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The Unofficial 'Half-Life 2: Episode 3' Story Helps Explain Why It's Not a Game Yet

Former 'Half-Life' writer Marc Laidlaw publishes his vision for 'Half-Life 2: Episode 3.'

Emanuel Maiberg

Emanuel Maiberg

Image: Valve

Good morning! While you were sleeping Marc Laidlaw, the writer of the Half-Life games who left the games' developer Valve last year, published the story of Half-Life 2: Episode 3, according to him.

Laidlaw makes clear that this is a 0 percent official story, but it's still a big deal for fans of Half-Life, which is widely considered one of the best video games ever made. I know A Song of Ice and Fire fans think it's rough because it's taking George R.R. Martin some time to finish writing the books, but Half-Life 2: Episode 2 ended on a major cliffhanger in 2007. I've been waiting for some closure here for 10 years.

SPOILER ALERT FOR THE EXISTING HALF-LIFE SERIES AND THE THEORETICAL HALF-LIFE 2: EPISODE 3, ASSUMING ONE COULD SPOIL THE UNSANCTIONED PLOT OF A VIDEO GAME WE CURRENTLY HAVE NO REASON TO BELIEVE WILL EVER BE MADE.

As you may remember, Half-Life 2: Episode 2 ended when Gordon Freeman and Alyx Vance were getting ready to fly to Antarctica to find the Borealis, a lost ship that carried some mysterious, powerful technology that could help what's left of humanity defeat the alien Combine that have taken over Earth. Just as they were about to take off, they were attacked by giant, floating Combine slugs that kill Alyx's father and leader in the human resistance Eli Vance. That's when the game cut to black in 2007.

Laidlaw published the story for Half-Life 2: Episode 3 on his website, but it's currently down, presumably because it's getting slammed with traffic.

You can find a pastebin of the story here.

Here's the short version:

Gordon and Alyx pick up the pieces and fly to Antarctica in search of the ship. The question is what they will do when they find it: Destroy it so it doesn't fall into the hands of the Combine, or use it against them?

They crash land but eventually make to the Borealis, which has apparently become unstuck in time and space. This is something that is hinted at in another Valve game, Portal, which exists in the same universe, and the transition between Half-Life and Half-Life 2, where everyone but Gordon Freeman ages.

Anyway, the game reaches a dramatic climax when Gordon and Alyx fight the Combine for control of the ship as it shifts in time and space, showing them flashes of the Seven Hour War where the humans lost control of Earth to the Combine, the present chaos in Antarctica, and an unknown location from which the Combine is preparing to launch another massive attack on Earth or another planet.

Eventually Alyx and Gordon gain control of the ship and decide to self destruct it at the Combine staging area, killing themselves in the process but perhaps stopping the Combine as well.
That's when Half-Life's mysterious G-Man shows up. This is the suit that follows Gordon throughout the games, always out of reach, and who plucks him out of danger at the end of Half-Life and Half-Life 2, putting him on ice until he's useful again.

The twist? This time the G-Man takes Alyx this time. "Come along with me now, we've places to do and things to be," he says while he leaves Gordon behind to die.

The double twist? The Vortigaunts, the series' friendly alien species, come to save Gordon.

And that's that. There are more details in the full version, which is worth a read. The way Laidlaw lays it out, it seems like Gordon and Alyx don't reunite, which is sad because they would have been such a cute couple. However, Laidlaw also makes it clear that this was written to leave the door open for a Half-Life 3 in which Alyx is the main character, which is a cool idea.

Not that it matters because at the moment we have no reason to believe Valve is working on any Half-Life games. It's too busy making card games and mountains of cash via its digital distribution platform Steam.

Two thoughts on this story:

First of all, I am a huge Half-Life nerd and my pessimistic outlook is that this is probably the closest thing we'll get to closure on these games, so that's nice.

Second, I know that this isn't an official Valve document by any means, but it does help illustrate why Half-Life 2: Episode 3 doesn't exist yet. Half-Life and Half-Life 2 were both genre-defining first-person shooters. There are many reasons for that, but if I had to simplify, I would say it's because the first Half-Life introduced continuity in a major way (as in, the game logically flows from area to area as opposed to being chopped up into contained levels like Doom), while Half-Life 2 pushed further on these themes and, more importantly, was the first meaningful outing for a real-time, semi-realistic physics engine. Objects in the world responded realistically, and Valve used that to create a lot of neat puzzles and set pieces. It's a routine thing in games today, but it was revolutionary at the time. It was a big part of what made Half-Life 2 what it is, which is probably why it was written into the story, with the Gravity Gun playing a big role in several moments.

There's nothing in Laidlaw's fanfic here that we can point to as a potentially genre-defining idea, and that is the bar that Valve has set for itself for Half-Life games. Presumably this isn't his Laidlaw's job—genre-defining ideas are more likely to come from the design and technology oriented members of the development team, but the story here doesn't even read like a great first-person shooter because it doesn't move the characters through a lot of environments. It starts in an environment we already know from Half-Life 2: Episode 2, then moves to Antarctica, and apparently stays there until the end. It's not until the end of the story, with the ship moving through time and space, that we can imagine a really exciting, varied setting for a game.

Compare this with the plot of Half-Life 2, which moves Gordon through dystopian cities, zombie infested villages, coastal towns, a prison, etc. Variety is key!

However, Laidlaw's story is also an open invitation for modders to actually make a game based on this outline. I am looking forward to seeing what the community makes of it, because it sure as hell doesn't look like Valve will make anything.