For all of its many faults, 2020 has at least one thing going for it: We've seen more of Valve's Half-Life franchise in the last two months than in the 13 years before combined. It started in late March when the studio released Half-Life: Alyx, the first new entry in the series since 2007, and continues this month with a behind-the-scenes look at Ravenholm. Half-Life diehards will know Ravenholm as the unreleased Half-Life spin-off developer Arkane Studios was working on before releasing Dishonored. Thanks to a new documentary from Noclip that details the studio's history, we finally get to see the game in action.
We learn that the story of Ravenholm started with System Shock and Thief: The Dark Project designer Warren Spector. Partway through the mid-aughts, Spector's Junction Point studio, which went on to work on Epic Mickey, was working on a prototype for a new Half-Life 2 episode. Notably, the prototype included a weapon called the "magnet gun," which Spector said allowed for "really freeform" gameplay. At some point, Valve gave the reins of the project over to Arkane. It’s there that the game started to take shape.
Ravenholm would have featured the return of Half-Life: Opposing Force protagonist Adrian Shephard and Half-Life 2's Father Gregory. Arkane planned to give players several interesting tools, including a leafblower that would have allowed your character to double jump. The game would have also expanded the view players got of the headcrab-infested city in Half-Life 2 with new locations like a children’s hospital. Arkane’s co-founder, Raphaël Colantonio, said he believes Valve canceled the game because it would have taken the studio another year or so to complete the project.
The only way you'll be able to play Ravenholm is if you get a job at Arkane. The company keeps an alpha version of the game on one of its in-house computers, which new employees can play as a kind of right of passage. While it's a shame Half-Life fans never got a chance to play Ravenholm, many of the ideas that would define Arkane's later games can be seen on display in the alpha footage. And if you haven't played Dishonored or Prey, they're well worth your time.