If an alien visited Earth and wanted to capture a summary of video gaming, they’d quickly become aware of Half-Life. The series is far from foreign to the hearts of most gamers, and the products of the Half-Life universe — both the Half-Life and Portal series — remain some of the highest rated games by critics. However, the series has become even more iconic for its unreleased sequel, Half-Life 3.
Half-Life 3, or perhaps more appropriately Half-Life 2: Episode Three, has become a notable case of anticipation and speculation. Years after the latest instalment to the Half-Life series, the game is yet to even get a mention by developer Valve, even though the episodic sequels to Half-Life 2 were announced as a triology. In this article, we’ll take a look at the story of Half-Life, both in the games released already and what’s speculated for the future.
Be warned: spoilers ahead!
The Story So Far
We looked at the storyline of Half-Life and its sequel, Half-Life 2, in our recent review of the latter. Half-Life saw a recent graduate of Theoretical Physics from MIT, Dr Gordon Freeman, inadvertently trigger a Resonance Cascade when the mysterious G-Man convinced scientists at his research facility, Black Mesa, to analyse a non-standard substance. The experiment opened a portal of sorts between Earth and the alien world Xen, which was subsequently used by alien forces to invade Earth.
The majority of gameplay in Half-Life takes place in the aftermath of the Resonance Cascade where the game’s protagonist, Dr Freeman, explores a destabilising Black Mesa and fights off some of the alien forces that have already made their way to Earth. As the player makes their way through the facility, they become aware that the Hazard Environment Combat Unit, a special forces team of the US Marine Corps that have been sent to regain control of the facility and exterminate any of the alien forces. However, they have also been instructed to kill anyone with knowledge of the experiment as part of a cover up operation, including one Dr Freeman.
Eventually, the armed forces pull out of Black Mesa when it becomes apparent to them that they’re fighting a losing battle. Freeman eventually makes his way to be teleported to Xen where he fights off forces on their own territory, including a boss, after which he is praised by the G-Man and offered a job by his employers. Failing to accept this offer results in inescapable death, whereas accepting end the game, only for the events of Half-Life 2 to take place afterwards.
Half-Life 2 sees the reawakening of Gordon Freeman some twenty or so years after the Black Mesa Incident. After a short introduction by the G-Man, Dr Freeman finds himself on a train that shortly arrives in City 17, where the aftermath of the Black Mesa Incident becomes evident. The Resonance Cascade and its subsequent opening of portals between Earth and Xen caught the attention of an alien race, known as the Combine, who control a significant empire that spans multiple parallel universes.
The Combine invaded Earth, defeating the planet’s defences in mere hours in a conflict that became known as the Seven Hour War. Wallace Breen, the administrator of Black Mesa when the events of the original Half-Life took place, negotiated a surrender on behalf of Earth that results in the state of humanity during Half-Life 2. A resistance group was formed to combat the Combine control.
Gordon Freeman’s arrival in City 17 goes fairly unnoticed until a reunion with former Black Mesa scientist and mentor of Freeman, Dr Isaac Keliner, and an unsuccessful teleport leads Freeman to appear in the office of Dr Breen for a few seconds. Aware of his presence in City 17 and presumably his role in the events of the Black Mesa Incident and its aftermath, Dr Breen dispatches Combine forces to either capture or kill Dr Freeman as he makes his way through City 17.
Eventually Gordon meets up with more members of the Resistance — including his oft-companion Alyx Vance — who equip him with weaponry and vehicles, allowing for travel to a major scientific base for the Resistance. Here, Freeman becomes equipped with further tools and weaponry and is forced to suffer a brief journey through the zombie-infested Ravenholm when he escapes due to a raid of the Resistance base (Ravenholm was originally a secluded village free of Combine control but, when found, its citizens were turned into headcrab zombies when the Combine used them as biological weapons).
After finding a route out of Ravenholm, Dr Freeman is eventually reunited with members of the Resistance and given a vehicle to travel a coastal route to Nova Prospekt, where Eli Vance, a Black Mesa and Resistance scientist, was taken during the raid prior to the chapter on Ravenholm. Formerly a high security prison and now a Combine facility for the processing and detainment of citizens whom they determine to be a threat, Nova Prospekt involves many battles with the Combine, in part alongside Alyx Vance whose reunion occurs during the exploration of the facility.
Dr Judith Mossman — originally introduced as a member of the Resistance earlier in the game — is discovered to be, in fact, a spy inside the group who takes Eli Vance to the Combine’s Citadel in City 17, leading the game’s events there. However, the teleport used to return the Dr Freeman and Alyx Vance to City 17 got stuck in a week-long loop, time lost while the events at Nova Prospekt are seen as a sign by the Resistance to start on a full on war in City 17. Gordon and Alyx make their way through City 17 and to the Citadel where more conflict with the Combine ensure until a final confrontation with Earth administrator Dr Breen.
Half-Life 2 ends here, only for the events of Episode One to begin. An intermediary cutscene ends up bringing you to outside the Citadel, where the ending of Half-Life 2’s effects can be seen in City 17. The destabilising city continues to fall apart, but Gordon and Alyx must venture into the Citadel in order to stabilise its reactor to offer them just enough time to get out alive. Episode One primarily takes the player through City 17 and eventually out to safety.
After escaping City 17, the main characters make their way to the White Forest Resistance Base where a rocket is launched to control the portal storms in the world. A message is also found showing Judith Mossman investigating the Borealis, an Aperture Science vessel that apparently contains technology of great importance. Unfortunately the message is cut off, as is the eventual game which is left on a clifhanger.
The same universe hosts Aperture Science and the Portal games. While these never really cross paths, exploring the abandoned testing areas in Portal 2 does in fact reveal the original home of the Borealis, although nothing of use is gained from visiting the relatively-hidden area.
The episodic sequels to Half-Life were announced as a trilogy, but the third instalment is yet to be properly announced. The large delay in delivering this sequel has led to speculation that Valve is, in fact, working on a much bigger sequel in the form of Half-Life 3 that would presumably go further into the story of the Borealis and, perhaps, cross further into the Portal franchise (if that indeed turns out to be true, the delay could be explained by including the Portal games in the Half-Life series, which they technically are).
Being subject to constant delay and conflicting rumour, the details of the game we have so far are open to have changed or be changed. No official information or previews of the mysterious game have been offered, although there have been a few apparent leaks and concept art release for the game. The sole, solid detail we have is that Dr Freeman continues as the game’s main protagonist, and that’s it. We have a bunch of concept art but little else, and Valve remains quite. As discussed previously, there are rumours that the next Half-Life game will feature on the Borealis story arc, perhaps allowing the player to cross more over into the Portal series, but nothing is confirmed or even denied.
Half-Life 3 continues to be one of gaming’s most infamous cases of vaporware, and it might still be years until we see it. Don’t worry though, when — or perhaps more appropriately, if — Half-Life 3 sees the light of day, you can bet we’ll have a review for you!