Review: Half Life 2: Episode One

Original Article Here


Short sweet and to the point. 93%

If Half Life 2, Episode 1 were this review, that’s what it would look like, and since I’ve given away the score already, perhaps I should tell you why it’s scored so highly…

Episode 1 would be the second STEAM-delivered Episodic game for gamers to get their teeth into, and is a stand alone expansion/semi sequel to arguably one of the best games of all time, Half Life 2. Now, usually people would expect an expansion pack, such as Opposing Force for the original Half Life, and in a way, they would be right – but with Episodic content, Valve can progress the story in chunks while also updating the technology behind the game and improving it on the fly. But we went over all this in the Sin Episodes review, so how does it work with Half Life 2?

The answer is: pretty darn well. The action picks up almost immediately after Half Life 2 ended, with you and Alyx trapped at the top of an exploding Citadel, and needless to say, you get out of that pridiciment straight into another (exactly how would be spoiling the story, which would be criminal to do so) and you and Alyx have to get the hell out of City 17, which is now crumbling around the pair of you. And it shows, players of Half Life 2 will have a strong sense of nostalgia as they run through levels that appear similar to the previous game, yet are now damaged and destroyed beyond repair, and Valve have done a great job of creating levels with an atmosphere. It’s an atmosphere of chaos and urgency, and as you make your way through the debris of familiar cars and buildings and enviroments, the design is really well realised, and you never really feel like (although you are) you’re being channeled through the levels along a linear path – you still feel like you’re cutting your own exit from City 17.

Citadel Core

The added HDR and specular lighting that has been added to the Source engine since Gordon’s last outing really – if you excuse the pun – shines through on the levels, the new additions make good use of light pouring through the windows to impress you and make the areas seem more real. Especially during the hospital levels, when you’re being shot at through the windows of the wards by a gunship. Light is also put to great use in a couple of the early chapters, when you’re trapped underground with Alyx and a horde of zombies – you see, you’re left without weapons for a fair while (apart from you trusty Gravity Gun), but Alyx has a weaopon. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have a torch, so it’s up to you to shine your light at the nearest threat so Alyx can take it down. One of the best bits of the whole game involves a very dark basement, a slow moving elevator and a power box. Oh, and about 20/30 hungry zombies…

Ah yes, Alyx. She’s with you for most of the game this time, and indeed – I’d hazard to say that Alyx is one of the best “helper” NPCs in a long time in gaming. She can handle herself well, taking on most threats with a bit of assistance, and she rarely gets in your way. Valve have done a great job in giving her a degree of AI, and her animations and range of abilities is quite astounding. Admittedly there are a few scripted sequences, but these flow so well you’ll barely notice them, and she is a more than welcome addition to the game as well as being useful to introduce a couple of HL2:Ep1’s new features to the game.

Just like SiN Episodes though, it could be argued that HL2:Ep1 suffers from a lack of longiveity, which has a little bit of merit, being that the whole thing can be completed in about six hours. To increase the game’s lifespan, however, Valve took on board the positive feedback from Lost Coast and included a full commentary on Episode One that you can access as you play. For those of you who are either interested in how making a game works or even just those of you who are Special Features junkies on DVD’s, these give a great insight into how the game was made, and what exactly went into some of the descions that moulded the game into it’s final form.

Stalkers

HL2:Ep1 is a great example of what Episodic gaming can do well. It introduces some new concepts, further expands on the story and gives both a sense of familiarity and throws some new stuff at you at the same time. But then it also manages to keep enough just out of reach for you to make you hungry for the next installment. It’s too far a stretch to call this one a true sequel, yet somehow it manages to give everything Freeman Fans want, and then a little bit more. I will admit that, if you didn’t like Half Life 2, Episode 1 is probably not going to change your tune, however, for those – like me- who have a soft spot for the Crowbar-wielding PhD then Episode 1 is just what you’ve been looking for. Until Episode 2 that is…

Final Score: 93%

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