Half Life 2: Episode Pack Review
Half Life 2: Episode Pack box art
System: PC Review Rating Legend
Dev: Valve 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Steam 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Apr. 8, 2008 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1 (multi online) 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Mature 3.5 - 3.9 = Good

The linear style of gameplay is well-hidden within the context of the game. You have a predetermined path with which to make your hasty retreat. While you have the freedom to go explore different areas, you'll quickly be deterred by impassable areas and insurmountable odds. I should also mention that the graphics are fantastic, with plenty of detail, nuances, and depth. Half Life, as a franchise, is very good at putting you front and center in the action. The challenges are always within reach, never impossible. Events occur in a natural progress commensurate with the situation. For instance, if you set off an alarm, you can expect a horde of goons to descend upon you. They won't give up until you've dealt with them all.

Half Life 2: Episode Pack screenshot

Alyx is a great companion. She carries her own weight and most importantly, she stays out of your way. Her reactions are very realistic. However she is vulnerable to attack and can wind up dead very quickly. There is no health indicator for her. You'll have to be mindful of her, but at least you don't have to babysit her. Teamwork feels natural, not forced. In one level you'll have to use a flashlight to illuminate the creatures in the dark, while Alyx picks them off. It's a well-designed form of interaction that makes you feel as though you're playing in a co-op mode.

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Half Life is an amazing-looking franchise, and Episode One carries on that tradition, although it really doesn't add anything new. The environments and enemies are the same, but at least the high standards of graphics have been maintained. Characters animate smoothly. The monsters are especially creepy on all levels including design, animation, and sound. The Citadel is huge. The developers were able to make you feel how cold, massive, and oppressive this monolithic structure is. Voiceovers are excellent, and there is a commentary from the developers that will give you some insight into how things progressed from the last game to this one.

Half Life 2: Episode Pack screenshot

Half Life 2: Episode Two

Talk about cliffhangers. At the end of the last game, Freeman is involved in a seemingly tragic accident when his rail car is thrown over a deadly precipice. As you might well imagine, he made it out alive. Now, I don't want to spoil any surprises for you, but it's relatively safe to say that a game without Freeman is not a Half Life game - so he must live. What happens next is pure action and adventure. The story kicks things into gear, and the action is taken to the next level. We still have the same arsenal, and most of the same enemies, but the challenge is more intense this time around. Not necessarily more difficult, just more refined. Much of this can be attributed to the different locations and the more intelligent and aggressive enemies. The puzzle-solving elements are also more prominent than they were in Episode One. They are nicely ingrained in each situation to appear as natural occurrences. The storyline permeates the game from beginning to end like the yellow brick road.

Half Life 2: Episode Pack screenshot

Stranded in the wilderness, a long way from City 17, Freeman encounters a new world, one that is far different from the decaying concrete ruins. Not left unscathed by the Combine, much of what was once pristine forest and wilderness has become a partially mutated wasteland. This is a great environment for us. It's a refreshing change from sewers, dirty city streets, and office complexes. What we get in exchange are caves, mountains, rivers, forests, and abandoned ghosts towns. Of course they are rife with obstacles to overcome and creatures to destroy. This new setting goes a long way in sustaining interest in the series, which I must admit was waning in the last game. It's apparent that the developers pulled out all the stops for this one.

Not only is the story stronger than ever, but the character development, primarily that of the minor ones, is fully realized in this game. Through conversation, actions, and especially expressions, the gang is more fleshed out than ever. We've already seen how Alyx has developed in Episode One, as a person and a partner. She shows human range in her emotions, and most importantly for gaming purposes, she proves to be an integral partner. She's even better in this game, and that includes better looking. The other A.I. , such as the audacious Magnusson, Eli, and the doc, are all back and they follow in Alyx's footsteps, careful not to get in your way, get lost or get stuck. They even pull their own weight, and you can't ask for more than than.

Screenshots / Images
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