To Valve’s credit, the company did finally release a Half-Life game with Half-Life: Alyx, a VR spin-off starring fan favorite Alyx Vance. Statistically, not that many people are going to be able to play the game as they lack the necessary hardware, but the game is apparently pretty dang good and after 13 years, Valve has done something with the Half-Life universe after Half-Life 2: Episode Two.
But despite the series’ relative silence for nearly a decade and a half, Valve has been doing a lot of weird, Half-Life promotional crossovers, and given that the series has yet to truly be “brought back” in earnest, it’s starting to feel a bit disingenuous. Last week, Geoff Keighley’s extensive Half-Life: Alyx – Final Hours report revealed that several Half-Life games had been cancelled over the years, including an iteration of the long-requested Half-Life 3 that would’ve combined procedural generation and the standard Half-Life formula to make the game more replayable, but this particular version of the sequel was canned. [via IGN] For clarity’s sake, that doesn’t mean that there will never be a Half-Life 3, it just means that specific project won’t see the light of day.
With Half-Life as a franchise in a strange limbo state, Valve has kept it in the public consciousness, not with in-universe expansion, but with crossover material in unrelated games. Some of these crossovers are wild, like Final Fantasy XV getting a costume set based on Half-Life main character Gordon Freeman. Noctis is out here with the full outfit, complete with glasses and crowbar to really capture the hero’s aesthetic.
Over the weekend, Mediatonic revealed that Fall Guys, a 60-player obstacle course-driven multiplayer game where your goal is to not fall off platforms amidst all that chaos, is going to have a Half-Life crossover as a pre-order bonus on Steam. It’s a costume for your character based on Freeman, except this time he’s got a headcrab monster on his head. It’s cute, and the headcrab on his head feels in line with the chaos of Fall Guys. Were I to play the game on PC, I’d certainly be down to run around as Gordon Freeman, panicking as the headcrab threatens to eat him with a smile on its face.
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And last on our list is Death Stranding, which is coming to PC tomorrow. Kojima Productions and Valve teamed up to give Sam Porter Bridges his very own headcrab hat, as well as a pair of gravity gloves to mess around with while he delivers those big packages. It’s fine? It’s an nonintrusive nod to the Half-Life series…but even then, it’s all a little bit off in light of Valve’s hesitation to get back to Half-Life in earnest, at least at the moment.
Valve has said that Half-LIfe: Alyx has made the company eager to come back to that universe, but companies make statements like that all the time. Do all these promotions indicate plans to actually make it happen? Maybe, but let’s not forget that companies like Ubisoft have been in hot water lately for similar moves with franchises like Splinter Cell and Prince of Persia, which are being heavily featured in other Ubisoft games with no apparent plans to revive those series from their long slumber. Even other platform holders aren’t above it, as Microsoft has featured things like Conker in ugly Hololens tech demos while the foul-mouthed squirrel hasn’t had a game of his own in 15 years (maybe for good reason, but the principle still stands).
I genuinely hope that Valve’s doing more than just lip service with all these crossovers, because Half-Life 3 has become such an exhausting meme that the thought that Valve might just be milking the brand for the fun of it and to promote other games would be pretty disheartening. These kinds of cross promotions can be fun, and I’m sure there are Half-Life fans who are glad to see them, I just hope the optics are not lost on Valve. There’s clearly enough love for the games within the company that it doesn’t have to wither away into costuming for other franchises.