The big titles and new releases that sell more copies than any others tend to be sequels to sequels of sequels, which seems to be the current state of the video game industry (see: Resident Evil 6, Grand Theft Auto 5, Skyrim: The Elder Scrolls V, Halo 4, Final Fantasy XIV, etc.). While this trend can be argued as a lack of creativity, distrust of the consumer base for new and innovative products, or even as a stagnation of the industry as a whole, a more interesting analysis can be made on the nature of the sequels themselves.
A sequel can be as radically different as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time to Majora’s Mask, where while the graphics and sprite set were essentially the same , the storyline and tone were worlds apart, or Spec Ops: The Line where it seemed like an entirely new series from its previous roots in Spec Ops: Ranger Elite, Cover Assault, or Airborne Commando, where the game was nothing more than an ordinary modern military shooter without any further complexity or depth.
Sequels can also be nothing more than glorified DLC stretched into a sequel to wring another $60+ from the audience. Activision franchises have been under heavy scrutiny of following this practice, with their sequels to Call of Duty, Guitar Hero, and Tony Hawk, most notably, arguably being no different from their previous games, other than a slight graphical redux with a handful of minor new features. However, regardless of the growth or stagnation a sequel brings to its predecessor, this raises an important question of what, exactly, makes a game fit into its overarching series?
I first asked myself this question when I had replayed Half Life 2 and its following episodes for the third time. Like many, I wonder why Valve has made no effort toward informing the public about the state of Half Life 3, if there is any state of the game at all, and it can be somewhat frustrating because of my own fondness for the game. After six years since Half Life 2: Episode 2, however, what exactly would a sequel to the game entail? Recent titles such as Duke Nukem: Forever have done nothing but prove that nostalgia and beloved characters can’t make a poorly-made game any better, so removing Gordon Freeman, the G-Man, and Alex Vanyce from the equation, what would the mechanics of Half Life 3 be? What would be the “hook” of the game? Half Life had always sold itself around a narrative-driven experience without the use of cut scenes, a heavy emphasis on physics puzzle, and (at the time) excellent graphics to animate believable and compelling human characters in the world around Gordon Freeman. However, in our modern era, these are all three very common themes in games and it would arguably do nothing to set apart Half Life 3 to audiences that had no prior history with the series, which would be a fairly large section of the market Valve would be selling to, as the series has not been active for over half a decade. Merely following the footsteps of previous games would make Half Life 3 a niche sell, only to those who would buy for nostalgia’s sake, unless Valve created an entirely new game around the story. Perhaps that’s where other titles evolved from, Left 4 Dead being very reminiscent of the Ravenholm chapter of Half Life 2, for example, similar to how the original Devil May Cry being the original prototype of Resident Evil 4, but was later created into its own series after the designers felt that it strayed too far from the Resident Evil model.
Ultimately, Half Life lacks this creative identity that can still be relevant in the modern era, which is why, personally, I believe that we may never see another addition toward Gordon Freeman’s fight against the Combine.