This Half-Life article contains spoilers.
It seemed like this day would never come. A new Half-Life game has been released by Valve, 13 years after the last installment, Half-Life 2: Episode 2, ended on a grim cliffhanger, with no sign that the story would ever be completed.
Half-Life: Alyx isn’t exactly the sequel you were waiting for, but it’s nonetheless a fascinating look into what will likely be the future of the franchise. The VR game is set after the first Half-Life but five years before the events of Half-Life 2. Fan-favorite Alyx Vance has already joined the fight against the Combine invaders in City 17, and when her father, the scientist Eli Vance, is captured by the enemy, the young hero springs into action and sets out on a mission to rescue him.
But as the story unfolds, all roads lead to a much bigger mystery that has huge implications for the future of the franchise as well as its past. Let’s break down the ending of the game and see where it leaves Alyx and the Half-Life universe as a whole.
What is the Vault and how did G-Man end up there?
Alyx and Eli Vance spend much of the game thinking the strange Vault hanging above City 17 is the location of some kind of Combine superweapon, but the story slowly reveals the Vault’s true purpose. It’s not a superweapon meant to crush the resistance fighting the alien occupation of Earth but a prison meant to keep someone very important trapped inside.
The Vances surmise it’s Gordon Freeman, the hero of the Black Mesa incident who’s not been seen in years (he will later return in Half-Life 2). Alyx decides to reach the Vault and free Gordon, but what she finds inside the Vault is beyond what she could have expected. Inside the Vault is what seems like a simulation of City 17 itself that’s unstuck from time and space. Rooms turn upside down, objects float in the air unperturbed by the laws of gravity, and doors lead into other places that don’t make any physical sense. This is the first clue that the prisoner in question might not be tied to the laws of reality as we know it.
When Alyx reaches the cell at the center of the Vault and opens it, she’s surprised to see the G-Man, the supernatural being first introduced in the original Half-Life as a recruiter for an unknown employer who often intervenes with the events of the story. At the end of the original game, for example, the G-Man — who is always dressed in a blue suit and carries a black briefcase — “hires” Gordon Freeman to work for him. In the Half-Life 2 finale, the G-Man pulls Gordon out of the action just as he accomplishes his mission, leaving Alyx to die and putting Gordon back in stasis until his services are needed again. G-Man will interfere in a similar way in Half-Life: Alyx but we’ll get to that in a second.
How did the G-Man end up in the Vault? It’s never directly addressed in the story, but there’s a more intriguing question to be asked here: When was the G-Man put in the Vault? After all, the G-Man can easily travel through time and space and the Combine has access to otherworldy science beyond the laws of time and physics. Could he have been captured after the events of Alyx? The G-Man’s preoccupation with the end of Half-Life 2: Episode 2 could mean that he was captured after the Vortigaunts interfered with his plans and freed Gordon in Episode 1.
During Episode 2, the G-Man appears to Gordon to tell him that he must see Alyx safely to White Forest, the Resistance base where the final act of the game takes place. G-Man reveals that he can’t directly interfere because he’s been forced to “abide by certain restrictions.” In the context of the game, the player is led to believe that the Vortigaunts are keeping G-Man from manipulating Gordon. But could the “certain restrictions” actually involve the Vault? Timey wimey, indeed.
How was Alyx able to save Eli Vance in the future?
With the G-Man freed from his prison, the tables quickly turn on Alyx, who is transported into the black void where the mysterious being takes his new hires. It’s here where G-Man makes Alyx an offer she can’t refuse.
For her help in freeing him, the G-Man offers her one favor of her choice. Alyx asks that Earth be rid of the Combine. “That’s too big of a nudge,” G-Man replies, suggesting his employers still have use for the Combine. (After all, they’re the main enemies in Half-Life 2.) G-Man offers her an alternative.
He takes her forward in time to the infamous ending of Half-Life 2: Episode 2. Her father lies dead in future Alyx’s arms after being attacked by a Combine Advisor. G-Man offers past Alyx the chance to save her father in the future, which she quickly agrees to.
Where did Alyx go at the end of the game?
After Alyx kills the Advisor and saves her father, she’s transported once again to the black void dimension and put in stasis by the G-Man, who reveals that she is of great value and has been chosen to replace his “previous hire” (Gordon Freeman), who’s rebelled against him. The game ends much like the original Half-Life and its sequel, with the G-Man walking out of the void and leaving Alyx in stasis until he needs her again.
This twist again ties back to the G-Man cutscene in Half-Life 2: Episode 2. The G-Man revealed to Gordon in that game that he’d “plucked” Alyx from Black Mesa despite the protests of his employers, seeing great potential in her when no one else did. It’s clear now that G-Man was grooming Alyx from behind the scenes as a possible replacement for Gordon were he to turn on his employer.
What does the ending mean for Half-Life 3?
While the credits roll on Alyx as she’s put in stasis, the story of Half-Life: Alyx isn’t quite over. Yes, the game has a post-credits scene that sets up the future of the franchise and even a potential Half-Life 3.
We return to the end of Half-Life 2: Episode 2, only events have been changed. With Eli now alive and safe, the future’s version of Alyx has been “plucked” from that moment entirely, as if she was never there. Somehow, Eli knows what’s happened and curses the “unforeseen consequences” — the warning G-Man gave Alyx to pass on to Eli before his death in that game.
Suddenly, Dog appears and he’s holding a familiar weapon: the legendary crowbar. Eli takes the crowbar and passes it to none other than Gordon Freeman, telling him that “they have work to do.”
How the G-Man’s interference will affect the events of future Half-Life stories remains to be seen, but there’s no question that the post-credits scene is teasing a new Gordon Freeman adventure. Whether that takes the form of a second VR title or a proper Half-Life 3 is anybody’s guess, but it’s pretty unlikely that Valve would make a new Half-Life game teasing the long-awaited third installment for no reason.
So, what will happen in Half-Life 3? Well, the story will undoubtedly focus on freeing Alyx from the G-Man, but could also tie into the original story of Episode 3, the never-released final chapter of the Half-Life 2 games that would have sent Gordon and Alyx to the Borealis, a long lost research vessel believed to hold secret technology that could help the resistance defeat the Combine or empower the alien invaders to crush the rebellion against them.
In 2017, former Valve writer Marc Laidlaw revealed on his blog how the events of Episode 3 would have played out. In that version of the story, Gordon and Alyx set out to destroy the Borealis, which has become unstuck in time and appears randomly in different locations. The heroes come up with a plan to use the vessel as a time-traveling bomb to destroy the Combine’s command center. It’s a suicide mission that Alyx and Gordon don’t plan to return from.
But just as the explosion envelops Alyx and Gordon, the G-Man appears to escort Alyx to safety while the Vortigaunts do the same for Gordon. This version of the story would have ended on that cliffhanger.
Judging from Laidlaw’s outline of the events of Episode 3, it seems that it was always Valve’s plan to have the G-Man recruit Alyx. For what purpose remains a mystery that likely won’t be answered any time soon. It’s also impossible to know how the G-Man’s interference in Half-Life: Alyx will affect the story already put in place 13 years ago. All we can do is wait until the day when Alyx and Gordon’s time comes around again…