Half-Life: Alyx - the upcoming addition to the Half-Life series - will be set between the events of the first and second games in the series. The developers at Valve Software are notoriously bad at counting to three, so instead of starting off where the second episode of the second game ended, they've opted to fill in the blanks of the story leading up to it. Considering Half-Life has one of the most intricate plots in gaming to date, this is actually a good thing since there certainly are lots of blanks needing to be filled.
It's been twelve years since the release of the last installment, and twenty-one years since the release of the very first Half-Life game (seriously, Valve? 1+2 and 2+1? They surely must have chosen to announce Alyx at this point just so they could have more ways to tease us about the distinct lack of Half-Life 3). But even after all this time fans are still dissecting the many layers to this legendary franchise. Now, with the confirmation of a prequel, hopefully some of the games' biggest mysteries will be solved. Before delving into those mysteries, though, here's a quick plot refresher - needless to say, spoilers abound.
Black Mesa Inbound
The first game sees MIT graduate and protagonist Gordon Freeman unwittingly unleash an alien invasion on Earth by ripping open space-time, as one does. By inserting a sample of mysterious origin into an Anti-Mass Spectrometer, a portal is created between Earth and the borderworld Xen. A whole lot of problematic creatures emerge from this portal, wrecking havoc at Black Mesa - the shady research facility where all this is going down. It's shady because, as is later revealed, it had been the site of all kinds of "questionable ethics" involving experimentation with Xen specimens, long before Freeman came along.
Speaking of shady, the sample responsible for the resonance cascade and the ensuing mess was delivered to Black Mesa by the ethereal douchebag G-Man, who has become perhaps the greatest point of mystery in the series.
Freeman unflinchingly fights his way through the facility, eventually landing himself in Xen itself in an attempt to find and destroy its foothold on Earth. That he does, by killing the Nihilanth - a giant floating baby-looking thing that is holding the portal open.
We learn that throughout the progression of events, G-Man had his eyes on Freeman and was impressed by his "limitless potential" and singular ability to survive against all odds. The game ends with G-Man offering Freeman a dilemma: accept a mysterious job that his "employers" are offering, or die. If he opts for self-preservation, Freeman is then placed into stasis by G-Man, seemingly until he is roused back into consciousness in the train at the start of Half-Life 2, some twenty years later.
The Seven Hour War
Half-Life: Alyx apparently takes place just after the Seven Hour War, wherein a powerful inter-dimensional organization called The Combine invades and assumes complete control over Earth in just seven hours. They're able to do this thanks to a few portal storms - a side-effect of the Black Mesa mishap a decade before - and an immense amount of badass technology.
Small pockets of rebellion begin forming at this time, and this is where Alyx Vance and her father Eli come in. The next chapter in the Half-Life saga presumably will be following the inception and progression of this "fledgling resistance" against the oppressive forces of The Combine.
Forget About Freeman
During all this time, our friend Freeman is still taking an inter-dimensional stasis snooze and not ageing. Technically, then, he shouldn't be making any appearances in Alyx, unless there's some time-hopping involved. He only wakes up again at the start of Half-Life 2, about ten years after the Seven Hour War when the Combine's hold on Earth is well-established and things are nicely post-apocalyptic. Either way, the devs surely wouldn't push a Half-Life game through the system without including him in some way. We're just looking forward to seeing how.
What About Breen?
Wallace Breen's origin story certainly needs some attention. He was Black Mesa's Administrator at the time of the resonance cascade, and the main human baddy in Half-Life 2. He was awarded the role of Earth's Administrator under the Combine's rule some time between the first and second games, but it's unclear how and why.
The trailer for Alyx reveals that, of course, G-Man will be returning next year. Who exactly this pesky character is and what he has to gain by intervening in Freeman's business has divided fans for years. Now with the promise that he will be intervening in Alyx's business too hopefully means we will be getting some answers and not just more questions.
Play Episode 2 Again
Interestingly, the developers have recommended that you should replay Half-Life 2: Episode 2 (or play for the first time, in which case shame on you) before playing Alyx. Why? "For reasons that will become clear as you progress," obviously.
Even more interestingly, the exact same clip of Eli saying "close your eyes, honey" can be heard both in the final moments of Episode 2 and the trailer for Alyx (at around time-mark 1:22). So maybe that cliffhanger ending will get some closure after all.
Also, weird that Freeman was jolted back into life in the year 2020 which brought about the events in Half-Life 2, and here we are getting a revival of the series also in the year 2020. Valve really does have a thing about numbers.