James Ireland On August - 29 - 2009

You have all seen our glowing review of Half Life 2. If you haven’t then finding it should be easy, in fact if you can’t; 1) How did you get here? 2) This review may go over your head. Also if you haven’t played and finished Half Life 2 its best you don’t read this. This warning will come in my best pirate voice…”Here be spoilers, Arrghh!”….You have been warned!

So, Gordon Freeman dies at the end of Half Life 2 (that’s just for those that didn’t read the warning, he doesn’t…or maybe he did… spooky). You find yourself at the bottom of the ruined Citadel (how your survived the fall I don’t know) and City 17 really has hit the shit storm. The Combine is leaving and the Resistance and everyone caught between. Mainly because the reactor in the citadel is gonna go nuclear and make everyone with a 10 mile radius into shadows on the floor. But for some reason your being all noble and going BACK into the citadel to stop it.

The main change to the dynamic of the game is that Alyx is with you all the way. Now that’s not a bad thing at all the AI rarely suffers a path issue (unlike me when I’m drunk) and isn’t annoying like other games’ sidekicks. Alyx feels like a person with her own mission, you’re just working together for the moment. It helps that the relationship between her and other characters helps to flush out her persona and make her just that little bit more 3D.

The environments are typically rich and atmospheric. More than ever I notice the sounds around me and the dying noises of the Citadels slow death. The Citadel really has a desperate character about it and in this Episode you get a real feeling for how large it is inside. There are the horrible life-ending drops of doom that, even when seated at home, make you feel the vertigo. The Combines functional use of space always feels necessary and not like the level designer got lazy. It has a stile menace about it. This building is going to die and take you with it.

The biggest joy is when you get the enhanced gravity gun back. It necessary to complete your missions within the Citadel and you can start to see where Portal came from. After this it’s an escape from the Citadel and you have to make your way through City 17 to get out. It’s the same sort of thing here as when the Resistance went all crazy in Half Life 2 but with allot of the environment destroyed by fighting and the incident at the Citadel. The sounds of sirens and fighting help to maintain the illusion of skirmishes between the Resistance and Combine forces outside of the visual environment.

The skirmishes feel desperate with the Combine and the Resistance trying to kill each other with you in the middle. The Combines forces have gone into over-drive. It’s evident with the amount of stalkers, dropships and troops on the ground making your day shit. The Antlions make a return (unwelcome or not) but this time no pheromones. Bad times! But there are several set pieces with Combine versus Antlions. Good times. There are running battles with the Combine through the city but it doesn’t feel samey or repetitive.

I really gel with the Half Life series and find the characters, environments and set pieces well made and most importantly fun. I loved the rescuing of the Resistance members later in the game and having wave after wave of Combine come at you in the same area that you have to grudgingly escort them through. The area changes though and keeps the area fresh and frustrates you when everything is falling apart around your ears.

All levels are intelligently designed and well laid out. Some of the puzzle solving sections did tickle my brain and did make me think for a while but it wouldn’t be a Half Life game without small puzzle solving. I just thank Valve for not putting Resident Evil style puzzles with constant back and forth through the same areas to lengthen game play.

You slowly get back all the weapons you lost in Half Life 2. Doing this and making it seem natural must be tricky for a developer in this situation. This isn’t a sequel it’s an ongoing story, so robbing you of all your hard stolen weapons chaffs a bit. Valve manages to explain the loss of weapons with nice set pieces and getting them back in drips makes sense but still annoys.

The entire episode lasted about 4 hours in total and when I first played Half Life 2 I played Episode 1 straight afterwards. So when trying to think back and remember what content was in the episodic content or the main game, it blurs slightly. Thing is that’s good. It shows that Episode 1 story doesn’t feel tacked on. It’s a natural addition and a welcome one (I don’t think anyone who likes Half Life 2 is going to complain about additions to the story)

This is essential to those who love the Half Life games and continues the story brilliantly. There’s not much else to say unless I want to spoil some scripted events and I’m not going to do that. Just wait till the end for a killer cliff hanger which is fine because you can go straight to the next episode. Game reviewed on the PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. On to Episode 2


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