"Half Life 2 Episode One is the next instalment of the Half-Life series, arguably the backbone of the FPS genre, and after the 1998 blockbuster and the successful sequel 6 years later, Valve decided to release Half Life 3 in three shorter episodic chunks to make release times faster. That means you donít have to wait until 2022 to learn about the conclusion to the story. "
Half Life 2 Episode One is the next instalment of the Half-Life series, arguably the backbone of the FPS genre, and after the 1998 blockbuster and the successful sequel 6 years later, Valve decided to release Half Life 3 in three shorter episodic chunks to make release times faster. That means you donít have to wait until 2022 to learn about the conclusion to the story.
At the end of Half Life 2, Gordon and Alyx destroy the core of the citadel, when time eventually stops and the G-man pops in, ending the game. At the start of Ep1, Alyx and Gordon both get rescued by vortigaunts and wake up outside the citadel. Itís up to Alyx and Gordon to delay the explosion of the citadel and get the hell out of City 17, taking whatever survivors are left with them, to cut a long story short.
At first glance, Episode One presents itself with a few noticeable changes, for example the Source Engine has been given a slight upgrade with high-dynamic ranging (HDR) which in a nutshell, makes bright things brighter and dark things darker, giving extra-shiny lighting effects with the environment, while the facial animation system has been improved for even more emotions from the characters. If your PC isnít quite up to scratch, you donít have to use HDR as itís quite power-intensive, but the citadel core will look like a ball of water, while certain areas inside are difficult to see in the darkness, I had to make my system play at a frame-rate just for better visibility.
Another notable addition to the game is the inclusion of Alyx Vance as a sidekick throughout the game. While she helped you through Half Life 2, she almost always stands by Gordonís side and adds a bit excitement to the game from her persistent dialogue. She isnít the most useful sidekick and feels gimmicky when sheís running around with the largely ineffective pistol but she does actually prove to be some use when she finds a shotgun toward the end. Having said that though, she doesnít suffer from clumsy AI in terms of getting in the way and gets in position fairly well, while she regenerates her health quickly so we donít have to go through the frustration of being penalised with a Game Over screen from her quick deaths every minute. Sheís not invincible, so donít leave her unattended especially with the combine.
Despite the surface additions in Episode One, there really isnít much new in the game that you didnít find in Half Life 2. For starters, there are no new weapons, and only one new enemy in the name of the zombine, a zombie/combine hybrid. The environments on the other hand arenít anything you havenít seen before, itís City 17 and all the designs and building styles will seem familiar albeit not in the exact same places. The game takes a while to pick up the action, which is a shame seeing as itís a rather short game anyway and starts off with some simple physics based puzzles that you have to deal with using your gravity gun, before you get a shotgun a couple of chapters in.
Itís only in the later parts of the game youíre immersed in the kind of action that made Half Life 2 great, running through corridors and open areas blasting zombies and combine with shotgunís or your preferred weapon of choice, keeping antilions at bay with the gravity gun and then blasting four-legged robots to oblivion with the RPG whilst dealing with the various physics based puzzles (such as blasting cars into position) with the gravity gun. Unfortunately itís the earlier stages slip to make it a playable, but quite drab and boring experience when traipsing through dark corridors persistently tapping F to get a glimpse of where you are with the flash-light which constantly runs out of power.
Itís a disappointment that Episode One is short, consisting of just five chapters and takes between 4-6 hours to complete, depending on skill, although thereís always the in-game developer commentary to enjoy should you care for a second visit. The game only really kicks off in the later stages and then is soon over, and an escort mission near the end is blatantly thrown in as filler for some extra playing time. It feels more like a pastiche of some of the parts from Half Life 2 in many parts as opposed to a significant step in a new direction, while the co-op play with Alyx feels gimmicky while the gravity gun blasting isnít blisteringly exciting. Plot-wise, no questions are answered, while a few more are put in, although in my opinion itís hardly disastrous as itís a game, not so much a novel.
The visuals on Episode One are essentially the impressive Half Life 2 graphics at heart, but tweaked-up in places. The HDR does make a noticeable difference to the graphics, really adding some shine to areas and characters while making things such as the citadel core really come to life. The music itself is the usual electro-rock melodies that soothe into the game adding that extra spice of atmosphere depending on whatís happening and plays accordingly, whilst the voice-acting is excellent, with the usual plethora of characters who talk to Gordon while he doesnít reply back, but really makes the game come to life that bit more. Be aware though, HDR does take quite a lot of juice if your machine is aging slightly, but it really helps the visibility of some corridors.
While Episode One encapsulates the action of Half Life 2 pretty well, it feels like a mini Half Life 2 with just the core-gameplay parts in it in comparison, plus a few extra niches such as the co-op play with Alyx and lots of gravity gun exercises. Thereís little new in this game that you havenít seen before, probably being a warm-up to a greater experience in the future episodes (from which I expect better), but while the $20 price is reasonable enough, plus you donít need the original HL2 (although you should own it) youíre better off asking a friend nicely to play it on their account. Episode One is still good fun in many parts, but putting it bluntly, itís a slightly over-hyped disappointment overall. 7/10
Community review by bigcj34 (July 03, 2007)
Cormac Murray is a freelance contributor for HG and is a fanboy of Sega and older Sony consoles. For modern games though he pledges allegiance to the PC Master Race, by virtue of a MacBook running Windows.
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