What's the best successor to the Half-Life series?

Half-Life is dead, and we're never getting another sequel. So if you're looking for more of that blend of immersive storytelling, exploration, gunplay, and fulcrums, where do you turn? What game or series is carrying the torch of Half-Life forward into the modern age?

Dishonoured series?

What is a Half-Life type game?

FPS
Linear levels
Immersive
Passive narrative
Player always in control of the camera

So my definition of Half-Life is the concept of observational story telling. Basically the player is always in control of the camera and has the potential for missing events if they aren't looking. Problem is that Half-Life is more action oriented and linear while other studios really aren't making that kind of game anymore (as far as I know). You see games now where they're mainly FPS with RPG elements (Immersive Sims). Games like what Warren Spector, Harvey Smith, and Raphaël Colantonio make.

Another way you can look at potential successors is not about how the game plays, but how the game is built. Example: Tolkien style, in where the backstories, histories, and world is thought about way more in depth long before the final story is ever written. You can feel that in Tolkien style books and games, where you can sense that the creators know every little detail about the world. Games where the creators figured out what the reality of their universe does, consistently, then they develop a plot that explores that reality.

A lot of these are various degrees of the HL formula (more action based) and others are this interpretation that builds upon that by adding more sub-systems (RPG and/or Sim elements).

Thief series
System Shock 2
Bioshock 1/2/Infinite
Dues Ex
Dark Messiah of Might and Magic
Dishonored 1/2 (same art director of HL, Victor Antonov)
Prey (2017)
Metroid Prime 1/2/3
Portal 1/2
FEAR
The Chronicles of Riddick
Halo 1
Wolfenstein: The New Order
Far Cry 1
Crysis
Metro 2033 series

Great post, Edwin. Bioshock would be top of my list.

I agree with Edwin's assessment. To me the environmental storytelling is a big factor, as is a game that is mostly linear in design but tries to hide it as much as possible.

I nod in agreement with his list, particularly the FEAR series and Wolfenstein as shooters that seem to come closest to the "Valve" style of SP FPS gameplay.

To his list I would add Condemned (the other Monolith franchise), Singularity as well as Dead Space, although it is closer to the "Shock" gameplay style.

As Edwin pointed out, there's not a lot currently out there carrying the same torch, as single player FPS campaigns have either moved into the COD style of leading you by the nose with cinematic flair, or incorporating more RPG mechanics.

The only recent example I can think of other than the new Wolfenstein that hues closely to Half-Life is the campaign for Titanfall 2. The cartoony art style made in the Source engine certainly helps, but it also features odd mechanics, tightly scripted levels that feel really open and the use of physics. Hell, it even features a lot of jumping on terrain in strange ways in order to progress a la Portal 2 and Half-Life 2, the kind where in any other game you would assume it clearly wasn't the way to get somewhere that the developers intended.

Well, if I'd been hoping for a conversation, Edwin killed it by being comprehensive and astute in the second post.

kuddles wrote:

I agree with Edwin's assessment. To me the environmental storytelling is a big factor, as is a game that is mostly linear in design but tries to hide it as much as possible.

[...]

Hell, it even features a lot of jumping on terrain in strange ways in order to progress a la Portal 2 and Half-Life 2, the kind where in any other game you would assume it clearly wasn't the way to get somewhere that the developers intended.

These two things are maybe what most strongly define the Half-Life style for me. They're incredibly linear—with few exceptions, there's one way in, one way through, and one way out—but they build the path across all the surfaces in a space. Most linear shooters build levels as little canyons or buckets where you progress across the bottom with walls of some kind all around you.

I'm not familiar with the Metro series. I was under the impression that they were more in the System Shock lineage than the Half-Life one.

Edwin wrote:

What is a Half-Life type game?

FPS
Linear levels
Immersive
Passive narrative
Player always in control of the camera

Nice definition. I'd say Metro is actually the closest in terms of recent series. It fits all of those to a T. I haven't played Titanfall 2 but if it includes more puzzle/physics elements then it's even closer.

Wolfenstein is also fairly close but has some 3rd person cutscenes I believe.

Another thing about Half-Life is that there were often modestly long pauses in the combat for dialogue and exploration, which differentiates it from Halo and Call of Duty type games IMO.

And I quoted myself... great.

Dishonoured, Crysis, Deus Ex, and Thief. I want to say Bioshock as well - and I love the series - but for some reason I don't identify the series as a Half-Life successor.

ClockworkHouse wrote:

:lol: Well, if I'd been hoping for a conversation, Edwin killed it by being comprehensive and astute in the second post.

Half-Life has a special place in my heart. It came around the time where I start playing games a lot in addition to StarCraft. Add the mods that spawned from Half-Life like Team Fortress Classic, Action HL, Day of Defeat, Counter-Strike, Sven Co-op, Natural Selection, USS Darkstar, The Xeno Project 1, Edge of Darkness, They Hunger, Poke 646, etc. For a poor kid, that's a lot of gaming that was available for free.

ClockworkHouse wrote:

I'm not familiar with the Metro series. I was under the impression that they were more in the System Shock lineage than the Half-Life one.

Nah. From the outside looking in, you might think it is on a similar level to the Stalker series, but other than the bullet economy and a lot of extra things to keep track of, it's a very linear shooter. It even introduces you to the world not by exposition but by having you explore the space for a while without having a gun, similar to City 17 or the tram, although I guess a lot of games do that these days.

Prey (2017) is exactly the game that I wanted Half Life 1 to be while I was playing Half Life 1.

I don't know if anyone else on the planet feels that way. Some of it is because of my idiosyncratic interests. But there it is.

Gremlin wrote:

Prey (2017) is exactly the game that I wanted Half Life 1 to be while I was playing Half Life 1.

I don't know if anyone else on the planet feels that way. Some of it is because of my idiosyncratic interests. But there it is.

I haven't played it yet, but from the sounds of it it fits most of the defining features.

If I had to point to one series, it's Metro. It's a linear shooter with first-person cutscenes and a wider world that's shown-not-told that balances desperate gunplay with quiet moments of exploration, and has an Eastern European aesthetic to boot (the most superficial but coincidental similarity). And it's a series that's still alive and able to continue carrying the torch, unlike many of the other modern games mentioned above (Bioshock, Dishonored (I'm sorry), Prey (I'm so sorry)).

HL isn't in the family of immersive sims. It never bogged itself down with more than shooting and exploring, and never brooked skill trees. So I wouldn't consider Bioshock (futzing with plasmids and weapon upgrades and enemy research), or Dishonored (heir to Thief, and with more futzing in Dishonored 2). If you have to pause the game and look in a menu, then you're already wasting more time than HL cared for.

MrDeVil909 wrote:
Gremlin wrote:

Prey (2017) is exactly the game that I wanted Half Life 1 to be while I was playing Half Life 1.

I don't know if anyone else on the planet feels that way. Some of it is because of my idiosyncratic interests. But there it is.

I haven't played it yet, but from the sounds of it it fits most of the defining features.

Prey plays nothing like how Half Life played, but is exactly the game I wanted Half Life to be.

The Metro series just isn't quite good enough yet though. But there was significant improvement from the 2033 to Last Light. I think there's a fair chance the 3rd one will be a breakthrough game.

gewy wrote:

The Metro series just isn't quite good enough yet though. But there was significant improvement from the 2033 to Last Light. I think there's a fair chance the 3rd one will be a breakthrough game.

Counter-point: Metro 2033 is good enough, mechanically and narratively, to stand alongside Half-Life (if not surpass it), and there was significant regression from 2033 to Last Light to make the game more accessible to mainstream gamers. I agree there's a fair chance Exodus could be a breakthrough game, but the series lost some of its uniqueness trying to achieve that.

Probably gonna have to disagree with you on this one. My recollection isn't perfect though. What's the regression to make the game more accessible? I didn't play them back to back, so I probably didn't pick up on it.

There was one of the DLC's from Last Light- Kshatriya (had to look up the name), that had you leaving the Metro to scavenge on the topside. It seemed much less linear; you could explore things as you'd like. And there was a greater focus on inventory, finding various artifacts and selling them off to buy better gear to progress farther and find more artifacts, etc. I remember it having a bit of a Dark Souls quality where you'd find yourself struggling to get deeper into the level, but then you could open up shortcuts that would enable you to bypass a lot of the enemies for future runs.

It was pretty short, but if they incorporated more of this gameplay into the next one, I'd love it. But, this would arguably be straying more from the Half-Life model of linear levels and lack of inventory. Fine with me though, since I love Half-Life but I prefer the System Shock and Deus Ex derivatives.

Been a couple years since I played either but I don't see how Last Light was different from 2033 in any major way that seemed designed to make it "more accessible." Last Light is probably more combat-oriented but stealth in 2033 was rather broken and I think the developers even admitted as much.

Middcore wrote:

Been a couple years since I played either but I don't see how Last Light was different from 2033 in any major way that seemed designed to make it "more accessible." Last Light is probably more combat-oriented but stealth in 2033 was rather broken and I think the developers even admitted as much.

Stealth in 2033 is what made me quit. Last Light was an improvement all around in my book.

Bioshock surpasses Half Life by far in my mind. At least they can wrap up a story properly.

2033 has some deliberately awkward controls, meant to evoke the cobbled-together nature of many of the weapons. Last Light backed away from that, using more traditional controls, and lost that immersive element. 2033 also doesn't expose its morality system to the player, so the end of the experience feels more natural than watching a morality meter, whereas Last Light introduces a character that explicitly comments on the player's choices.