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Half-Life 2: Episode Three is going to be a massive deal. Not only will it conclude arguably the greatest FPS of all time (at least until Half-Life 3), but it will tie up the current chapter of one of the most intriguing, involving and well-told stories in gaming.
Decades of history, tightly-woven and complex personal relationships, an ongoing cosmic mystery… It’s all going to come to a head. But with so much still to address, how’s it going to go down? We had hoped that E3 was going to reveal some secrets, but alas it was not to be. So in compensation, join us as we power up the Speculatron for a few educated guesses.
The rediscovered Aperture Science ship is obviously going to be the crux of Episode Three, but how exactly? Given the significance of portals to the Combine invasion, the ship’s sudden disappearance from its dry-dock would imply that it’s packing a hugely scaled-up version of the technology we played with in Portal. With the main Combine super portal to Earth now out of action, it’s pretty clear why they would have tracked down Dr. Mossman after she found the ship’s location.
So, a heated race against time for control of the ship? No. We think it’s already too late for that. Time has passed since Mossman’s original communication regarding its discovery, and the Combine were already on top of her when she sent it. Plus, some of the Episode Three production art released by Valve shows the submerged Borealis already covered in Combine technology.
Instead, we reckon the ship will be the centre of a climax similar to that of the original Half-Life 2; a final, do-or-die battle that will end the current saga, and not in anything like a neat way. Aperture’s portal technology in Combine hands could lead to absolutely anything, including as big a scenario jump between Episode Three and Half-Life 3 as that between the original Half-Life and its sequel.
Speaking of Aperture technology, the question must be raised as to whether Portal guns will come into play. And no, we don’t think they will. Aside from the fact that they would change H-L 2’s gameplay too much at this late stage, they’d ruin Valve’s careful binding of player and protagonist by actually letting us see Gordon through the old magic doors, just as we could see Chell in Portal. But we do think (and hope) that we’ll come into contact with a version of GlaDOS, possibly even a pre-psychosis version given the ship’s isolation from the main Aperture HQ. She’s certainly referenced in Mossman’s smuggled blueprints.
Although we’ve never really known anything about him, looking through the developing sub-text of his scenes with Gordon throughout the series potentially reveals quite a lot. Via references to his “employers” and the several tempting offers he has received for Gordon’s “services”, he seems to be a neutral freelance talent agent, observing and recruiting promising individuals to insert and manipulate through major universal events on behalf of interested parties.
We know he gave Eli the crystal that caused the original Black Mesa incident, so he’s indirectly responsible for the Combine occupation. But at the same time, he seems to have been manipulating Gordon to overthrow the invaders, and admits to having saved the infant Alyx’s life against orders; seemingly so that she could help further down the line. These contradictions in his actions back up the theory that he’s been working from commissions and ‘investing’ in people for later jobs. But then there’s that scene from Episode Two. Refresh yourself with it below.
When the G-Man finally re-establishes contact with Gordon, his demeanour is strangely more relaxed, even slightly more human than before. He speaks even more rebelliously about those he works for and is far more open about having his own agenda, whatever it may be. That in mind, we have a feeling that his attempt to make direct contact with Eli through Alyx (Vance senior later revealed as the biggest player in this story other than Gordon) is his attempt to manipulate the end-game as an independent party. Indeed, it could be what he was saving her for. So while we don’t think we’ll know who he is by the end of Episode Three, we do think we’ll have a good idea of what he wants.
But then again, there’s always the semi-dubious fan theory that he’s actually Gordon from the future, manipulating things to make sure that he survives. But we don’t even want to get into that keg of worms.
With Eli’s death, it remains to be seen what role Alyx will play in Episode Three. We see one of two options. She’ll either be too devastated to follow Gordon to the Borealis (expecting her to leave mere seconds after witnessing her father’s brains sucked out would push stoicism to its limits), or she’ll go at the mission with berserker determination. Alyx is too real a character to simply stomp straight back into battle, Dominic Santiago-style, but at the same time we’ve already seen her react to personal trauma with resolute stubbornness. Remember her “KILL ‘EM ALL!” reaction to seeing a Hunter again after her recovery from the previous attack?
On balance, we think the Freeman/Vance partnership is going to continue, but not just for the reason above. We think Episode Three will see a big evolution of their relationship, even aside from the increasingly obvious “Will they?/Won’t they?” romantic subtext. When the Vortigaunts saved Alyx’s life in Episode Two, they alluded to using some of Gordon’s life force to do so, stating that they would “weave the Freeman’s life with hers”. If the two characters are now bonded on some sort of spiritual level, they’ll stick together. And having their life forces blended via Vortigaunt mysticism might end up having some very serious implications on the later story, maybe even the climax.