Listen, I know that The Last of Us TV series isn’t the first great videogame adaption for the screen: I’m the world’s number one Pokémon movie fan. I’m obsessed with Detective Pikachu. So, when I say that The Last of Us proves that there’s still potential in the idea for a Half-Life movie, I’m not trying to say that the new HBO Max horror series is breaking some mystical ‘videogame curse’.
But, with its excellent opening episodes (and the prospect of more great episodes down the tracks), The Last of Us does prove something very specific about why it might finally be the right time for a movie adaptation of the Half-Life videogame series.
The Half-Life videogame series began back in 1998, and was followed up by a sequel in 2004, later to be joined by two subsequent ‘episodes’. The first followed the story of the silent protagonist, Gordon Freeman, as an experiment in the Black Mesa research facility unexpectedly opens up a portal to alien worlds. The second takes place years later, with Earth now under the control of the Combine; an inter-dimensional alien empire.
Both are regarded as some of the best FPS videogames of all time, redefining their genres and pushing the boundaries of what the videogame medium could do.
It’s not a surprise, then, that a Half-Life videogame movie isn’t a new idea. In fact, discussions about the potential for a Half-Life movie have been bouncing between Hollywood and Valve for over a decade now. At one point, Star Wars movie director J.J. Abrams explicitly confirmed that he was attached to direct a Half-Life movie. It got that far, before fizzling out.
And thank god it did. The prospect of a Half-Life movie is frightening because there are so many obstacles; so many stumbling blocks and reasons why it could struggle to get off the ground. Would it have Gordon Freeman as a character? If so, would he speak in it? Would it continue the story and replace Half-Life 3? And – most importantly – would the movie be able to take itself as seriously as the plot and worldbuilding would require?
The stories within videogames are often seen – not least by Hollywood – as inherently less serious than the stories of novels, or even comic books. That’s because there’s a perception that videogames are exclusively aimed at children and teenagers, and that they’re only ever meant to be fun. So surely a videogame movie should always be fun too, right? Wrong.
Playing Half-Life, and for that matter The Last of Us, is not fun. The journey through Black Mesa, and then in the sequels: City 17, Ravenholm, and along the barren coast, is not fun. Playing Half-Life is a horrifying, tense, and existentially depressing experience.
There is no sense of fun in gunning down a Headcrab zombie, hunched over from the weight of all the Headcrabs that are latched onto it. There is no fun in taking out the Nihilanth, as it opens portals so the denizens of Xen can flee from the Combine to Earth. There is – certainly – no fun in escaping from the hellish Ravenholm (okay, maybe using the gravity gun to chop things up is a little bit of fun. But, only a little bit).
If there’s one feeling that playing the Half-Life videogame series evokes, it’s a sense of building, overwhelming dread. A Half-Life movie should take that and run with it, just as it would if the story was from a book.
Thankfully, what The Last of Us shows is that, now, Hollywood has reached a point where it can take the stories of videogames seriously. It proves that we’re now in a position where videogames adaptations don’t just have to be funny, lighthearted, adventurous romps. They can be, dour, entirely absent of quips and lightheartedness.
For a Half-Life movie, reaching this stage where videogames aren’t looked down on as a lesser art-form is vital. And, now that The Last of Us proves that videogames can be taken seriously, it looks like the world is finally ready for a Half-Life movie. I just have one request. J.J., if you’re listening; sit this one out.
For more on videogame adaptations, check out our guide to the Super Mario Bros movie release date, or the Sonic the Hedgehog 3 release date. Or, give your knowledge of The Last of Us a boost with our guides to The Last of Us cast and The Last of Us characters including Joel and Ellie. Alternatively, take a look at PCGamesN’s indepth explainer on the status of Half-Life 3, and everything we know about it.