PC REVIEW: HALF-LIFE 2: EPISODE ONE

Who needs a whole life when Half Life's around? by Mike Chasselwaite

June 9, 2006 - Do you remember Dallas? The lame, soapy TV show that featured the uber-rich Ewing family? Well, I never, ever, watched it but I do recall the furor over the Bobby Ewing’s shower scene in which the character played by Patrick Duffy was rescued from the previous season’s cliff hanger by the realization that it was all just a bad dream. Yes, it was all just a bad dream. Well, if you thought that was awful, wait until you see how Gordon and Alyx survive the explosion that occurred at the end of Half-Life 2.

Half Life 2: Episode One, may start off as appalling as a Dallas episode but at least we have two things to look forward to: Gordon and Alyx are still alive, and secondly, the rest of the game kicks ass.

Half-Life 2: Episode One picks up where Half-Life 2 left off; with Gordon and Alyx caught in an apparently deadly explosion. As an episode, this isn’t meant to be compared to an actual Half-Life game. It’s much shorter and reuses many of the same environments, weapons, enemies and moves. It’s like an expansion pack of sorts but it takes the story in a new direction. It answers some questions and raises others which will hopefully be explained in the following two Half-Life 2 episodes. This episode is the first part of a trilogy. Instead of having to wait a few years and risk having gamers lose interest in the series, the developers thought it would be a good idea to break the next game up into three different episodes so that we could be enjoying some of it while the rest of it is still in development. This isn’t a good idea, it’s a great idea. The game is fully realized. It’s easily the most refined game in the series. The only regret you’ll have is that it’s too short.

Shooting and puzzle solving comprise the lion’s share of the gameplay. At times, you will find yourself engaged in both activities at the same time. The game is definitely geared toward Half-Life veterans because the gameplay is very challenging. Unlike the last two versions, Episode One places an emphasis on co-op play, but not with another human. Alyx is controlled by the CPU and is a shining example of artificial intelligence. She really acts like a real-life partner by covering your ass and letting you get to work on other tasks such as solving puzzles while she snuffs the life out of those evil, alien Combines. You can actually rely on her, and she won’t get in your way. She’s tough, hard to kill, is a great aim and seems to have unlimited ammo. What’s more, is that she offers plenty of narration which can be pretty funny at times. I would have said “conversation” but we all know that Gordon is the strong silent type and doesn’t engage in anything as un-cool as talk. It feels good to have companionship and it’s a new element that brings another dimension to the series. There’s also the sexual tension between the two characters that drives an interesting subplot.

In this episode you are trapped in City 17 with an overheated Citadel and an army of enemies including the Combines, head crabs, striders and a genetically altered version of the Combines called the Zombines which are essentially alien zombies that run at you with live grenades. You will have all of the same weapons as before such as pistols, shotguns, grenades and the gravity gun which is used to move objects for defensive, offensive and puzzle-solving situations. You’re objective is to get the hell out of the city before it implodes.

Unlike the last two games in the series, Episode One does not include drivable vehicles. Virtually all of the combat is urban based which involves moving from room to room, building to building and street to street. The progress is slow but you because the action is so intense you aren’t really aware of how much distance you’ve covered; you’re more interested in remaining alive. You won’t miss the vehicles and by the time that you might want a fresh gameplay experience, the game is over.

Episode One features many of the same locations featured in the sequel but a new dynamic lighting feature makes the environments even more spectacular than before. You can actually see multiple light sources highlighting different angles as well as large outdoor areas that feature various sun-shaded regions. It helps to make things more realistic than ever. The voice-acting is top shelf and includes the talent of Hollywood professionals such as Robert Guillaume and Michelle Forbes. They not only sound great but thanks to the excellent writing they actually have interesting things to say. And thanks to the expressive facial animations, they also look good saying it.

If you’re a Half-Life fan, you simply can’t ignore this one. If you’re not a Half-Life fan, prepare to become one.

Features:

  • A new episode for one of the best-selling action games of all time.
  • Reveals new secrets
  • Franchise of over 18 million units sold worldwide
  • Incredibly advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  • Highly detailed environments provide amazing gameplay settings
  • Digital Actors: The most sophisticated in-game characters ever witnessed
  • Physical Gameplay: Objects obey the laws of gravity, friction and buoyancy.
  • Intense story line will appeal to those seeking more than another shooting gallery experience

By Mike Chasselwaite
CCC Freelance Writer

Rating out of 5
Half-Life 2: Episode One (PC)
4.9
Graphics
This is the best looking Half Life game to date and if it’s any indication of the upcoming episodes, the future of gaming is looking mighty bright.
4.5
Control
The gameplay is very challenging but at least you can’t blame the tight control system for your inevitable demises.
5.0
Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Excellent voice-acting featuring Hollywood professionals. The sound effects and music are also top shelf.
3.5
Play Value
There is no online multi-player component. You might want to give it another run through but there are no real surprises left.
4.4
Overall Rating - Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
 
System: PC
Dev: Valve
Pub: PC
Release: June 2006
Players: 1
Review by Mike

Review Rating Legend
1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid
2.0 - 2.4 = Poor
2.5 - 2.9 = Average
3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
3.5 - 3.9 = Good
4.0 - 4.4 = Great
4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
5.0 = The Best