A scene from VR game Half Life Alyx
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Half-Life: Alyx looks to be first VR game hit, but what happened to Half-Life 3?

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Mar 25, 2020, 8:31 PM EDT (Updated)

Fans of Valve's iconic Half-Life universe might just be among the most patient in all of gaming, but with the arrival of Half-Life: Alyx — the first proper return to City 17 in nearly 13 years — the wait appears to have been more than worth it, according to critics.

Alyx is racking up glowing reviews in the wake of its March 23 release, becoming the first VR game to garner the kind of praise often reserved for the Zeldas and Red Deads of the console world. IGN was by no means alone in giving protagonist Alyx Vance’s solo adventure a perfect 10, and the game currently sits at an amazing 92 aggregate rating among 31 reviewers over at Metacritic.

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So Alyx is a hit — one that could be the system-selling killer app that virtual reality has long been looking for. But just why in the heck did it take this long to get here? And, more to the point of satisfying all that pent-up fan passion, just what in the heck ever happened to Half-Life 2: Episode 3?

Speaking recently with IGN, veteran Valve level designer Dario Casali said the main complication that hindered the studio from taking the next step in Gordon Freeman’s journey was “scope creep” — that is, the ambition to make bigger and better games that deviated from the studio’s original idea of releasing smaller, bite-sized Half-Life “episodes.”

Anyone who’s played Episode 2 knows that no Half-Life game has ever really fit the modest, installment-based formula. Casali said the original idea — to “bite off little chunks and then release more often” — gave way early on to Valve game designers’ desire to keep pushing until they had something resembling a complete game. “We found ourselves creeping ever forward towards, ‘Well, let's just keeping putting more and more, and more, and more stuff in this game because we want to make it as good as we can,’” he said.”… [W]e realized these episodes are turning more into sequels.”

Does that mean Half-Life: Alyx, or perhaps even Gordon Freeman’s unfinished story from the Half-Life 2 days, will be getting sequels, now that Alyx has finally broken the dam and reintroduced the series to fans both old and new?

Valve, a developer who’s always marched to its own beat, isn’t saying anything officially. But longtime Valve game designer Robin Walker recently told Polygon it’s unlikely fans will be old enough to cash out their retirement plans by the time another Half-Life game appears. “I’d like to believe that we’re as good as we’ve ever been at building Half-Life at this point, and I hope we continue to make some more,” said Walker. “I don’t think there’s going to be another 13 years [until the next one], and if it is, I probably won’t be working on it. I’m too old for that.”

Half-Life: Alyx is available now via Steam for all PC-compatible VR systems.

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