The long, drawn-out Half-Life 2 release date saga appears to be drawing to a close at long last, with Vivendi-Universal Games' expected to formally announce a November 26th release date for Europe, with US gamers getting the game three days earlier on November 23rd.
Valve delivered a release candidate to VU on September 15th, and although an official 'Gold' announcement has still yet to emerge while final QA testing at VU continues, Eurogamer understands that VU informed its UK retail partners this week of the expected release dates, having previously been fearful of not being able to release the game until early next year.
Indeed, recent news of ongoing legal wranglings between VU and developer Valve made talk of further delays look increasingly likely, although the company could ill afford to miss out on the lucrative Christmas opportunity for such an important game.
With marketing plans taking months of preparation and Christmas space at a premium, it was essential VU made retail aware of its plans - even though official confirmation is dependent on the game meeting QA standards.
When contacted for confirmation, Valve's Doug Lombardi was still unable to shed further light on the matter, uttering the immortal words: "Unfortunately, I do not have a release date from VUG right now," no doubt under orders to wait until it's 'officially' announced.
Meanwhile a VU Games source told Eurogamer this morning: "There is a good chance Half-Life 2 will make it before this Christmas. We're targeting the holiday season", adding that until it physically had a gold master it couldn't set an exact date. Nevertheless, the publisher is clearly confident behind the scenes that it can make the pre-Christmas rush, with marketing plans being prepared.
It's expected that European gamers will be offered the same option of a standard 6 CD pack, and a deluxe DVD pack, as announced by Valve eariler this week. It's not, however, known whether gamers outside of the United States will be able to purchase the game over Steam at the same time as their US counterparts - although given how eager UK and European retailers are to break release dates, it would not be a surprise if the game went on sale this side of the Atlantic on the same day anyway, given that distribution is often in possession of stock a week or more before the on sale date. A game of this sales magnitude has 'broken street date' written all over it, and with regulators unable to enforce it, it seems a formality.
On other Half-Life 2 related matters, despite the appearance of print reviews of the game next week in PC Gamer on both sides of the Atlantic (where it has reportedly scored 96%), and PC Zone (which has interestingly been denied the world first review, no doubt as a result of the magazine's recent sale to Future) online readers are being forced to wait until the day of release before they can read review coverage of the game. Last night, Lombardi confirmed: "The online reviews will be held until the day the game is made available," with review code understandably being kept within Valve towers until then; Valve wouldn't want another code leak, now would it?