The hypothetical Half-Life 3 has been the butt of so many jokes in the gaming community that it would be impossible to keep track of them all, with fans of the seminal first-person shooter having long since resigned to the fact that Gordon Freeman's story would be left hanging. The recent, unexpected release of Half-Life: Alyx injected new life into the series, and may have reignited Valve's taste for the franchise.
At least, this is what Robin Walker suggests. Valve veteran and senior developer on titles like Half-Life, Team Fortress and Dota 2 recently gave an interview to The Gamer. While most of the discussion is related to the spin-off itself, such as the internal reaction to it being a VR-only title (mods that make it playable without a VR headset exist), there was a brief touch on the future of the series.
We wanted to be excited about possibility again. We gave [you] a red herring where you think you know how it’s going to end with a fully plausible ending and we then subverted that, which were all really important elements that took a lot of iteration and came together towards the end.
The story of Half-Life: Alyx holds some huge implications for the overarching narrative. Fans have been left on a cliffhanger ever since 2007's Half-life 2: Episode 2, and in the years since theories, memes and more have emerged about how things would continue - including a very detailed treatise on one of the versions of Episode 3, coming from a former Valve developer. That version of Half-Life 2: Episode 3 will never come to pass (partially because it is now public) but nonetheless served as the only form of closure fans had all this time.
Now, Alyx took things in an unexpected direction, while also proving that Valve has not forgotten about Half-Life. Its success might have reignited the company's passion for the series, so hopefully we won't need to wait over a decade for the next game.
According to Walker, Half-Life has reached a kind of mythical status within Valve as well, in so far as there was internal skepticism that they're working on a new product in the series during the development of Alyx. This might partially be blamed on the unusual structure of the company, but is a funny parallel to the way players have regarded the property as well.
I think for the first couple of years [of Alyx development], it was just a bunch of people in the company skeptical that we were going to actually build and release a Half-Life product again. All the skepticism about Valve working on Half-Life that’s out there was just as alive within the company itself, and you just resign yourself to thinking that we’re never going to do it.
Luckily, Alyx did get made, and ended up being a major hit too in spite of VR exclusivity. That too was a point of contention initially among the developers, some of whom were concerned about the reception of the first title in such a legendary series in over a decade coming with such a caveat.
The worst thing we could do is ship a bad Half-Life game, but if we ship a good one that is worthy of the name, then I'm sure people will be able to experience it in time.
This, of course, came true pretty fast. Despite official statements about Half-Life: Alyx being envisioned as a VR title and thus impossible to release without the requirement, modders managed to make the game fully playable without a headset shortly after release.
There is a lot of baggage that comes with developing a Half-Life game in this day and age. With all previous installments being genre-defining titles enshrined among the greatest video games of all time, there is a huge legacy to live up to. This is compounded by the notorious cliffhanger of Episode 2 and the long years of hype, speculation and gaming culture urban legend status that any hypothetical follow-up has to deal with.
Frankly speaking, the prospect of developing either Episode 3, or Half-Life 3 or whatever they'll call an actual sequel must be terrifying. Nonetheless, we hope to see the main storyline continue eventually - but even so, more spin-offs like Alyx would be welcome in the meantime.