Or is it Episode 3? Does it matter at this point? Frankly, they could call it Half-Life 3: Blue Shift 2: Barney’s Fight For Worker’s Comp for all I care, as long as we get the game before the end of the decade. What do we want to see in the third full-length (presumably) installment in the series? Read on to find out.
The Half-Life trilogy’s story arc thus far goes something like this: Black Mesa made an oopsie and created a resonance cascade scenario, ripping open portals in the time-space continuum and allowing aliens from the planet Xen to pour onto Earth, killing many a hapless scientist and soldier. Gordon Freeman manages to evade not only the hostile Xen wildlife and more-intelligent, albeit enslaved, Vortigaunts, but also specially-trained Marine forces sent to wipe out all evidence of the incident. After a failsafe satellite launch fails to close the portal, scientists in the Lambda Complex send our mute friend on a suicide mission to the borderworld to defeat the enemy apparently holding the portal open, the powerful fetus-like Nihilanth. Gordon caps him, and the G-Man puts our bearded brother into stasis to await future orders.
At the beginning of Half-Life 2, Gordon is pulled out of stasis to find the earth under the control of the mysterious, mechanized Combine. He is so frustrated that he wasted all his time fighting the aliens only for earth to fall in a few short hours that he screams, “…” He then goes on, “…” After getting that off his chest, he meets up with former Black Mesa employees and members of the fledgling Resistance movement, only to get separated and see Eli captured by the Combine. So, Alyx and Gordon bust him out like any good doctor of theoretical physics would do, but discover that fellow Resistance member Judith is actually a double agent working for the Combine. Then, she changes her mind just in time to help Gordon and Alyx pursue the diabolical Dr. Breen and destroy the monolithic Citadel.
In the ensuing pair of Episodes, Alyx and Gordon barely escape the devastating explosion caused by the destruction of the Citadel, and discover that the blast will be used by the Combine to create a superportal to seal Earth’s fate as their resource farm. The Resistance manages to launch a rocket to stop the formation of the portal just in time, but the game closes on a cryptic message from Eli concerning a dangerous piece of cargo on the Aperture Science vessel Borealis.
Four years later, we know nothing more about the plot of the Half-Life series than I have just described to you. If there is one thing we want from the next foray into Gordon Freeman’s silent shoes, it’s resolution to the many loose ends left hanging over the past 13 years. Now, I realize that often some issues are better left up to the player’s imagination, and I’m okay with that: not every motive of the mysterious G-Man need be explained, nor do we need to know the ins-and-outs of the Combine homeworld and history. But it would be great to see the overarching storyline, the invasion and the Resistance’s feeble attempts to stop it, closed up nicely.
2.) Adrian Shephard
Opposing Force is one of the best expansion packs to hit the PC in the platform’s rich history, yet the last we heard of its star Marine Adrian Shephard, he was hurtling through a black void in his Osprey, left to rot by the insidious G-Man. Even a cameo appearance or mention would help numb the pain of the corporal’s absence. I, for one, would explode in a shower of blood, guts, and joy if the final moments of Half-Life 3 went something like this:
G-MAN: Your usssssefulness is at itsss end, Dr. Freeman. It’s time to die.
G-MAN: Niccccce comeback.
Adrian Shephard appears, seemingly from nowhere, accompained by a bright light. AC/DC’s Back in Black begins to play
ADRIAN: Hey G-Man, I’m baa-aaaaack! BOOM, BABY!
Adrian Shephard lines up a punt and kicks G-Man’s head clean off. The head hurtles off into the distance, disappearing with a twinkle. Credits run.
3.) Black Mesa
It was a very good move on the part of Valve to change up the setting for Half-Life 2; by the time the landmark sequel was released, we had played through Black Mesa’s claustrophobic, OSHA-violating passageways three times between the original game and its expansion packs, not to mention the many hours wasted away in deathmatches and mods utilizing the same levels. City 17 and the Eastern European countryside were a great choice for a more open, breathable atmosphere and gaming experience that really let the Gravity Gun and other new mechanics shine. But now, it’s been about a decade since we’ve last seen the legendary laboratory’s hallowed halls, and I feel a return to where it all began would be a fitting end to the three-game (plus episodes and expansions) story arc.
Now, I’m not saying it would be a wise design decision to simply rehash the entire research facility for the majority of the game, but a passing nod to how far technology has come since the first game, a glance at how Black Mesa can look in the 2011–or 2012? 2013?–version of the Source engine would be a welcome blast of nostalgia for this PC gamer. And, for storyline’s sake, revisiting monuments players are familiar with, much like how the Citadel was left in plain sight building up to the ending of Half-Life 2, can be a very effective emotional trigger for important climactic moments in a game. Plus, most importantly, I want to overheat that dork scientist’s lunch in the microwave again.
4.) The Crowbar
I got a fever, and the only prescription is more crowbar. Look, I absolutely love and respect what Valve did with the Gravity Gun, and its effects on our games are still being felt today. It really showed game developers what well-implemented physics could mean, not only for gameplay, but for a greater sense of immersion. It spawned a dozen first-person knockoffs in the years following, to boot.
But if any game developer knows when it’s time to innovate, it’s Valve, and I am hoping Gordon shelves the Gravity Gun for at least a portion of Half-Life 3, letting us get back to old-fashioned smart combat. The reason we loved the first Half-Life was because of how we had to think our way through the tough battles against the razor-sharp AI, who would try to flush us out with grenades, flanking, and aggressive rushing in when appropriate. It was the survival horror feel integrated smoothly into a solid first-person shooter, the terror of lunging zombies when we only had two bullets left in our revolver before we had to resort to the trusty crowbar. You see, when I say they should bring the crowbar back, while I do mean the weapon should get more emphasis, I think the crowbar is representative of how the first game played versus the more open, frantic sequels. I want that horrified, alone, ammoless sensation back, even if the gameplay would need to be updated for this decade, even if it were just a couple of levels in the midst of a louder, more epic, more modern whole.
Beware, matey, thar be spoilers ahead! Alyx is a great character, a down-to-earth female in a gaming market that’s much more fond of the metal-bikinied one-dimensional trophy girl we’ve seen all too often. And yet, aside from some funny, realistic dialogue, I don’t feel Valve has done more than scratch the surface of her depth of character, a real shame considering some of the potential here. Now’s a great opportunity: Alyx’s father has just been brutally murdered right before her eyes, and the Resistance is about to mount a daring mission to take out some dangerous–portal?–technology that the Combine has their greedy eyes on. The possibilities to explore some of her pain and emotion are vast, more of an opportunity than perhaps we have seen for the rest of this series. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want this game to be Heavy Rain, but there ought to be ample chance in Half-Life 3 to show some of Alyx’s character without compromising the action elements of the game.
I am certain Valve, whatever they are doing, will surprise us: if I were writing this in early 2006, the last things I would have put on a list for the pending Episode 2 release would have been “first-person puzzle game” and “cartoon class-based multiplayer shooter,” yet in giving us the Orange Box, Valve delighted and surprised many of its fans. Yet still, as a longtime fan of the series, I can only hope some aspects of the above list will be incorporated, in however small a fashion that might be.