No, not really, but everybody has to have a go on that joke, don’t they? Half-Life 2 was released eleven years ago now, and the second episode of that same game made its escape in 2007. So if we’re feeling charitable, and I’m not, it’s been eight bloody years since any meaningful movement. Not exactly rushed, is it? The Sistine Chapel ceiling took only six years, and Michelangelo was one guy with a ladder. Whereas Valve has considerably more manpower and enough money to pay for a whole fleet of staircars, so what’s the problem?
For all my joking in the last article, the reason given by Gabe Newell to the Washington Post last year seemed to be that Half-Life 3 is not what the public really wants, and whilst I find this surprising to hear, I admit that he is the expert and that he has been right about this sort of thing before.
See, Valve always built its success not by following trends, but by working to predict them and having games and products ready for when they exploded. Both Half-Life games emerged as a response to the growing interest in technical realism, with revolutionary physics engines and facial animation to capitalise on those desires. Team Fortress 2 was out just before the online multiplayer craze started and was waiting gleefully for all those who wanted to try it. Steam came up just when it was needed, as was DOTA 2 and Left 4 Dead. Now, with the emerging interest in VR and more immersive and convenient gaming, Valve have got the Vive, the Steam Link and its Controller all ready to hit the shelves before the year is out. The Vive is even beating the consumer version of the Oculus to the shelves, something that I doubt will be an insignificant blow to the Oculus name, especially if it can get the price low enough.
So Valve tend to know what they’re talking about, but we don’t have to like it. I myself am not one of the naysayers who keep talking about how impossible to justify HL3 would be and how the hype is too high, because what made the other two games so good wasn’t some indefinable quality, some mystic blessing from the fates. It was a commitment to good pacing, an emphasis on character development and some interesting twists on the standard shooting mechanics, i.e., the Gravity Gun.
See? It wasn’t that a piece of the true cross got lodged in the designer’s brain when he wrote this, it was just good writing and imagination, and it’s not like Valve’s quality has dropped recently. The last three games they made were Portal 2, CS:GO and DOTA 2. Regardless of what you think of them, they do what they want to do very, very well. So no, I don’t think Gordon Freeman’s return would be destined to disappoint, it could certainly be achieved with success.
But what would it take to get it released, not including hostage-taking? I suspect there are several scenarios that would inspire Half-Life 3 to get bubbling, but none of them seem to be in the immediate future by my estimations. Let’s take a gander and work out our odds.
A VALVE CONSOLE
This is the one that would almost definitely get it made. If Valve made a proper console with the aim of competing with Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, a launch line-up consisting of “The Orange Box 2,” (ironically one filled with the third instalments in their franchises) would sell like hot cakes wrapped in pages from Angelina Jolie’s private diary.
Half-Life 3, Portal 3, Team Fortress 3, yes please sir, may I have another? Maybe add in DOTA 3, L4D3, some fresh IP and a new Counterstrike to get it rolling, and I think they’d be off to a flying start, no matter which way the market was leaning at the time. The sheer pedigree would be enough to make them a success, and I think if we ever see Valve move firmly to the living room then our chance of fighting the Combine will dramatically increase.
The most implausible scenario to be sure. If Steam somehow starts to lose people or DOTA 2 doesn’t rake in half a billion dollars every week, it would make sense for Valve to draw their trump card and have the internet lose its mind when they announce it at E3. It’s unlikely that it would ever come to that, but it must give them a nice sense of security.
That said, I do wonder if Valve are holding onto it for that reason. Lots of developers seem to be holding “In The Event Of Emergency” ideas under their belts, the kind that are guaranteed to sell and that they want to keep safe for a rainy day. Square Enix bafflingly shot their wad early with the Final Fantasy 7 remake, but there are others I suspect are being kept close to the chest. When Call Of Duty starts to dip, we’ll see a remake of the first two Modern Warfare games, I’m sure. If Ubisoft feels the noose around its neck, it’ll wipe the dust off Assassin’s Creed 2 and set it loose again with better graphics. If Pokemon sales plummet, it’ll move to the mobile market to save itself, and so on. Safe, dependable ideas that would allow them all to print money en masse.
I wonder if Half-Life 3 has the same thought behind it, being kept safe as some sort of back-up plan. What an awkward situation. Now I want Valve, a company I like and respect, to start failing. Sorry about that, Mr. Newell, but you forced me into this corner.
REPURCHASE BY ANOTHER COMPANY
Playing the damn long game on this one, but if none of the other situations come across then I can guarantee that sooner or later this will happen. No franchise stays dead forever these days, no game fades into the background with dignity. What with remake fever and the nostalgia trip that is Kickstarter, I think it would be harder to keep a game off the shelves than to get it brought back.
Valve will definitely keep a firm grip on the Half-Life license, but one day they’ll break. It won’t be bringing them money any more, they won’t need it, some other company will come along and make them an offer that they can’t bear to refuse, and suddenly – ding, ding! The race is back on!
That might not be a good thing, though. Valve are not the best developers ever – probably – but they’re certainly in the upper echelons and the last thing I’d want to see is EA or Activision get their leathery mitts on Gordon Freeman and his crowbar. It’s kind of a chilling thought, like imagining Al Qaeda stealing the Parthenon, or The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy having a modern sequel written – Oh, wait.
I don’t think that there’s going to be enough of an outcry for Half-Life 3 to inspire its creation, at least not on its own. There needs to be some kind of trigger, something to push it forward. People want it but they don’t need it, we’ve kind of committed ourselves to its non-existence at this point. But that’s not to say that people wouldn’t sit up if it was announced, it’s not to say it wouldn’t sell warehouses of games in the first thirty seconds.
But Half-Life soon, as in the next three years? I’m not saying it can’t happen… But I’d be surprised. Shame, really. In a time where the Order: 1886 and Arkham Knight for the PC can plague us like a load of scabby and deceitful tyrants, it would be nice to see Valve swing in like Zorro and do what they did all those years ago – raise the motherfucking bar.
Wait a moment… 1886? If you add those numbers together you get 23, and then if you look at how many years it’s been, then –
Oh, forget it.