By Joseph Leray
Did you know that, before being gobbled up by ZeniMax, Arkane Studios (of "Dishonored" fame) were working on a standalone Half-Life 2 episode called “Return to Ravenholm”? Me neither.
This is apparently old hat within the "Half-Life" community, but fan site ValveTime dug up some concept art and a few screenshots of the canceled, giving fans their first real look at the project.
The action in these screens mostly takes place indoors, which is strange: I remember a large, outdoor level, with gasoline traps in the town square and a final standoff on the rooftops of Ravenholm. In any case, ValveTime points out that the heads-up display includes an “Absorption” stat, without any real indication of what it might do or how it might change the core Half-Life 2 gameplay.
Almost a year ago, Half-Life writer Marc Laidlaw explained how the game came to be and why it was canceled:
We are big fans of Arkane and wanted to come up with a project we could work on together. We threw ideas around, they built some cool stuff, but we eventually decided that it didn’t makes sense to pursue it at the time.
As I recall, we felt like a lot of the staples of Ravenholm -- headcrabs and zombies! -- were pretty much played out, and the fact that it would have to take place sometime before the end of Episode 2 … was a creative constraint that would hamper the project.
Arkane, of course, moved on to eventually make Dishonored, whose open-ended levels and gameplay options stands in contrast to "Half-Life’s" precise linearity. In fact, former Arkane employee Joe Houston has a great op-ed on Rock, Paper, Shotgun about the choices Dishonored gave its players, especially with regards to neck-stabbing.
Meanwhile, "Half-Life 3" continues to be a unicorn, or the Higgs-Boson -- we know it’s there, but nobody’s seen it in person.