Why You Will Never See Half-Life 3

Why You Will Never See Half-Life 3

You’re probably wondering what’s taking Valve, a company with nigh-infinite resources, forever to make Half-Life 2: Episode 3. Or you’ve given up on that and you believe it’s going to be called Half-Life 3. The sad truth is that we will never see another Half-Life game from Valve, and for one very good reason: its most important character is dead.

“But, Doc,” I hear you saying, “Gordon Freeman is alive and well!” While this is true, I have another shocking revelation to make: Gordon Freeman is not the most important person in Half-Life! Incredible but true.

So, wait, let me back up and talk about Half-Life, which is the second-greatest shooter of all time after Halo: Combat Evolved and Quake, which are tied for first place. Half-Life’s greatness comes from two distinct elements. The first, which everyone has talked about since it was released 18 years ago, is how Half-Life feels real. At the time, it was an incredible feat, and all these years later, it still is. Despite the ageing graphics, my journeys through Black Mesa always feel as real and vibrant as they did the day I first played Half-Life, back in 2007.

The other, more important element is the way Half-Life motivates you. See, one of the things that enhanced the realism were the game’s other characters. Sure, they were two-dimensional stick figures, but they showed up when it mattered. As the game opens, they’re kind of mean to you; you get the sense that people resent Gordon’s presence. It characterises Gordon too: he seems to be perpetually late, and nobody seems to value his skills all that much — his job amounts to “push a cart into a very dangerous energy beam.” Apparently, they didn’t want to risk anyone else doing it, because they made everyone wait until he showed up to do it.

As Half-Life progresses, people bestow upon you more and more responsibility. Go get help. Kill the giant monster. Go meet the scientists at the Lambda Complex. By the time you get there, the scientists have gone from “ugh, Gordon,” to “Gordon, we’ve been watching you on the monitors, and we believe in you.”

What’s great about this is how it all feels earned. Gordon has gone from a dope nobody likes to a guy who, through the experiences in the game itself, is a hardcore survivor and all around action hero. It’s silent character development, and a huge aspect of Half-Life’s appeal. Gordon’s journey isn’t just geographical, it’s emotional.

Half-Life 2 is terrible. Within minutes, other characters are fangirling over you, like they knew you or something. Why? Because you left a secret base shortly before a nuclear explosion. Seriously, there were no witnesses to your defeat of the Nihilanth at the end of Half-Life, and even if there were, they should, reasonably, object to what you did, because in Half-Life 2, apparently the Nihilanth wasn’t so much a bad guy as a rebel against the Combine, the actual bad guys in the Half-Life 2 universe.

We could get into a whole big thing about why this is a bad decision, from game design to lore perspectives, but that would be an article the length of a novel, and nobody has time for that.

Instead, let’s talk about Eli Vance. The first real objective you receive in Half-Life 2 is to go meet Eli at Black Mesa East. Why? Because Eli is the Resistance leader, and he will tell you why you’re here. So, ok, Eli’s an important bigwig in the Resistance, but does that really make him the most important character?


See, Half-Life 2 uses Eli as a tool. First, you go to Black Mesa East to find out Why You Are Here. Then, when Black Mesa East is attacked (no one in the Resistance assumes that you, the new guy, who everyone assumes to be Gordon Freeman), Eli is taken, and your next goal is… to get out of Ravenholm, find the Resistance, and go rescue Eli. This time, he’s in a prison called Nova Prospekt. Cool, so you set out across the beach to go get Eli back.

When you get to Nova Prospekt, you watch as Judith Mossman, the rebel traitor, kidnaps Eli. Just to be clear, this is the third time you chase after Eli. Only this time, the teleporter malfunctions, and you don’t just jump through space, you jump through time. When your teleport ends, you find yourself something like two weeks in the future, and the rebellion has started.

The reason for this?

Because “Gordon Freeman,” if that is his name, “disappeared with Alyx, Judith, and Eli.”

So. Let me get this straight. A 27 year-old guy shows up almost 20 years after he disappeared, without having aged, and his appearance heralds an attack on the Resistance base that sees its most important member, daughter, and assistant kidnapped. Nobody knows Judith is a traitor, because only you, Alyx, and Eli, who were all in Nova Prospekt know this. Most rebels, I’m betting, are pretty paranoid, which is what’s kept them alive for so long.

Most paranoid people I know would see all the evidence and assume this “Gordon Freeman” character is an impostor whose sole purpose was to destroy the Rebellion’s leadership.

The characters in Half-Life 2 decide that everyone’s disappearance is a signal to attack, so they attack. Without you. They have been carrying on a war against the Combine while you were gone. Apparently they could have done this without you — or any of their leadership, really — so there seems to be no clear motive for attacking at this juncture rather than at any other, and they seem to be doing a pretty good job on their own.

Your job, of course, is to rescue Eli.

So you rush to the top of the tower, get to Eli, defeat the bad guy, and… the game freezes.

It picks up again in Half-Life 2: Episode 1, which comes in two halves. The first half is about a bunch of boring puzzles starring energy balls. Your motive? Delay the self-destruction of the Citadel, allowing Eli and friends to escape the city. The second half is about you getting to a train and fleeing the city before the Citadel explodes and kills everyone. That and plugging holes to stop those irritating ant-lions from spawning.

Half-Life 2: Episode 2 is broken up into three sections. In the first section, you save Eli’s daughter. In the second section, you escore Eli’s daughter to Eli. In the third section, you attempt to defend Eli, who promises to finally tell you what he was going to tell you, presumably, after you toyed with the gravity gun that was something like twelve years ago.


So, to recap: Half-Life was about you proving yourself to other people, a personal journey as you attempted to escape from a bad case of Science Gone Wrong and Government Coverups. Half-Life 2 was about spending all your time trying to get to Eli while everyone masturbates your ego, presumably to disguise the fact that you’re nothing but a glorified errand boy, whose only purpose is to do things that help Eli out, and then the guy just straight up DIES on you, and now you’re stuck.

You know what? I think the problem is that Valve never really knew why you were there. I think they never really had anything beyond “here’s why you’re here.” Most narratives set up their conflicts pretty fast. Star Wars took a little while to get to the Death Star, but the first movie was about character growth and stopping the Empire from killing everyone with the Death Star. Half-Life 2 doesn’t have any of that. Half-Life did. It just strings you along while everyone tells you about what a great guy you are the entire time.

Half-Life is one of the greatest games of all time, because it made you earn your place. Half-Life 2 isn’t, because it doesn’t.

There are plenty of other reasons for it; ex-Valve employees have complained about the studio’s structure. Viktor Antonov, the art designer who made Half-Life 2 so distinct and went on to help create Dishonored, said that Valve stopped making AAA games. I’ve heard other, similar statements from time to time.

But at the end of the day, we’ll never see Half-Life 3 because Eli Vance is Princess Peach, now that Princess Peach is dead, there’s no one left for Mario to save.


    • Yes, that Gabe guy has come out several times saying it wont happen.
      ‘There is not enough financial incentive in single player games’

    • And we can imagine if it were shit, Valve would suffer tremendously. Much safer for the company to gradually let that star fade. People will forget about it in another 15-20 years.

      • Suffer reputation maybe. Steam is making them insane money. And they are a completely private company so all the money is staying with them.

        • Yeah that’s what I mean. If however that damage led to Valve being perceived as vulnerable then competitors or potential competitors might exploit it. I think as others have said, Valve simply doesn’t need to make the game to keep making money, and making a disappointing game could be worse than making no game at all.

      • I doubt the clamor will fade – don’t forget, episode 2 came out 12 years ago, and people are still as hungry for Ep3/HL3 as ever.

        • That is 90% meme’ing bullsht. “HL3 Confirmed” – oh wow I’m so cool and edgy.

          Realistically I don’t think people honestly care if it comes out of not. Whining about “we need HL3” is the done thing.

          • I care very much, HL2:E2 is my all time favourite game, edging out the original by a hair and I don’t want that sort of focused “pure” singleplayer FPS to die, even if no-one else cares about it. The movement in Valve’s titles is always fantastic (portal is perhaps a little less so, and I haven’t played the L4D games or DOTA 2) and in my eyes no-one else got the blend between old-school movement heavy games and good narrative and game design as well as Valve did in the Half-Life series.

          • I agree, I love single player, it allows you to have story, play at your own pace, no annoying people yelling at you while playing, and as a Dad, it means I can play it over the next year, and not have to compete with twitch addicts that kick my arse to the horizon online.

            I loved HL1, and really, really didn’t like HL2, but would love to see another HL game, single player campaign. Jesus, they would at the very least break even, they are making a tone of money anyway, so how about a bit of service to the fans that set you on your way to being a billionaire Gabe?

          • I’m with @ctrlsaltdelete – HL2 is hands down my favourite FPS of all time, and in my top 3 games of all time. I’m also willing to bet there’s a whole bunch of people that, like me, desperately want HL3.

            I mean, I can’t think of any other well-received gaming series that just stopped like that. Can you imagine if they’d stopped at Mass Effect 2?

  • I don’t think HL3/whatever is dependant on any particular characters, as Gordon is effectively an involuntary Doctor Who who is inserted in time whenever deemed necessary by G-Man. Just like HL2, Valve just needs to pick a new entry point if they find the constraints of episode 2 too constrictive after all this time.

  • The plot of half life was never the selling point for me, it was always confused. The selling point is the environments, and situations.

    After binge playing HL2, I spent the next couple days wandering the grimy, industrial streets of Alexandria near where I lived, marvelling at broken concrete and pools of dirty water in gutters and rusted metal and overgrown weeds around crumbling warehouses, my senses heightened to this environment after playing in the (at the time) amazing sensory experience of post apocalypse cities and sewers in HL2. It was awesome.

    But yeah, when it comes to making games nowadays…. why did they even bother making Source 2?

    • 100% agree. Half Life 2 has a unique atmosphere, despite being a fairly apocolyptic setting its not over the top, it feels clean and is a world you could live in.

  • Man, I was so disinterested in Half Life 2 I never put any thought into why. This article gives me something to point at, I guess. If I cared to have the conversation. Which I don’t.

    • No wait, was it because … you don’t know the difference between the words disinterested and uninterested?

      • Disinterested and uninterested are for the most part, synonyms, with a subtle difference.

        Uninterested, in it’s single definition, means “not interested in or concerned about something or someone”. Disinterested on the other hand can be defined as “having or feeling no interest in something”.

        I purchased the Orange Box in 2007 primarily for Portal, but also used the opportunity to play Half Life 2. I was interested in Half Life 2 for a time, so the definition uninterested would not apply – it would only apply had Half Life 2 utterly failed to engage my interest at all.
        I became disinterested over the course about half a dozen hours of gameplay, when I realised I cared very little for the world, the characters, or the story.

  • Holy Vishnu, the first time I decide to read en entire article on Kotaku and it’s just a mess. I played HL 1 and 2 (inc. all episodes) years ago and can’t remember the plot. This article does not help.

    “Then, when Black Mesa East is attacked (no one in the Resistance assumes that you, the new guy, who everyone assumes to be Gordon Freeman), Eli is taken, and your next goal is… to get out of Ravenholm, find the Resistance, and go rescue Eli.” I had to read this about 5-6 times before I understood what was being implied in the brackets due to poor grammar.

    “We could get into a whole big thing about why this is a bad decision, from game design to lore perspectives, but that would be an article the length of a novel, and nobody has time for that.” This is just lazy. You’re implying justification of an opinion without justifying it.

    • Can you please tell me what’s implied in thosr brackets cuz it still seems incomplete to me.

      • Implying that you show up and everything goes to shit. Is Gordon the cause? Is it really Gordon? He has not aged, etc etc.

  • Do I play that Black Mesa thing or do I find the original Half-Life? I’m not that worried about trying Half-Life 2 any time soon, may as well start it properly though.

    • Hey get of my wagon!!! I’ve been rolling it since Ought-11 when all their lofty promises of updating the 360 version of Team Fortress 2 amounted to nothing

    • Get on? Been there for years.. Steam is a complete and utter mess and the only reason to stay is previous purchases/friends. Kinda glad I do more console gaming now.

  • “which is the second-greatest shooter of all time after Halo: Combat Evolved and Quake,”

    Can we just talk about this for a moment? I’m concerned with the heinous misspelling of Wolfenstein 3D and Call of Duty.

    Note: I do hate what CoD has become, but the first two were masterpieces.

    • No one mentions Goldeneye. Stuff to do besides “shoot everything, get the key, go through door” and repeat for the whole game. Was amazing at the time. Not to mention the way the harder difficulties were handled. And the enemy reactions to gun shots, using a silenced pistol was a great advantage.

      • Not to be a spelling nazi but you have a funny way of spelling Perfect Dark. Aside from that, the rest of the description was fine.

        • That whole situation sucked. My parents decided violent games were bad (after they had let me have Goldeneye and Turok2) so Perfect Dark didn’t really enter into the equation for me at the same time. I did pick it up years later but this was 1 to 2 generations later and the controls had not aged well at all 🙁
          Was kind of ruined for me.

        • When Pierce Brosnan is in Perfect Dark, then you can talk about it being perhaps somewhere in the vicinity of half the game Goldeneye was.

  • I think that I may never see
    Anything as beautiful as Half-Life 3.
    No, no, seriously.
    Quite literally.
    Downright indubitably.

      • I found the gameplay abysmal. Hi I’m your new friend. Oh bye, I have to go away, meet me after this difficult obstacle course.
        Oh, Hi, you survived, oh I have to go again.
        All I remember from HL2 is sprinting, or riding the hoverboat thing at high speed, and shooting and running again. No tension, no flanking, little variety, no real surprises.
        I remember so many ‘holy crap’ moments from HL1, I found HL2 really lifeless by comparison.

  • LOL

    Couldnt take you seriously after you said Halo: Combat Evolved was the greatest FPS of all time.

  • I maintain that Valve should come out and announce they’re contracting Gearbox to make Blue Shift 2… just to fuck with people.

  • FFS get over this dried up piece of crap and move on. Valve isn’t even a games company anymore.

  • I don’t care they left us on a cliff hanger hell at this point I would be find with a comic or something telling us how it ended.

    It does not have to be great just finish the current story arc

  • Hate to blow a gaping hole in your theory that “Because “Gordon Freeman,” if that is his name, “disappeared with Alyx, Judith, and Eli.”

    But Dr Kleiner was there all along and knows all about Gordon, and where he was going.. and what he was up to.

    Hell Kleiner is even on the screens making public announcements at the end of HL2.

  • So what is Valve doing now besides the VR and Steam? If they really wanted to, they can release a HL3 tech demo for their VR

  • This is a decent attempt at baiting Valve into making HL3. I mean, it’s better than no attempt, and you obviously put some thought into it, but I don’t think this presents too much of a challenge to rise to. This was of course simultaneously a trolling written to bring more people to the site and start debate. You wanna see HL3 as much as anyone else, I read your review on it years ago. Good work though, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and these reminders are good to retain interest in HL3.

    There will be a HL3, I have seen it in my dreams. Gordon Freeman was merely the poster boy of the revolution. His potential as a killer and a leader was exploited by the likes of Kleiner and other scientists as prophesised by the Vordegaunts, who after being freed from their slaves, have allied with the human’s and bestowed their grand visions of Freeman upon the people.

    Most players would have come across the sceptical Vordegaunt, who spoke several scathing lines directed towards Freeman’s mass killings of the Vordegaunts in HL1. This demonstrates that Freeman is a contentious character, his motives and actions at Black Mesa impacted several species and many factions. He is a true scientist in that his involvement is truly objective, truly without an agenda or ulterior motive except survival. He has no choice but to act in accordance with THE most important person in the whole half-life franchise: G-Man. If he contradicts G-Man’s directives, he dies, as experienced at the end of Half-Life 1, should you not follow G-man’s suggested course.

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