My heart broke a little last week when Valve officially announced that there would be no surprise announcements from them at E3 this year. Everything that they will be showing has already been announced, and Half-Life is not among them.
The series that had twice transformed first-person shooters has been left out in the cold for five years, and that's only if you count the second piece of episodic content. That, incidentally, was the episodic content that Valve claimed would be shorter but cheaper and more frequently released. Going from the main game rather than the expansions, the time gap expands to eight years, an eternity in game time.
It pains me to say it, but Half-Life 3 (let's be honest, Valve would be crazy to try to give us the long-promised Half-Life 2: Episode 3 at this late hour) is becoming the new Duke Nukem Forever, a pedestal conveniently vacated last year when the Duke finally saw release after fifteen years.
Much like the lists compiled during DNF's embarrassingly long development, it is startling to look at what has happened in gaming since the release of Half-Life 2 in 2004. Here are just a few examples:
- Nintendo launched the DS handheld, and has since iterated the hardware with the DS Lite, the DSi, and the DSi XL, and then released its successor the 3DS. They also launched the Wii, sold record numbers of units, and announced its successor the WiiU, which will almost certainly be available before Half-Life 3.
- Sony also launched the original PSP soon after Half-Life 2's release, and followed it up with four hardware updates, then released its follow-up, the PS Vita. On the TV console front, the PlayStation 3 was released, as well as the updated slim model.
- Microsoft released the Xbox 360, the Kinect, and the Xbox 360 Slim.
- The entire Apple touch device revolution occurred after the release of Half-Life 2: Episode 2. The last time we played a new game with Gordon Freeman, there was no such thing as the iPod Touch, iPhone, or iPad, and iPods were still operated using the click-wheel interface.
- Last time we took the crow bar and the orange hazard suit out for a spin, the Call of Duty series was still exclusively set during historical wars. Since then, Modern Warfare 1, 2, and 3 have all been released.
- The entire Guitar Hero phenomenon was born, peaked, and crashed since the year Half-Life 2 came out, including 12 sequels and expansions and a shift to a new developer. The original developer split with the publisher and created competing title Rock Band, plus two sequels and two spin-offs, during the same period.
- The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind preceded Half-Life 2 by a couple of years, but since then we have seen both Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
- Major game franchises that simply didn't exist when we last saw a Half-Life release include Assassin's Creed, Mario Galaxy, Gears of War, BioShock, and Uncharted.
Are we ever going to get a new Half-Life game? Yes, probably. Despite the success of Team Fortress, Portal, and Left 4 Dead, I still feel that Half-Life is Valve's flagship product. Of course, if you expand your scope outside game franchises, Valve's primary product these days is the Steam platform. They are making so much money from Steam that they probably need never release another first-party game.
Even so, I think the most likely explanation is that they want the next game to be just as ground-breaking as the first two. Each of them sparked a revolution in first-person shooters, the first in terms of scripted events and in-game storytelling, and the second in regard to emotion and character. My theory is that Valve will hold back the third game in the series until they have something they are sure will be similarly revolutionary.
The trouble is, with so much great work already being done, it is getting harder and harder to come up with truly new ideas. The longer a release is delayed, the more I look at the unplayable mess that Duke Nukem Forever turned out to be, and I worry.
- James "DexX" Dominguez