Half-Life 2: Episode Three was the planned final game in the Half-Life 2 episodic trilogy.
Development, cancellation, and future
In April 2005, Valve announced an upcoming expansion for Half-Life 2, titled Half-Life 2: Aftermath, which would pick up after the events of the game. In February of the following year, Aftermath was renamed Half-Life 2: Episode One. In May, Valve explained Episode One would be the first in a planned trilogy, with Episode Three to release in December 2007.
Very little news on the status of Episode Three could be found following the release of Half-Life 2: Episode Two in October 2007 with The Orange Box. With the exception of leaked concept art in 2008, Valve essentially went radio silent on the status of the finale for the trilogy. In 2011, Gabe Newell commented in an interview that Valve had moved on from the episodic model of developing software. This led to further speculation that Valve was instead planning to create a full-fledged sequel titled Half-Life 3.
Valve's Robin Walker later confirmed following the announcement of Half-Life: Alyx that a Half-Life 3 title was in development at Valve on a few occasions, but due to the pressure of creating such an infamous game the company chose to pursue a lower-stakes yet still innovative prequel to Half-Life 2. Walker stopped short of confirming whether or not the company would resurrect the long-anticipated game after Half-Life: Alyx's release.
It is currently unknown if Half-Life 2: Episode Three at some point in its development became Half-Life 3, or if the planned story for Episode Three was abandoned in favor of the larger project, or if ideas from the initial planning for Episode Three would have been reused in some capacity. Nonetheless, based on leaks and later statements by series writer Marc Laidlaw, a game titled Half-Life 2: Episode Three as originally announced by Valve ceased development some time between 2007 and 2011.
Official and semi-official derivatives
Within the 1970s era of Test Shaft 09 in Portal 2 are several vitrified test chambers. One such test chamber, which has had its door blasted off by some unknown force, is revealed to be the dry dock for the Borealis. A nearby intercom with a recording by Cave Johnson reveals Aperture Science was experimenting with teleportation, suggesting the Borealis contains teleportation technology that the Combine and Resistance seek. This is currently the only in-canon continuation of the story set up by Episode Two (Portal 2 is presumed to take place years, if not centuries, after the events of the entire Half-Life series).
On May 31, 2012 a Twitter account called "BreenGrub" began posting. Its tweets suggested it belonged to Wallace Breen himself, who had a younger version of his mind uploaded into a host body, that of an Advisor. Breen attempted to pass on information to the resistance through these tweets.
On April 13, 2013, series writer Marc Laidlaw confirmed he was running the BreenGrub Twitter, but stated it was not canon to the Half-Life universe but rather "fanfiction." He elaborated: "I personally cannot give the world a Half-Life game. All I can personally do, for now, is stuff like this."
The account ceased posting in July of 2014 after a series of tweets going in-depth about the history of the Advisors (who were apparently larva forms of a species called "Shu'ulathoi") and suggesting the Vortigaunts may be allied with another malevolent force. Breen was swiftly silenced by the Vortigaunts and was then influenced to spout Combine propaganda. Breen subsequently seemingly abandoned the account, apparently realizing his feed was no longer secure.
Laidlaw departed Valve less than two years later.
On August 25, 2017, Marc Laidlaw abruptly published a document entitled Epistle 3, which he described as a "genderswapped snapshot of a dream I had many years ago." Written by "Dr. Gertrude Fremont" to the "Playa," the document was interpreted by mainstream media as the plot to Episode Three with purposely changed names and even genders of several aspects of the Half-Life universe (e.g., Alyx Vance as "Alex Vaunt," Judith Mossman becomes "Dr. Maas," Vortigaunts as "Ghastlyhaunts," and the Borealis going by its beta name "Hyperborea").
Epistle 3 cannot be considered a canon ending to the episodic trilogy due to its nature, however it provides a possible synopsis of what such a game would have looked like. Laidlaw noted on his Twitter that none of the ideas described were fixed, and they would have been changed based on the direction the programmers wished to take gameplay.
The following synopsis reconstructs the plot of Epistle 3 with Laidlaw's placeholder names swapped out for the characters.
The plot describes the memorial service for Eli Vance and the Rebellion's subsequent decision to go to the coordinates described by Judith Mossman. Gordon and Alyx fly towards the Arctic but are downed before they reach it. While investigating Mossman's coordinates, already surrounded by a Combine installation, they discover the Borealis is actually phasing in and out of existence, and the coordinates were merely where Mossman expected it to next appear. They are then captured by followers of the late Wallace Breen, whose consciousness at an earlier time is revealed to have been uploaded into a grub (as Laidlaw's BreenGrub Twitter account related). The slug fears Gordon, knowing his original body's fate, but begs for a quick death––Breen's fate would have been left in the player's hands.
They then find Mossman imprisoned by the Combine, where she and Alyx have a tense reunion as Alyx blames her for her father's death. They free Mossman and after a brief firefight managed to get the Borealis to stay in one place long enough for them to get onboard before it returns to jumping between universes. They then discover that Aperture Science had been using the Borealis to experiment on something called the "Bootstrap Device," which could emit a field large enough to teleport it instantaneously to anywhere. When the Combine invaded, the panicking scientists turned on the device, sending the Borealis to the Arctic without realizing the device could also teleport it through time and was not necessarily bound to one time or location. Thus the Borealis was stretched across time and space between the drydock and the Arctic. They are then left with the choice to run the Borealis aground in the Arctic so it could be studied, or to destroy it with all hands on board, hopefully stopping the next Combine invasion. Mossman argues for the former so it can help the resistance, but Alyx swears by her father's final command to destroy the ship. In an ensuing struggle, Mossman gets the upper-hand and prepares to ground the Borealis but is killed by Alyx, who with Gordon turns the Borealis into a time-travelling missile heading straight for the Combine's command center.
The G-Man then appears to Alyx, who recognizes him from her childhood, and leads her away, leaving Gordon stuck on the Borealis. Seeing the Borealis's destination, Gordon grimly realizes that the ship will do little if anything to stop the Combine, and that his death will essentially be in vain. Before the ship can collide, the Vortigaunts appear and quickly rescue Freeman. Freeman later awakens on a beach at some uncertain point in the distant future, where he notices the terrain has changed. It is then left ambiguous whether or not humanity succeeded in defeating the Combine, although Freeman realizes that those he once knew are long gone.
Laidlaw later posted several alternate story possibilities on his Twitter account, such as Mossman being pushed into a portal instead of being shot dead, or Gordon arriving back at Black Mesa, apparently immediately before getting on the tram at the beginning of Half-Life.
Multiple fan projects have attempted to fill the role Episode Three would have had and create their own conclusion to the Half-Life 2 saga.
In 2009, a mod containing map packs masquerading as leaked content for Episode Three was released. The simple chapters depict Freeman and Alyx heading off for the Borealis, crashing in the arctic, discovering the ship, infiltrating it, before then escaping with Barney Calhoun as it is destroyed.
In 2016, a mod titled Half-Life 2 Episode 3: The Closure was released, one of the first completed attempts, although it received negative feedback due to the gameplay having very little to do with Half-Life and its extensive use of cutscenes.
Following the release of Epistle 3, further fan projects have emerged in an attempt to adapt the synopsis into a full game. The most notable of these are Project Borealis, which will recreate the Half-Life environments in the Unreal Engine rather than Source, and Boreal-Alyph, which will use the Source engine but will attempt to update the environments to create a modern-day game.
Although not a sequel, the acclaimed 2018 mod Half-Life : Echoes depicts a scene from Epistle 3 in which Freeman, Alyx and a dead Judith Mossman are on the Borealis, and are met by the G-Man.
- ↑ "Half-Life 2: Episode One Dated, Trilogy Confirmed." Gamasutra.
- ↑ "Newell: We've moved beyond the episodic model." MCV Develop.
- ↑ "The Final Hours of Half-Life: Alyx - Behind Closed Doors at Valve." YouTube.
- ↑ "Half-Life writer Marc Laidlaw goes back to Breen with fanfiction Twitter account." PCGamesN.
- ↑ "5 Intriguing Things BreenGrub Teaches Us About The Half-Life Saga." Lambda Generation.
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 "Marc Laidlaw's coded Half-Life 'fanfic' is probably the closest we'll get to Half-Life 3." The Verge.
- ↑ "This short story is probably the closest we'll get to learning the plot of Half-Life 3." The AV Club.
- BreenGrub Twitter
- "Epistle 3" on Marc Laidlaw's website
- A fan correction of "Epistle 3" by Jackathan