We'll probably never get another Half-Life game, but where official Valve canon fails us, series writer Marc Laidlaw does not. The former Valve employee who wrote Half-Life, Half-Life 2, and both of Half-Life 2's episodes has shared a fictional letter on his personal site that, once you swap around some proper nouns, sure reads like a plot summary of where the series would have gone after the events of Half-Life 2: Episode 2. To all intents and purposes, its the closest we have for an official synopsis for Half-Life 3.
***This article was originally published on August 25th, 2017 and has been updated to include a link to the Epistle 3 game jam - see above - where indie developers made their own version of Half-Life 3 based on Marc Laidlaw's plot outline***
Dubbed "Epistle 3" and penned by Dr. Gertrude Fremont (a gender-swapped version of Dr Gordon Freeman), it tells the exciting story of her travels to Antarctica and the discovery of a powerful device capable of traveling through time and space called the Hyperborea. Dr. Fremont and her companion, Alex Vaunt, fly the Hyperborea into the heart of enemy territory, where they intend to detonate it. Just before that happens however, a sinister figure, Mrs. X, steps out of the shadows and steals Alex away. It looks like Dr. Fremont is doomed, but is then pulled through dimensions by the Ghastlyhaunts and saved. We've broken down the major plot beats into questions below, if you don't mind spoiling a game that will never exist:
Where has Gordon been?
Lost in other dimensions, unable to respond to our calls. Or rather, Marc Laidlaw has been busy working on other projects and now, more than 18 months since it was announced he was leaving Valve, he’s been able to pen a letter from Dr. Freema... we mean Gertie Fremont.
Did they find the Borealis?
Indeed, but not without some trouble. It turns out that the location discovered in Episode Two was not so much definitive coordinates for the ship’s placement, but its likely re-entry point after flitting in and out of time and space.
What was the connection to Portal?
It’s all about travelling between spaces, as it's one of Aperture Science’s greatest interests. The Borealis was equipped with a Bootstrap Device that was supposed to allow it to travel inside a generated field from anywhere to anywhere instantaneously. However, when it was activated prematurely to keep it out of Combine hands, it turns out it also travels to any place and time as well. The ship is therefore stretched between its starting location and Arctic destination through time and space.
Do they find Judith Mossman?
Yes, Dr. Mossman helps Gordon and Alyx aboard the ship having pleaded her case as a double agent working with the Resistance against the Combine. Alyx still blames Mossman for her father’s death, however.
Do they destroy the Borealis?
It was a matter of great debate whether they should or shouldn’t, but Alyx, determined to carry out her father’s dying wishes, insists the ship must be destroyed. When Dr. Mossman threatens to shoot them and rematerialise the ship in the Arctic for the Resistance forces to retrieve, Alyx shoots her and decides with Freeman to use the ship as a missile by crashing it into a Combine staging area that they keep seeing as the ship flickers in space.
Did G-Man's plan for Alyx get revealed?
Yes, having suggested to Gordon that he had plans for Alyx, he turns up just in time to grab her from the Borealis before Alyx and Freeman send the ship hurtling into a Combine invasion force. Gordon Freeman is left alone contemplating the futility
of this plan as the enormity of the challenge becomes clearer through the bridge windows.
The BreenGrub! It turns out the Combine retained some portion of former Black Mesa head Wallace Breen’s consciousness from before he was killed and transplanted it into a grub creature, now seemingly in command of Combine forces in the Arctic. However, the BreenGrub is terrified of Freeman and ultimately begs to be killed, ending its miserable existence. Alyx refuses to help and Gordon’s choice remains ambiguous in the text. Pop fact: In 2012, Marc Laidlaw, using the Twitter handle @BreenGrub, started sharing background info on the Advisors. These terrifying psychic beings are, he claims, deliberately inhibiting their growth into adulthood and not all of them are evil. You can read more about the @Breen Grub info on the Advisors right here, although the tweets have never been confirmed as canon by Valve, obviously.
How does it end?
Gordon Freeman is saved from the crashing ship by the Vortigaunts just in time, but has apparently been returned to Earth at a much later date. He speaks of the terrain having changed and people not recognising him anymore, but the Resistance lives on. He signs off, saying he leaves it to us to finish the story and to expect no further correspondence as this is his 'final episode'.
Of course, I'm no Marc Laidlaw, and my summary hardly does the story justice. You can read the original version of the letter on his site, or read a version where the names and places have been changed to match the Half-Life series characters on Pastebin.
Laidlaw referred to the story (with what I can only imagine as the biggest wink-and-nod in human history) as "fanfic" on Twitter, calling it a "a genderswapped snapshot of a dream I had many years ago." And while it's true that this isn't officially what happens to Alyx and Gordon, it sure seems like this is the direction Valve was going at one point. Laidlaw's account even matches well with some supposedly leaked concept art for Half-Life 2: Episode 3, which appeared on the web in 2012.
The terms "Half-Life 2: Episode 3" and "Half-Life 3" have been used interchangeably to refer to the next, highly-anticipated chapter in the Half-Life saga. And while we may never get a game bearing either of those labels, I'm okay with treating Laidlaw's account of what happened as the final nail in the coffin. Rest in peace, Gordon Freeman. You done good.
Half-Life 3 appears unlikely to see the light of day but you can follow its tumultuous unofficial development history right here.