Half-Life remains one of the great FPS game stories. From the dank, claustrophobic mystique of Black Mesa, to the expansive, sci-fi road trip of City 17 and Half-Life 2, Valve’s shooter is a masterclass in packing narrative and character into the smallest visual details. Half-Life Alyx marked the first time in some 13 years that Valve officially expanded on the HL canon, but now, with Half-Life 3 possibly (hopefully) still on its way, PCGamesN has an exclusive interview with the author of a new Half-Life novel. A companion to Half-Life A Place in the West, the fan-made comic that launched on Steam back in 2016, Half-Life Phase Transition is a huge work of some 600 pages, and it’s scheduled to arrive before the end of 2023.
“So, Phase Transition is a Half-Life novel,” author Ross Joseph Gardner explains. “A very lengthy, possibly mad, piece of fan fiction, it serves as a prequel to our Half-Life comic, A Place in the West. But the novel stands very much on its own. A Place in the West takes place between Half-Life and Half-Life 2. Phase Transition takes place during the first stages of the Combine occupation, following two characters, Ray and Gemi, who must navigate this strange and terrifying new world whilst being drawn into a conspiracy that reaches all the way back to Black Mesa.”
While not an official Valve collaboration, Gardner says that Valve is “aware” of Phase Transition and knows that it is being released. While the central characters are all Gardner’s own, many recognizable heroes – and villains – from both the original Half-Life and Half-Life 2 make a return.
“My intent was to focus on new, original characters,” Gardner says, “but a few of the game’s cast do indeed pop up here and there. I’ll take any chance I can get to write dialogue for Doctor Breen. And in Phase Transition, Alyx Vance is a very important piece of the story, although she’s mentioned more than seen.”
“A good chunk of Phase Transition takes place in City 17, but not as we know it – it’s about how the city transforms into what we see in Half-Life 2. But it’s a very wide-ranging novel; we see Paris, America, and occasionally, whole other worlds. I wanted it to feel very expansive. I adore the cosmic aspects of Half-Life and feel the games have largely neglected them of late. So, I wanted to go to some of the weirder places only ever alluded to.”
Beginning during the Black Mesa incident, Phase Transition even features an appearance of the mysterious and always sinister G-Man. After 25 years, we’re still not sure exactly who G-Man works for or why he’s so interested in Alyx and Gordon. Gardner says he originally wanted to avoid G-Man, but had to include the malevolent space bureaucrat because he’s central to the development of one of Phase Transition’s characters.
“One thing I was very conscious of doing was trying to tell an original story,” Gardner says. “I wanted it to feel like it was part of the games, that readers could imagine it fitting in, but I took many, many liberties with the source material. My initial instinct was to stay away from the G-Man altogether, but his relationship to one of the characters is so vital I ended up weaving him in in a fairly big way. Hopefully fans like it.”
Gardner is currently in the process of editing Phase Transition and is planning to release the book sometime in either September or October. “What mattered is that the spirit of Half-Life was maintained”, the author concludes. “If I’ve succeeded in that, I’ll be happy. But we’ll see.”
Gardner also shares with PCGamesN an exclusive extract from Phase Transition. If you’re excited about the prospect of a huge Half-Life novel (and who wouldn’t be?) you can get a taste of the upcoming book below. It details the meeting of G-Man with a powerful Vortiguant called the Auspex:
His consciousness trickled into a familiar inky blackness where no thought was permitted and not a fraction of time was at liberty to pass. The Nowhere Place, where he was stored between assignments.
Then came the delicate voice of a child. A human child, to be sure, but the Auspex would recognise that soft tone of innocence no matter the species. And with that thought – the simple knowledge that thought was even possible – he realised he was not where he had expected to be at all.
He turned to see a little girl stood a few feet away, another human standing vigil over her. A human with pale skin and clothed in blue. But the Auspex knew this was not a man. Knew that this was in fact his employer, disguised so that he might walk freely over the Earth. The Auspex was haunted by an altogether different form, although he couldn’t say if that was any closer to the essence of the phantom than the human vessel before him. It was the eyes that gave it away. They were always the same. Blue-green pits that burned with cold fire. Those eyes found the Auspex, a sinister smile spread thinly beneath them.
Fear took to the Auspex’s heart, like it had the first time, some three centuries ago. He wished for the child to flee, but she did not yet know to be afraid, her hand pulling playfully at the blue trouser leg of the man who was not a man. The phantom turned his eyes away from the Auspex and to the child, and as the phantom’s pale hand reached out and clasped hers, the scene blinked away.
If you’re a big Half-Life buff, take a trip through the heyday of shooters with some of the best old games. You might also want to catch up with what happened to Half-Life 3, which will be here…eventually.