The Half-Life universe encompasses the first person shooter Half-Life series, as well as the puzzle-based Portal series.
Black Mesa is a US research corporation, experimenting with teleportation. Its New Mexico headquarters, the Black Mesa Research Facility, is a sprawling complex of advanced industrial and scientific facilities and serves as the setting of the first Half-Life and its expansions.
Aperture Science is a private company that competes with Black Mesa for government funding, with a comically haphazard approach to basic research and development. In addition to stable wormholes and an alternative in-universe teleportation technology, their achievements include AI-controlled robotic systems (including reconfigurable architecture and weapon turrets), mind uploading, and cryonics.
The Combine or Universal Union, a multiverse-spanning, highly advanced technological civilization, are the main antagonists of the series. Led by 'advisors' (large grublike aliens wholly dependent on their technology for physical tasks), the Combine subjugates other species using synthetic biology and overwhelming military might transported through inter-universe portals. Half Life 2 and its sequels are set in and around the eastern European City 17, one of a series of Combine-controlled urban centers in which human survivors of their invasion (and the resulting ecological devastation) are concentrated.
Futurist themes and concepts
The Black Mesa Research facility depicts an organization capable of extremely advanced feats using roughly 1990s-era technology, and encompasses a hydroelectric dam, nuclear reactors, rocket engine testing facilities, massive terrariums for studying captured Xen specimens, and multiple advanced particle accelerator systems. The complex is also shown to be capable of trans-orbital rocket launches and maintaining a satellite constellation.
Combine forces are based in and coordinated from "Citadels" - massive structures containing all the facilities they would need to manufacture, maintain, and support their forces locally, and establish portals for communication and transport with other Combine worlds. Citadels are manufactured off-world and installed in-place through portals - displacing multiple city blocks at their base.
After invading Earth, the occupying Combine forces use incentives to recruit for their human 'Civil Protection' forces. Humanity's collective future as planned by the Combine, as well as higher ranks of the Combine forces, are propagandized in vague transhumanist language, with the general public promised transcendence and immortality as their population dwindles and the planet is stripped of natural resources and rendered an inhospitable wasteland.
Internal Combine messaging aimed at Civil Protection members cites memory replacement indoctrination as "the first step towards promotion," a process later depicted in passing with a limp CP officer attached to a face-covering machine. Further modifications are heavily implied, with elite soldiers wearing helmets dominated by large, red, cyclopean lenses and communicating with heavily distorted speech from implanted vocoders. At one point in a later level, a group of their soldiers are directly addressed as "the transhuman arm of the Combine Overwatch" and threatened with "permanent off-world assignment" if unsuccessful in their mission.
Regardless of rank, CP and Overwatch members are directed in their duties by a female-voiced artificial dispatcher that can be heard throughout the city, issuing orders couched in medical euphemisms: "innoculating" the general public against dissent while "amputating" and "cauterizing" those who resist and their influence.
"This is what happens to you if you resist...or if you're just in the wrong place at the wrong time." ― Alyx Vance on stalkers in Half Life 2: Episode 1
Some less fortunate humans are enslaved and turned into 'stalkers,' stripped of their extremities, identifying characteristics, and 'unnecessary' organs. Stalkers are not depicted as capable of speech, and walk and work using crude prosthetics - with reminders that their "limb privileges" can be revoked.
While they are not shown outside the Combine Citadel, chatter among resistance fighters in-game show they are aware of stalkers and their risk of becoming one for their actions.
Half life 2: Episode 3's development has been widely known and discussed since 2006. Originally intended for a tentative release for Christmas of 2007, the game is still supposedly in development with very few known details. Leaks and rumors hint at several complete reworks of the plot and game design, with one iteration (allegedly in development from 2013 to 2015) hinging heavily on transhumanist themes and prosthetics.
Black Mesa, A fan remake/reimagining of the original Half-Life in the Source engine, was originally released as a mod before transitioning to a commercial game in its own right with the support of Valve Software. Later stages, set in the (reimagined) Xen borderworld, is now mostly complete with the final maps that are still in the late stages.
In August 2017, series writer Marc Laidlaw posted a possible script for Episode 3 with swapped character names and genders to his personal blog. The story represents "The Disparate's" overwhelming technological superiority with a Dyson sphere, and a character re-instantiated from personality backup.
Recent updates to several Valve games and their associated Software Development Kits have contained references to an apparently separate Half Life VR title, rumored to be a prequel to Half Life 2. This was confirmed with the November 2019 announcement of Half Life: Alyx, a virtual reality-only entry in the series slated for release in March of 2020.
- Half Life (Microsoft Windows, Mac OSX, Linux, Sega Dreamcast (unreleased), Sony PlayStation 2), 1998
- Half Life: Opposing Force (Microsoft Windows, Mac OSX, Linux)
- Half Life: Blue Shift (Microsoft Windows, Mac OSX, Linux)
- Half Life: Decay (Sony PlayStation 2), 2001
- Half Life 2: Raising The Bar (Art Book)
- Half Life 2 (Microsoft Windows, Mac OSX, Linux)
- Half Life 2: Lost Coast (Microsoft Windows, Mac OSX, Linux)
- Half Life 2: Episode 1 (Microsoft Windows, Mac OSX, Linux)
- Half Life 2: Episode 2 (Microsoft Windows, Mac OSX, Linux)
- Portal (Microsoft Windows, Mac OSX, Linux)
- Portal 2 (Microsoft Windows, Mac OSX, Linux)
References in Other Media
- An Unconfirmed Half-Life 3 Story Leak, Tyler McVicker, Valve News Network on YouTube, December 24, 2018
- Epistle 3, Marc Laidlaw, August 2017
- Half-Life 2: Episode 3's Story Released By Marc Laidlaw, Valve News Network, August 24, 2017
- Half-Life: VR Story Leaks, Tyler McVicker, Valve News Network on YouTube, November 10, 2018
- New Half-Life sequel to be VR exclusive, Keith Stuart, The Guardian, November 27, 2019
- Deus Ex Wikia: Unforseen Consequence