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Half-Life 2: Episode 1

Developer: Valve Software
Publisher: EA
Release Date: 6/2/06
Platform: PC

The Good: A good direction for the series that has been plagued by delays, amazing storyline, brilliant world, best voice-acting next to the MGS series

The Bad: Short, exclusion of a key character

The Stupid: No more experimental weapons

Silent potaganists of gaming have come and gone over the years, some live in our memories and in our emulators of SNES and Genesis games, while others have been forgotten completely in the ever-expanding universe that encompasses gaming. Yet, to this day almost 8 years later, one character has been able to perk the ears of PC gamers: Gordan Freeman; this man has single-handedly turned the FPS genre from the formulatic DOOM and Quake experiences into the expansive storyline-driven franchises such as Fallout and F.E.A.R.

We once again join Gordan at the top of the Citadel, right after bringing Dr. Breen to his death; things are not looking too good as the Citadel has reached critical mass and will seemingly envelop and disintegrate Gordan, Alyx, and City 17 altogether. A twist of fate saves the pair, while simotaneously taking the G-Man out of this episode in the series with a rather lame excuse, really, fans of the G-Man will be dissapointed to hear that the enigma wil not be weaving the story this time around.

The Source engine never disappoints

First and foremost, Episode 2 is not for the newcomers to the Half-Life series, the starting area of the game requires you to have some working knowledge of the series and it's crowning jewel of weaponry and physics: the Gravity Gun. You will be immediately thrown into puzzles and combat situations that will require you to be in top shape to survive, and don't be surpsied if you are killed alot early on in the game. The usual loadout of weapons are also found this time around, and never fail to entertain as any further additions would make the game feel too overloaded. But the best part about Episode One is that is has almost trumped every since battle situation of it's predessor by adding new and interesting elements to situations that may feel reminicient of the last game, while delivering fresh new experiences that will never cease to amaze. As I am trying to keep this review spoiler free, I will say this: you will not be dissappointed.

As stated above, alot of the situations you will find yourself in will be reminscient of HL2, but there have been tweaks and improvements that have made the game feel like an entirely new situation; you may have felt like the Combine were giving you pressure in the last game, but now Valve has turned them into a full-court press where you will be taking them in from all sides without the help of the Rebels, but this is where Alyx comes in.

Being that Half-Life 2 was mainly a game that was driven by your individual interactions with a wide variety of people, but never really gave too much emphasis on one particular relationship, Episode One turns this around and builds Gordons relationship with Alyx ten-fold. Instead of being a nuisance whose constant chatter would begin to grate on the nerves of many a player, her interaction is kept to a level of neccesity, but is never overbearing. Since you will be spending about 90% of the game with her, conversation will pop up all the time, albeit one-sided; the dialouge is well-written, her facial expressions have been added to, and the top-notch voice acting make Alyx become one of the most human video game characters ever created. But besides her mouth, her gun also does alot of talking as she is your backup in alot of situations when they become too hot to handle. Her AI allows her to function on her own, but you will need to help her as much as she will help you, as it goes without saying: if either of you die, it's game over, Fission Mailed.

Questions WILL be answered this time around

You will be in many a situation where you and Alyx will be swtiching off who is protecting who, relieving many a player who thought playing with Alyx would be a giant escort mission. You will need to shine your flashlight in her direction to let her see what she is doing, or what may be attacking her; without your help, she would be flailing around blindly. The story is also facilitated by her presence, but by the same token, the game now relies on active person-to-person storytelling rather than solo revelations that would be revealed to the player through clever situations or haunting com broadcasts. But with Alyx, the games story seems more cohesive this time around, and it more or less gives light to alot of the questions that were left with the climactic ending of HL2.

On the right rig, this game looks fantastic

Players who have the capabilities to run HL2 on high settings will also be treated to Valves hard work on developing new lighting and shading technologies that they some fervently explain in the Lost Coast demo that ships with your copy of Episode One via Steam. The noticeable tweaks in lighting situations and shadowns brings some of the darker elements that the game has decided to focus on to life, and can really give a terrifying effect if the player is in the right place at the right time. There is also a "dialation" effect that Valve has implemented to simulate the eye dialating to new intensities of light, meaning rushing into a dark room from outside, where it may be sunny, will produce a gradual effect where the environment will be initially darker to simulate the eye getting used to a new environment. Water effects have also been given a major facelift, now reflecting in real-time by the angle the player is looking at it and also calculating the intensity of the ambient and direct light hitting it as well.

Like this review, Episode 1 is short, and by short, I mean 4 to 5 hours short. Some people that may be wary of parting with a single Andrew Jackson should hear this: Half-Life 2: Episode One packs more gameplay and story than a single 50$ PS2, XBOX360 or GameCube game could ever hope to achieve, the massive amount of information and gameplay warrants the purchase even if it was 30$, or even 40$. The pacing, the action, the effects, the storyline all make this a driving experience that has left me ready for the pre-load of Epsiode 2, and I'm definately not alone.


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Published on: 2006-07-06 (6918 reads)

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