What We Want In Half-Life 3
November 16, 2004: Gordon Freeman wakes up on a train barreling into City 17 en route to crowbarring a few hundred head crabs and blowing up the terrifying Citadel that looms over the blasted hellscape that used to be Earth. Valve has released two minor episodic installments since that blessed day that Half-Life 2 first came out, but we’re still waiting for news – any news! – about a proper Half-Life 3. To fill the void created by Valve’s stony silence, here’s a list of what we hope to see in the continuing adventures of Gordon, Alyx, and DØg.
Answers about the G-man
The enigmatic G-man is, in some ways, more of a central character to the Half-Life saga than Gordon Freeman himself, yet we don’t know anything about him other than that he has an unexplained interest in Gordon. He’s saved Gordon from certain death multiple times only to drop him right back where the action is hottest. What reason does he have to oppose the Combine, even if indirectly? Is he a remnant of some long-forgotten race that was assimilated by the Combine in centuries past? An extra-dimensional being trying to fight the ennui of immortality by watching humanity’s last gasp? One of the central figures in Half-Life has been a closed book since the series’ inception. It’s time to end that.*
* If you hide G-man clues behind an obscure ARG, Valve, we will hate you forever.**
** Not really. But please don’t.
Pick up where it left off
One of the great things about Half-Life is that each entry has picked up more or less exactly where the previous one ended. Valve is full of creative types that no doubt have plenty of ideas that they’d love to make into games, but would require a cop-out “ten years later, when humanity has repelled the Combine invasion…” interstitial to fit into this universe. Please don’t put those into Half-Life 3. It’s not that we don’t want to play those other games that exist in Valve’s heads, but they shouldn’t be Half-Life 3. We want to know what’s up with Gordon and Alyx, not what’s way down the road in the fictional timeline.
[Next up: Hands and Hunters]
We would ask for “no platforming,” but fans have been saying that for years and Valve has never listened. Instead, how about a decent system along the lines of Mirror’s Edge that let’s the designers have their fun without driving players bonkers? That seems like a reasonable compromise. Along those lines, it’s well past time for us to be able to see Gordon’s hands turning knobs, and his legs walking along under him. Make it so.
There’s nothing wrong with putting vehicle sequences in a first-person action game…so long as it’s something awesome like gunning down waves of incoming Hunters by taking control of a Strider instead of driving across featureless stretches of dirt in a dune buggy that controls like an mid-‘90s PSone licensed game. While we’re on the subject, Valve, you can go ahead and stop working on any helicopter boss fights. That was a bad idea a decade ago, and it hasn’t gotten any better.
[Next up: Directors and fluid dynamics]
Half-Life has always had outstanding combat sandboxes, but taking a cue from Left 4 Dead could be a huge improvement. We’re not saying that the whole game should be dynamically generated or anything, but adding a modicum of randomness and responsiveness to the player would make everyone’s experience unique – a great addition in a game as scripted as Half-Life. The moments where all hell breaks loose and you’re running for your life from swarms of Combine or hunkered down trying to survive a massive assault would be that much more intense if you knew they could come at any time.
Tune up the engine
The Source engine still looks great with all of the upgrades it has received since its debut with Half-Life 2, but we’d be remiss to not look for Valve’s talented engineers to drop our jaws again. Half-Life 2’s physics puzzles blazed new trails in video game design; maybe Valve could push that farther with adding things like fluid dynamics or heat modeling. As much as we all appreciate the eye candy, seeing the franchise break new ground in environmental simulation and/or interactions would be amazing.
[Next up: Surprises and cameras]
Half-Life 2 did an amazing job throwing curveballs at the player at several points during the adventure. The horror-themed Ravenholm level, in particular, came completely out of left field and blew our minds the first time we played through the game. Tearing apart the heart of the Combine army with the upgraded gravity gun was incredible. We love Half-Life’s bread-and-butter combat and puzzles, but the skill with which Valve historically incorporates those one-off sequences into Gordon’s journey is something we desperately hope isn’t lost in Half-Life 3.
Don’t kowtow to industry trends
We love all kinds of games, from Mass Effect to Skyrim and Call of Duty, but that doesn’t mean we want Half-Life 3 to blindly ape them. The last thing we want to do during a tense scene between Alyx and Dr. Kleiner is to have to choose dialogue options. We don’t need a third-person camera to appease the Europeans, nor do we need a loot system or a persistent leveling framework to invest us in our characters. We will, however, accept a sequence in which Dog’s AI gets knocked out and we have to control the unstoppable robot manually. Mostly because we want to throw cars at the Combine, or at least at Dr. Breen.
[Next up: Trends and ends]
Except for this one industry trend
We didn’t believe that co-op would work in Portal 2 until we played it. We will eat all the crow necessary to get Valve to make fools of us again with Half-Life 3 co-op. Make it a side story if need be, remove Gordon from the equation – heck, make us play Barney again! Whatever it takes, short of matching us up randomly with Dota 2 players. Those guys are…impolite.
Give us a real ending for once
No fading to black. For that matter, no stopping time and fading to white. No mysterious post-credits voiceovers. Not to be all entitled like some kinds of Internet gamers, but we think that since Valve insists on taking a decade between full games, the least the developers could do is give us fans some closure this once. Note that this doesn’t mean that we want Valve to stop making Half-Life games – just that we don’t want to hang from another cliff for another ten years.