Half-Life 2: Episode One Review (PC)

Half-Life fans, the long wait is over. After almost 18 months of anticipation for another sequel, the Valve software team lashes out a uniquely titled game. Jumping onto the Episode wagon, this game is supposed to be the first half of the next three parts that is also the second half of the part two series…whatever. But the confusion won’t be a bother for long once you get your hands onto the game.

Right on, partner!
Checkin’ out the damage

If you’re an avid gamer of the Half-Life series or at least familiar with it, you’d agree that the game scene is more of déjà vu. This is because it’s supposed to be picking up where Half-Life 2 left off. Yup, another round of beating those Combine forces to a pulp, holding the gravity gun and having trusty Alyx by your side. When the developers mean by mini-expansion, new weaponry, enemies nor places won’t be found (sorry..). The game focuses more on other game play elements such as pacing, gamer-A.I. interaction, graphics and audio. A more vivid way of saying they banked on quality rather than quantity.

The game runs with the dynamic duo in the forefront, you, as assassin-scientist Gordon Freeman and sidekick-A.I companion Alyx. In a more defined role, Alyx is your A.I. guide who can wittingly guide you throughout the game. Unlike most A.I. buddies that simply do narrative and irritatingly get on to our nerves, Alyx provides combat backup in perfect timing. Whether you are working on a difficult puzzle or just feel like not pressing the damn buttons, she would be sniping the enemy or beating the hell out of it to ensure that Gordon’s time is concentrated on advancing to the next level (or plain just getting over the freaking’ stage). It would be such fun placing enemies at Alyx’s line of sight to make sure they don’t get in your way. She also seems to work like good enemy radar – alerting you if enemies are to be expected. Presenting the player with the view of single-player co-op, the A.I. makes certain that the player is well-responded to.

Aside from the wonderful support you get from Alyx, she makes the whole game play realistic as she shows emotions, especially in segues of the storyline. Though trained to be firm and unrattled, she cringes at the sight of the creepy enemies. Like in one scene, she exclaims, “I hate those creepy things!” when confronted by ugly, spindle-legged black headcrabs. She balances it with a little witty humor though; you would hear her cracking jokes on light moments. Her well-engineered comments amplify the emotions presented by the scene. But, taking away the limelight from her could be quite unbeneficial for your part. Literally. Alyx seems to have this fear of the dark that she goes into panic in the absence of it.

This is how we do it
These bots sure look familiar. Star Wars?

As for the game play, having set the game chapters to promise unique playing scenarios says that it will be a whole new ballgame in each stage. In addition, enemies thrown at you randomly pushes the panic button and brings further excitement – Headcrabs, Zombie headcrabs, Combines, Zombines, Antlions (you get the picture). Also, you get drama in enemy sequences that show confrontation between enemy groups (zombie vs. headcrabs) – watch them take on each other but find yourself defending against them all; or you could just flee if it seems too much already. These developers sure do know how to keep you the edge of your mouse pointers.

Enhanced graphics interface brought by HDR (High Dynamic Range), a better animation system and motion blurring gives more realistic game play action. Bad screenshots would be very rare because of its carefully engineered angles. Although if you’re regular player of Half-Life 2, you might not really notice the very subtle enhancements made unless a high-end PC is used.

Usually, audio is not a thing to be happy about when it comes to games like these. But not for this game: aside from the strong sound of weaponry, voice acting and music are things to look forward to. Especially, Alyx’s voice, that seems to be perfectly (almost cinematically) dubbed.

Developer commentary is an added feature in this game, though not entirely new as this feature was already introduced in The Chronicles of Riddick who pioneered the game-live annotations. Interesting insights about the game from the game developers themselves will be illustrated in speech bubbles that would be interestingly popping around during the game.

As for inconsistencies, there might be some points that needed to be raised: repetitive puzzles, gravity gun shortcomings, etc. But who cares? The game play is so breathtakingly exciting that you’d shun these away as you progress through it.

I make this look good
Hey, I think there’s someone behind you!

Estimated by most first-timers to be a five-hour game play, Half-Life 2: Episode One is a wonderful addition to the widely-lauded Half-Life series. Just perfect game pacing, splendid atmosphere and top-rating production value. Seen to be another feather in feather in Valve Software’s cap, this will be another candidate for gaming awards because of the excellent work done.

Top Gaming Moment:
Having the tandem collaborate well on the scene where the enemies seem to be just crawling and dropping from nowhere is like something that’s from an action-packed blockbuster. She does most of the fighting; you kill some creepies then do the tactical puzzle-solving. Cool.

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