A decade of waiting is finally over. The much anticipated first-person-shooter “Half-Life 2: Episode 3” has released. Sort of.
Last Friday writer Marc Laidlaw, former employee at game studio Valve, posted a 2,000-word synopsis of the sequel’s plot. The gaming community was so desperate for any “Half-Life” related morsel that the server crashed and a reader hosted it on another site.
Since Valve is a notoriously secret company, Laidlaw’s leak means the story has diverged from his outline significantly or the game is no longer being developed. Some interpret the story as a rough draft of a work in progress or fanfiction. But for many fans, that post was the final nail in the coffin of Valve’s abandoned game.
The multi-award winning franchise has plenty of good reasons for people clamoring for more. When the story of Dr. Gordon Freeman fighting off inter-dimensional aliens released in 1998 it won over 50 “Game of the Year” awards. Rather than using traditional cutscenes or a disembodied partner communicating through an earpiece, the narrative moved forward via conversations and treated you like you were in the room, even though Gordon never spoke. It changed the shooting genre and people breakdown videogames into pre- and post-“Half-Life” categories.
The sequel raised the bar for video games again in 2004. Using Valve’s new Source engine, the animation and physics in “Half-Life 2” were unprecedented and unparalleled. Players could use the iconic gravity gun to manipulate almost any object in the game to solve puzzles or eliminate foes alongside their new ally Alyx Vance. With the release of the episodes in 2006 and 2007, gamers got more glimpses of Valve’s technical brilliance.
Though the short first and second episodes came out a year apart, this isn’t like “Call of Duty” or “Assassin’s Creed” where the next installment comes out usually each year. Good things take time and since it took five years between the first two games people are willing to wait for “Half-Life 2: Episode 3” or a larger “Half-Life 3”. Yet waiting indefinitely is another story.
Picking up at its predecessor’s cliffhanger, Laidlaw outlines what happens to the word-saving duo with coded names like “Gertie Fremont” and “Alex Vaunt.” The two head to the Antarctic to explore the Borealis, a science ship captured by the Combine aliens. While it phases in and out of time and space, Vance and Freeman turn it into a bomb to fight back. As things go nuclear the enigmatic G-Man and friendly Vortigaunts save the heroes at the last second just like they always do, leaving room for another installment.
My first experience with the series was when I played “The Orange Box,” in the summer of 2008. It was a collection that compiled Valve’s franchise along with the “Half-Life”-adjacent puzzle game “Portal” and multiplayer shooter “Team Fortress 2.” That summer I walked around City 17 in awe, befriended a lovable robot named DOG and crashed vehicles more times than I can remember. I also scared myself with parasite headcrab monsters with a crowbar in Raveholm, laughed manically as I controlled the deadly antlions with pheromones and felt my heart pound in my chest as I hid from Combine hunters. I can always revisit that box and re-experience those thrills, but it’s bittersweet to know that’s all I’ll have of Gordon and Alyx.
A few game makers, however, see Laidlaw’s post as a start of a new journey. This weekend entrepreneurs created a game jam with one rule: use the new plot in some way. Now there will be dozens of “Half-Life 3s” by the end of October, each with their own flavor, just none of them officially sanctioned.
We’re likely to never get closure with the third episode. There’s no way Valve can satisfy the hype-hungry fans so it’s safer for them to never release something and keep the hope alive rather than douse it with disappointment. We’re instead left with the best what-if scenarios our imaginations can come up. Maybe that’s for the best.