The Incomplete Trilogies of Valve
Valve has become one of the premier names in the video game industry, and rightfully so. Not only is the wildly popular games platform Steam a brainchild of Valve, they also are the masterminds behind some of the most popular gaming franchises of the last 15 years.
Beginning with the critically acclaimed FPS shooter Half-Life, they’ve gone on to create the online multiplayer FPS Team Fortress Classic, the puzzle-platform Portal, and the FPS zombie survival game Left 4 Dead. Each of these games was followed by an arguably more popular sequel, but Valve has inexplicably left its fans in the dark as to when one of these trilogies will be completed. Let’s take a look into the history of each respective franchise and project where it might be headed in the future.
The first installment of the Half-Life franchise was released in 1998. Thanks to its engaging storyline and realistic gameplay, Half-Life won over 50 PC Game of the Year awards, and cemented Valve as a company to watch for in the new millennium. The game also introduced players to Dr. Gordon Freeman, a silent protagonist who would continue to be the focus of the franchise in the sequel, Half-Life 2.
Half-Life 2 (2004) straight up transcended the video game world. It was developed alongside the Steam software, so people tend to credit this game as being the driving force behind the ascension of Steam. Revolutionary in its physics, animation, sound, AI, graphics, and narrative, Half-Life 2 set the standard for what video games could be.
Half-Life 2 has only gained popularity over time, its longevity rewarded in 2012 as it won Game of the Decade at the Spike Video Game Awards. Selling close to 15 million copies in less than 10 years, the demand is certainly there for another game in this beloved franchise. So, why no Half-Life 3?
Over the last couple years, an internet movement has begun to make Half-Life 3 a reality. There is a running joke on various forms and internet communities such as Reddit and 4chan where users will ironically say “Half-Life 3 confirmed” in response to even the loosest speculation about the long-awaited game. The truth of the matter is Gabe Newell and his team at Valve have simply been too busy with Steam and the Steam Machines launching this year to put the required time and effort into such a massive project.
This delay has made the expectations for Half-Life 3 so unrealistic that it’s basically a lose-lose situation for Valve. The longer they wait, the more impatient and angry gamers become. Perhaps Newell can call upon the magic he used to make us fall in love with the Half-Life franchise in the first place. In two years’ time I may be writing up an article on why Half-Life 3 is the greatest game of all time, who knows. Either way, the announcement of Half-Life 3, whenever that may be, will undoubtedly be enormous news.
Back in the late 90’s, before the era of Halo and Call of Duty, games like Quake and Doom were the most popular FPS’s on the market. Valve decided to cash in on this trend in 1999 when they released Team Fortress Classic, a team-based online multiplayer first person shooter.
What allowed Team Fortress to ascend to a place of more prevalent popularity than other FPS’s at that time was its focus on objective-based game modes rather than straight up deathmatch. Because they had to work together to complete an objective rather than just get as many kills as they could, players were encouraged and almost forced to use a variety of classes that worked well together if they wanted to be victorious.
Team Fortress 2, which began as part of Valve’s Orange Box compilation in 2007, truly made its mark on video game culture in 2011 when it became a free to play title on Steam. This led to Team Fortress 2 being THE game that everyone you talked to had played at some point, regardless of how hardcore of a gamer they were. All someone had to do was make a free Steam account and download TF2 for free and they would have instant access to a community of players competing around the world: all without spending a single penny.
Although Team Fortress 2 continues to grow in popularity, the fact remains that it has been 7 years since its release. The demand for a sequel is certainly not as strong as it is for Half-Life 3, but sooner rather than later TF2’s gameplay and mechanics will seem dated and its popularity will dwindle quickly. If Valve is smart, they will realize how much of a positive light the free-to-play aspect of TF2 sheds on the company and will strive to reward the support of their fanbase with an updated sequel.
Included in the aforementioned 2007 release The Orange Box was a little game by the name of Portal, a first person puzzle-platform. Praised for its originality, the game placed players into the shoes of protagonist Chell as they take orders from an operating system named GLaDOS and complete her various puzzles using a gun that creates inter-spatial “portals” that are used to help beat the puzzles. Although the length of the game was quite short, the creepiness of the artificially intelligent voice combined with the incredibly unique gameplay made Portal a smash hit.
Yet again, Valve followed up a critically and commercially successful hit with an arguably more successful game in the form of Portal 2. Portal 2 added to its predecessor’s elements with new features such as tractor beams, light bridges, and speed-increasing “gels” that allowed the player to jump higher or place portals on any surface.
The single player campaign allowed players to continue the story of Chell from the original game, who has awoken from suspended animation and must take orders once again from the reactivated GLaDOS. Adding to this single player campaign, Portal 2 offered players the opportunity to complete puzzles with their friends in the new two-player cooperative mode.
These two distinct gameplay options combined with the return of the classic dark humor and engaging complexity of the first installment made Portal 2 one of the best games of 2011. Because of this, Portal 3 is possibly just as highly anticipated as Half-Life 3. Gamers everywhere are desperate to continue the adventures of Chell and have their minds challenged once again in a way other video games simply cannot. When Portal 3 will be released is a puzzle we have yet to figure out, a puzzle perhaps worthy of those that will be found in the game itself.
Left 4 Dead
Unsurprisingly, Valve decided to delve into the popular world of zombies in 2008 with its co-op first person shooter Left 4 Dead. Set during the aftermath of an apocalyptic pandemic, the game pits four protagonists, called the “Survivors”, against hordes of the infected. It is possible to play alone with the other 3 survivors being AI controlled, but what made L4D so universally popular is the option to get together with 3 of your friends either online or in person and take on the zombie hordes.
The option to play with friends made up for the rather weak narrative and gave the game nearly endless replay value. Each play-through you and your friends could use different weapons or different methods to dispatch the zombies. The feedback from players was so positive that Valve developed and released the sequel just a year later, aptly titled Left 4 Dead 2.
Honestly, Left 4 Dead 2 didn’t offer much that wasn’t already in the original, but it didn’t need to. Players just love embarking on a new adventure with their friends and are satisfied with a game that allows them to do this once again with a few new tweaks. For this reason, Left 4 Dead 3 seems like a relatively simple project for Valve to make a reality. As previously mentioned, a slight variation on the previous two installments would be enough to satisfy consumers. A next-gen Left 4 Dead game, perhaps? Make it happen Valve.
As expected, Valve has been extremely secretive when it comes to providing information about the aforementioned franchises. However, in a recent post on the Valvetime.Net from last June, it was revealed that Valve’s internal bug tracking software was accidentially made public, revealing list of working groups for several unannounced projects in development at Valve.
The two projects that attracted the most attention were the fabled Half-Life 3 and another entitled Left 4 Dead 3. According to the post, Left 4 Dead 3 has multiple mailing lists meaning it is further in development, while Half-Life 3 has only one group suggesting it is inactive or just barely beginning development. Either way, it’s been 7 months since this post and we still have no official announcement from Valve regarding either of these projects. Make of that what you will.
It was surprising that neither game was announced as a launch title for Valve own console-like gaming PC, the Steam Machine, leaving one to believe a big, multi-game announcement lays down the road somewhere. With 2014 being a year of next-gen consoles and the release of the Steam Machine itself, don’t be surprised if we finally get an announcement regarding one of these games in the next 11 months. In the meantime, let’s stay positive and trust that Valve has a plan for the future.