Half-Life 3 Preview
Cries and protestations echo around this net of ours on a regular basis; cries for sequels, cries for prequels, cries for transparency, cries for clemency. One most potent as of late has been the call for new Half-Life information. Is it an episode? Is it a full sequel, is it even still alive? Gaben, why hast thou forsaken us?
Rest assured that all this effort has not been in vain! I was contacted by two employees of Valve Software* who were keen to let the fans know what is happening to their beloved series.
First off, the answer to a big question, the next game will be called Half-Life 3. It’s moving to a numbered sequel because we’re jumping ahead to some 20 years after the events of Episode 2. The Combine have been driven from earth and the humans and Vortigant refugees are trying to piece their lives back together. My contacts refused to elaborate on what has happened since the end of the prior game but assured me that all the plot threads would come together. When I asked if this time jump has any impact on Gordon Freeman’s character they happily explained that he’s now about 50 years old and has dumped the hazard suit, he hopes, for good. He’s a much more sympathetic figure now apparently, the toll his adventures have taken on him are made clear throughout the game, and Valve is hoping that this humanising will help players connect with the mute hero.
Before we could get into the meat of the game I was asked to let the fans know of a few elements that we’ll see in the game. To start with this instalment is going to be taking Gordon to some real-world locations, a first for the series, including New York and Paris. The series’ strict adherence to fictional locations has so-far allowed for creatively designed setups but ones that have lacked personal connection. Now we’re actually going to get to see real places in the post-Combine era I think it will seriously enhance the believability of the world.
The other tidbit I was asked to pass along is that the weapon set is going to be greatly expanded, with more items that are closer to the more outlandish weaponry of the first game! The only two they would talk about are the ‘electric-arc gun’ and the ‘goo gun’ (temporary names). The first is a homing-beam style weapon that requires the player to be near a source of power at all times, the bigger the source, the more powerful the arc. Thinking about your surroundings and positioning should make for some interesting battlefield tactics. The second fires substances that resemble the various gels of Portal 2; the primary gel in use at the moment can push enemies around, sticking them to whatever surface they bump into. With a variety of other gels in development it sounds like this could be HL3’s gravity gun equivalent!
My contacts were now visibly excited, this was what they were really dying to share, the opening of the game. Ever since the industry-shaking tram ride of Half-Life 1 Valve have been delivering superb introductions; ones that set the tone and draw the player into the world they’re about to inhabit. Half-Life 3 begins in a comparatively muted fashion for Valve; opening with Gordon milling around his basement rec-room. It’s a place of relaxation and retrospection; the walls are adorned with photographs of old friends such Vance and posters from the resistance. If you interact with these items they trigger flashbacks to key moments in the series, which are done in-engine rather than being videos or stills. At a predetermined trigger the story begins in earnest with Gordon receiving a panicked phone call from his mother. This was a character I’d not expected to join the series but she is apparently as resilient as her son and through her we’ll be hearing more about what occurred in the time between the Black Mesa incident and the opening of Half-Life 2. After hearing this call Gordon races over to her house and discovers there is another terrible invasion occurring.
Not the Vortigants, not the Combine, but a currently unnamed alien force is amassing on earth and our first introduction to it comes in the form of a 15-foot tall Manshark comprised of green goo. Think the ‘Street Sharks’ but made of living lime-jelly. In this sequence you fight a quick introductory battle, which forms the combat tutorial, before the Manshark surrenders and reveals he is a traitor to the coming invasion and wanted to find the ‘hero of legend’ who fought the Combine. He has come to deliver the ‘goo gun’ mentioned earlier, hoping to give Earth an early advantage over their foes.
I was excited by the grand scale that the game appears to be aiming for but was doubtful of the relevance of yet another alien invasion plotline, and so I asked my contacts what they were doing to make it work. They explained that the new antagonists have a much different invasion method and this would help them stand out. Instead of enslavement they are coming down to earth in order to sneeze all over humans and cover them with ‘alien snot’ which makes people crazy, who will then destroy the world themselves, leaving the aliens free to live there. This puzzled me a little but then I began to see the subtlety involved, it is a reversing the War of the Worlds dilemma, turning it back on humanity.
I asked if we would be seeing any returning companions, such as Alyx Vance, but they said there would be a mostly new supporting cast. Gordon will be accompanied at all times by two helpers, one is a monkey named ‘Chopsticks’ who can be used in combat and the other is a Parrot called ‘Flappy’ who helps Gordon navigate as a bird-based GPS system. The only returning cast member is the G-man, the mysterious figure whose purpose is still not truly understood, but who has played a large part in shaping Gordon’s life. In order to add an even greater air of mystery in this game my contacts said he will now, at all times, be wearing a wedding dress.
There were hints in the conversation that pointed to a less linear design to the game and with a little prodding it was confirmed that you can now undertake side-missions in more open levels. The two they revealed were one in which Gordon is required to go shopping for Lager (finding the smoothest tasting brand available) and one in which Gordon must eat an enormous supply of cheeseburgers in order to become obese enough to sit on a building and destroy it.
My contacts were quick to flee after our interview, citing security reasons, so I was left to contemplate this bold new direction for the series. In some ways I have been afraid of these changes, it’s risky to leave behind what we know and love in favour of the new, but in the end I realised it is probably better to blaze a trail than take the already worn path. Valve have continually proven their mastery of the FPS and their ability to weave innovative ideas into a compelling frame, and though hesitant at first, I trust that Half-Life 3 will be the best game they’ve ever developed.
*By 'Valve Employees' I mean my Niece Niamh (aged 6) and my Nephew Callum (aged 8) who gleefully made up all the info for this article without knowing anything about Half-Life besides the names.