up your slow vertical motion from their perspective.

The secret to surviving dogfights is to vary your tactics. If you’ve been crouching, stand up. If you’ve been zigzagging, move directly backward. If they aren’t expecting it, it’s probably a good idea. As long as you can still aim reasonably well, you are at a huge advantage if your opponent has no clue what your next move is going to be. Of course, some guns work better for wild tactics like these, in particular guns that fire fast or hit easy, like the sub machine gun and its grenade rounds.


Now that you know how to survive, it’s time to start giving some back. In general, aiming takes a lot of practice and reflexes, but there are many techniques that can make things easier.
Now, you’d think that the closer you are, the easier it is to hit your target. Well, that makes a whole lot of sense until you realize that your target is usually moving fast and most of your guns don’t lose accuracy over distances. This is Half-Life, not real life.

There are exceptions. The submachine gun has a ton of recoil, and is therefore worse at long distances. The pistol is a little bit better, but not much because it takes so many hits with it to get a kill. The shotgun’s pellets spread out at range, so although you’ll probably hit, it’s not going to be as powerful. Weapons that lob (like grenades) may not have the range to hit a faraway target, but aren’t any less accurate due to the distance itself.

All the other standard weapons (.357, pulse rifle, crossbow, RPG, etc.) are just about as viable at long range as they are at close range. The point I’m getting at here is that range isn’t necessarily the enemy of accuracy. Sure, a distant target is a bit smaller, but from far away they are also moving much slower relative to the size of screen. This means that a faraway moving target is actually not much harder to hit than a close one (if at all).


If you are having trouble hitting a wildly moving opponent, try backing off. They might feel compelled to run forward toward you (in which case they are easier to hit), or they might decide that since you are far away, they don’t need to move as crazy and they’ll start focusing on aiming, also making them easier to hit.

As I mentioned earlier, matching their motion or changing your motion so that they are only moving forward/backward relative to you is really helpful for your accuracy. If you can get in a position where your strafe angle nearly “cancels out” theirs, then their motion relative to you will be much smaller and they will be easy to hit. It only takes of second or two of accurate fire to do serious damage, so don’t get discouraged if you are having trouble hitting them at first.


Aside from moving to complement their motion, you also want to try to predict where they are going so that you can lead them there with the mouse the whole time. If you are constantly reacting to their motion, you are probably not going to hit very often because human reaction time is not fast enough to keep the crosshair steady on an unpredictable target. Instead, you have to do your best to guess what they are going to do, based on what they are doing right now and what you have seen them do in the past. If they are jumpers, aim a little higher and get ready to flick the mouse upward when they start jumping. If they strafe often, try to get a feel for how often they change speed and direction and prepare your reflexes for the changes.

The only weapon you really have to lead your opponent with is the crossbow at long ranges. The bolt moves quickly, but not instantly. If your opponent is not aware of you, then all you’ll probably have to do is lead them a little bit as they move in a predictable way. If you are in a dogfight though (at close or far range), then it gets quite a bit trickier. However, it’s really just the same as leading a zigzagging target with any other gun, just that instead of trying to move say, 1/3 second ahead of them, you are ¾ of a second ahead of them.


If you’re like me, once in a while you like to find yourself a quiet corner and pick people off from a distance.

If you want to just stand still and shoot, then you want to find a dark area, preferably not one near any spawn points. Sometimes I like to crouch so that I’m less visible. The more cover you have, the better.

Bring a good supply of ammo, if you can find it. This way you won’t have to expose yourself and your great hiding position any sooner than you have to. Once you are settled in, it’s all about the art of aiming.

Hopefully you’ve got enough tips now to stay alive for a few seconds, maybe more. Stay tuned for my next guide that goes in depth on each weapon and when to use them.