The Half-Life series has a long and storied history of ending its games with massive cliffhanger – including one that is probably the most notorious cliffhanger in gaming history – and though Half-Life: Alyx is the first game in the series in a long, long time and does many things it has never done before, it does follow that tradition to a T. In spite of being a prequel to Half-Life 2, Alyx ends on a cliffhanger, and what a cliffhanger it is.
It’s not surprising that the narrative told in Half-Life: Alyx is just as engrossing as its game design is ingenious- striking a deft balance between the two is something that Valve have always been experts at, and clearly, the long hiatus they took from making mainstream AAA games hasn’t rusted any of their skills. Players spend much of Alyx looking for a way into the Vault, a structure floating above City 17 that is heavily fortified and protected by the Combine.
The reasons that Alyx and her father Eli want to do so keep changing. When they start out, they are working under the assumption that the Vault holds a deadly Combine superweapon. Being in the early stages of forming the Resistance that goes on to wage a fierce conflict with the Combine in Half-Life 2 and both its successive episodes, Alyx and Eli decide that they have to get into the Vault, figuring that if they can get their hands on that superweapon, they might actually be able to use it against the Combine and turn the tide in their favour.
But eventually they find out that the Vault is not holding a superweapon at all- no, it’s actually meant to be a prison, and imprisoned inside is a survivor from the Black Mesa Incident – the shorthand for the entirety of Half-Life 1, essentially – and clearly this prisoner is a person that the Combine view as a threat. Alyx and Eli quickly put two and two together, and deduce that the prisoner is none other than Gordon Freeman himself, and since he would be an asset to the Resistance’s cause, they decide to rescue him.
But unlike the Vances, we, the players, know that the person in the Vault can’t possibly be Gordon Freeman. The former Black Mesa scientist is, at this point in the story, in a deep stasis sleep, where he was put by the G-Man, and he will be there for five more years, before the G-Man wakes him up and inserts him in City 17 to kick off the events of Half-Life 2.
And when Alyx does eventually manage to break into the heart of the Vault and open up the prisoner’s containment cell, that’s proven to be correct. The prisoner isn’t Gordon at all- it’s actually the enigmatic G-Man himself. Once he’s released, the G-Man grants Alyx one favour in return for freeing him. Without hesitation, Alyx asks for victory against the Combines invasion of Earth, but that’s not something the G-Man is willing to comply with. Instead, he has another bright idea of a favour he can grant Alyx that he thinks she would rather opt for.
The G-Man then takes Alyx and teleports her through time, several years ahead, all the way to the end of Half-Life 2: Episode Two, and we witness once again the mother of cliffhangers that has been tormenting us for thirteen years. Alyx views the death of her father, Eli, in the helipad at the White Forest Resistance base, while her and Gordon from that future stand by helplessly as a Combine Advisor takes the Resistance leader’s life.
The G-Man allows Alyx to intervene in the moment, and what Alyx does next is- well, she basically retcons Episode Two’s ending. She kills the Combine Advisor, saving her father’s life. Once that is done, the G-Man tells her that in exchange for having been allowed to save Eli, Alyx now has to work for him. He tells her he sees great potential in her, and that she’s essentially been chosen to replace his previous hire, who he had become increasingly dissatisfied with. Though the G-Man doesn’t explicitly name him, the previous hire he is referring to is, of course, Gordon Freeman, who, with the help of the Vortigaunts, had started rebelling against the G-Man during the events of Half-Life 2’s episodes. Before the credits roll, Half-Life: Alyx sees the G-Man leaving Alyx trapped in a void as he walks away.
But that’s not the ending- after the credits, you’re back in the White Forest helipad- only this time, you’re in the shoes of Gordon once again, at the exact moment where Episode Two ended. Only, things are a little different now. Eli is still alive, the Combine Advisor who originally killed him lies dead, Dog is there as well, and Alyx… well, Alyx is nowhere to be seen. Eli, surprisingly enough, seems to know exactly what went down. He curses the G-Man and his “unforeseen consequences” – an ominous warning he had uttered to both Eli and Alyx at various points in their lives – and as Dog hands Gordon his iconic crowbar, Eli tells him there’s work to be done.
So yeah, that ending obviously sets up a sequel (maybe even one with a magical 3 at the end of its title, which seems very uncharacteristic of Valve). Sure, even Half-Life 2: Episode Two’s ending basically demanded a sequel, one that we still haven’t got, but clearly Valve intend to follow up on Alyx’s story and the way it ends to take Half-Life’s story forward.
Some things are obvious- we’re probably going to play as Gordon Freeman once again, and his first mission is going to be to work alongside Eli to rescue Alyx from the G-Man. And with the way this story has ramped up and progressed, it’s clear that the mysterious entity is also going to have an even larger role to play going forward- he might even be the main threat. The Combine’s invasion was almost dealt with by the time Half-Life 2: Episode Two wrapped up, with the superportal above City 17’s ruins having been closed. Yes, there are still plenty of Combine left on Earth, but seeing as they can’t call for reinforcements anymore, maybe they’re not going to be as much of a threat as the G-Man is.
There are many, many questions that Valve need to answer with future games. For starters, it seems like time travel is going to be a factor in the story going forward, mostly because of the G-Man’s imprisonment. Because how did he get imprisoned? And did he tell Gordon in Half-Life 2: Episode Two that Alyx’s survival was crucial and that she was important to her plans because he knew that for her to enter his service, she would have to save Eli’s life, and that for that to happen, she, Gordon, and Eli would need to be at that helipad at that specific moment in time? Or did he just do so because he had always been grooming her for employment as a backup in case Gordon didn’t work out? Maybe a bit of both? Maybe it’s something else entirely? Either way, it becomes clear why the G-Man rescued Alyx from the Black Mesa incident during Half-Life 1, because he probably knew that she would rescue him from the Vault years down the line.
And even though Half-Life: Alyx’s ending does drastically change one very particular aspect of Episode Two’s conclusion, there are other very important story threads that have still been left hanging from that game that Valve will probably pick up again in a sequel. For instance, Gordon still needs to save Dr. Judith Mossman. He still needs to find Aperture Science’s Borealis and find what it is that is inside of it.
We still need to find out why Eli is convinced that weapon needs to be destroyed, and why he is afraid that using it could cause another disaster on the scale of the Black Mesa incident. He did, after all, promise Gordon toward the end of Episode Two that he would tell him all about that soon- and now he’s alive enough to actually be able to do that. And we need to find out if the Borealis will even be destroyed, because it’s clear that some in the Resistance – like Kleiner and Magnusson – want to use it as a weapon against the Combine. Oh, and we also need to find out what exactly to Wallace Breen.
Above all else, after having witnessed the momentous ending of Half-Life: Alyx, one thing has become crystal clear. Very soon, we might all be able to say “Half-Life 3 confirmed”- and actually mean it this time.