The story of Half-Life 2 is considered by many to be one of the most memorable in gaming history. I wonder, though, if things would've turned out the same way with the story fans have discovered by combing through an ancient Half-Life 2 beta.
Valve News Network put out a video spotlighting cut characters and sequences from earlier versions of Half-Life 2, many of which were revealed in this art book or discovered by people who dug through the game's infamous leaked beta from 2003. It paints a picture of a much bleaker game, a world that the Combine decided to strip bare, leaving nothing but ash and air so toxic that people had to wear gas masks just to keep on living.
The characters we never got to meet are especially interesting. For instance, there was a junkyard mad scientist named Eli who wasn't Alyx's father, a covert human turncoat military leader named Captain Vance who was, his force of Combine-serving humans known as The Conscripts, a secret Vance-led human rebellion (who Gordon would fight alongside), a very different sort of liaison between humanity and the Combine known as The Consul (pictured above, looking and acting absolutely nothing like Dr Breen), and—because it was just as much of a character as anyone—a much more gothic City 17.
The information isn't super new (people have been digging it up for years), but it is a deliciously fascinating look into what Half-Life 2 could've been. I think the final version of the game's story is still more interesting, but it's hard not to feel a pang of regret for some of the things we missed out on. I'm 100 percent in favor of more junkyard mad scientist representation in mainstream media, and The Consul is creepy as fuck (in a good way). Meanwhile, the whole gothic vibe reminds me of classic first-person games like Thief and even Quake. It's a messy mishmash of influences, sure, but there's something to be said for leaping into a big ol' puddle of mud from time-to-time.
Modders have managed to excavate some of these things and put them into Half-Life 2 proper, if you're interested in seeing them up close and personal. Valve News Network even tried playing some of it:
And the rest? Well, it's probably playing on the wall of some current or former Valve employee's mind right now, and that's the only place it'll ever be seen.