Valve's Source engine has proven itself to be incredibly flexible and capable of stunning game worlds.
For a series like Half-life, this poses a question of impact both that initial 'wow'-factor and the kind of artistic direction and technical leap that it takes to make those jaws hang loose. If and when we do see the next Half-life adventure, Valve will want to make a major
splash. This is a franchise close to the hearts of millions of gamers and both previous titles were, critically, also technological showcases for Valve's impressive art department and tech suite.
By not iterating the Source engine, that potentially makes it tricky to come out of the gates with a game that looks startlingly 'new'. That's where art direction is going to have to fill in any perceived marketing bullet-point gaps. With Portal 2
, Valve has more than any other game in its back catalogue demonstrated that it can craft convincing, realistic worlds that don't aim to be photo-realistic. It put style above aping reality and it recreated several different modern decades of styles. It was a ballsy move and it was also something of an experiment. Portal 2's environment spoke more of the back-story than any narration could.
With Half-life 3, Valve has the chance to do it again. It cut its teeth with Half-life 2 in that regard, but it really came of age with Portal 2. Expect something equally ambitious, sprawling and critically, more evocative than any competing title out there. It has to be, really. And that kind of quality takes a long time.
Then there's the question of gameplay. With the original Half-life, Valve brought first-person storytelling up to speed. With its sequel, it was further refined, while adding the stunning gravity gun element. With Portal and Portal 2, the portal gun pointed towards the importance of gameplay-redefining advances in design. But where can Valve go from here?
It's just a matter of time before we see Half-life 3. Honestly though, the longer the wait, the better the game.
Valve must rely on art direction over horsepower (or gracefully combine the two). However, a stunning show-stopping gameplay advancement must surely be stamped on the other side of the coin. As you can imagine, these kinds of brilliant advancements don't generally appear overnight.
We're starting to see new trends and concepts emerging in the first-person space. Gravity and environment manipulation are sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with the traditional blast-fest. Half-life has always balanced adventure with action and grand storytelling, too. It's a fair assumption that Valve completely understands what its sitting on and won't risk a misstep. Everything will be meticulous, inventive and worthwhile.
When all of these elements are considered, it's pretty fair to say that we're not going to be hearing about Half-life 3 for a while more. The beauty lies in the consolation, though: when it is
finally announced, you can bet it'll something very rare, very fine and very special indeed. No pressure, Valve.