In the film Glengarry Glen Ross, a visibly troubled James Lingk is told by Ricky Roma (respectively and brilliantly portrayed by Jonathan Pryce and Al Pacino) that “sometimes, we need someone from outside.”
While this conversation involved real estate and preying on latent homosexuality, the same sort of discussion could apply to where Valve is going with Half-Life. Rather than giving us any concrete news on a new game, the biggest update in the world of Gordon Freeman is coming to us in the form of a fan-made remake of the first game, titled Black Mesa.
The screenshots of the game look beautiful, and even if it sucks to play, it will be a free download. I highly doubt it will be anything less than excellent considering its eight-year development. That said, what if the volunteer staff of about 40 programmers ends up doing what Valve could not do: craft something better than the original?
Despite the fact that the original Half-Life became the measuring stick for all future PC first-person shooters, there are still some who may never have gotten the chance to play it; after all, the only console that got a taste of the original was the Playstation 2. Black Mesa scientist Gordon Freeman inadvertently opens a portal between this planet and the alien world of Xen. The story is great enough, but what sucks you in as a player is the fact that you do not leave the perspective of Gordon for the entire game. Every new character you meet, every plot advancement, every new locale…all of them are introduced while your fingers act as Gordon’s and your eyes see only what he does.
People were enamored with Half-Life, and despite the fact that it won dozens of Game of the Year awards from just about every major publication that discussed PC gaming, Valve did not release a true sequel until six years later. Expansion packs like Opposing Force and Blue Shift showed you the same narrative through the perspective of different characters in the facility, but we would not learn the fate of the man who ended up bringing about the destruction of an alien race until 2004.
Now living under a surveillance state known as City 17, the dimension-hopping Combine are in charge of everything. Some familiar faces return, including the creepy G-Man and the Vortigaunts, a race of alien beings now free from captivity thanks to “the Free Man’s” liberating activities in the first game. We also get to meet Alyx Vance, a key player in the resistance movement against the Combine. Half-Life 2 did just what a sequel should do: advance the story started by the first game and make the gameplay better. I cannot tell you the elation I felt when I first figured out how to use the gravity gun, and the innovation of that weapon has yet to be matched in a shooter.
The story was not complete with Half-Life 2, as we were given expansions/sequels in the form of Half-Life 2: Episode One and Episode Two, each continuing the story right where its predecessor left off. Episode Two’s conclusive battle and shocking ending remain one of the most intense experiences I have had while playing a video game, and the cliffhanger has remained for almost five years. Since then, we have been consistently teased with tidbits and morsels from Valve head Gabe Newell about the future of Half-Life, but nothing has been set in stone.
Since Half-Life 2, Valve has reinvented co-op gameplay with Left 4 Dead and given us two spin-offs with the Portal series. These have been great, but they always seem to dodge the issue of when we will get a proper entry in Half-Life. They may be plugging away at it this whole time, but if this Black Mesa remake turns out to be something special, they may want to consider giving the reins to somebody else.
Thanks to the world of modification, the running and gunning of Half-Life lent itself to a wide variety of different locales. One that came to prominence was Counter-Strike, a simple team deathmatch game of terrorists vs. counter-terrorists. The two men who created the mod are now full staff members at Valve. The same goes for Turtle Rock Studios, who gave us Left 4 Dead. Should Black Mesa be a quality product, why not just hand over the flagship title to them? Valve can continue to work on whatever it is they see as important while care and attention is given to the core series that they created. This is the route Sucker Punch decided to take with Sly Cooper; after receiving a demo made on a PS3 kit of where they thought they could take a new game, Sanzaru Games was tasked with porting the trilogy to the PS3 in HD before being commissioned for the brand new game.
I see no reason why Valve cannot do the same for Half-Life Whatever The Next Entry Subtitle and Number Will Be. The passion for the universe has not waned for fifteen years, and that includes players as well as developers. With the way content can be digitally distributed now, Valve has an infinite number of possibilities for how they can schedule more adventures of Gordon Freeman. Considering Gabe Newell’s fascination with episodic releases, I don’t think we will ever see a properly numbered entry again. That is not a bad thing. I just hope they can swallow their pride and hand off the crowbar to somebody’s capable hands before the Free Man gets lost forever.