Half-Life fans have gotten used to uncertainty over the fate of hero Gordon Freeman. Gordon last appeared in Half-Life 2: Episode Two, an extension of the 2004 game Half-Life 2. But the follow-up Episode Three was canceled. The newly released Half-Life: Alyx is set five years before Half-Life 2 and stars Gordon’s ally Alyx Vance, so it doesn’t majorly advance the story. Even so, the new game includes a big hint about Gordon’s future journey... especially if you play through the credits.
We posted a spoiler-light review of Alyx, so if you’re planning to play it, you might want to stop reading. Otherwise, let’s talk about what Alyx means for the Half-Life universe — where Valve says it’s not done making games.
Warning: Huge spoilers for the ending of Half-Life: Alyx and Half-Life 2: Episode Two ahead.
Half-Life 2: Episode Two ends with a cliffhanger. Gordon Freeman (who accidentally opened an inter-dimensional portal in Half-Life) has reawakened from a 20-year stasis to find Earth conquered by the alien Combine. He’s met up with the anti-Combine Resistance, including an old colleague named Eli Vance and his daughter Alyx. After winning a key military victory, Gordon and Alyx are preparing to hunt down a long-lost research ship called the Borealis, and Eli has hinted at some new information about the mysterious G-Man, who placed Gordon in stasis and saved Alyx’s life as a child. Then, a Combine “Advisor” bursts in and kills Eli.
But that’s no longer canon.
Alyx mostly takes place five years before Eli’s death, while Alyx and Eli are fighting the Combine, and Gordon is in stasis. But when Alyx infiltrates a Combine facility to find a “superweapon,” this changes dramatically — because Alyx runs into the G-Man. The G-Man, following one of his typically portentous speeches, pulls Alyx into the future. He gives her the chance to save her father, and she takes it... then disappears. After some credits, Alyx cuts back to the final scene. This time, players are in the shoes of Gordon Freeman, who hefts his iconic crowbar as the game ends.
Until now, the closest we’d gotten to Episode Three was a piece of unofficial fanfic called “Epistle 3” from former series writer Marc Laidlaw. “Epistle 3” features the player traveling alongside Alyx to find the Borealis, which turns out to be a teleportation system and a sort of time machine. The G-Man then appears and pulls Alyx out of reality, leaving her fate unknown. Alyx undercuts this arc pretty substantially, although it does assimilate some of the core themes.
Road to VR suggests that Alyx is hinting specifically at a VR-based Half-Life 2: Episode Three equivalent, since it’s so conspicuously letting players hold Gordon’s crowbar. That seems unlikely for one reason, though: Valve thinks VR crowbars aren’t much fun. When I spoke to level designer Corey Peters before the game’s release, he said Alyx was supposed to use one for puzzles and combat because “it’s a Half-Life game — it has to have a crowbar in it.” But he said the hook constantly got stuck on objects, and it wasn’t satisfying to kill an enemy using a melee weapon with little tactile feedback. While Valve might fix this problem someday, I doubt it would promise a feature it had just tried and failed to implement.
Alyx’s ending is still an obvious hint that Valve isn’t done with Gordon Freeman, though. The twist leaves parts of Episode Two’s trajectory unchanged. Gordon and the Combine are presumably both looking for the Borealis. We still don’t know why the ship matters, although since portal-making corporation Aperture Science is involved, it’s probably somehow related to teleportation. But now, Alyx is gone. Eli is desperate to get her back. And the G-Man’s ever-inscrutable plans are central to whatever happens next.