The first of 3 new episodes that expand on the Half-Life storyline proves to be well worth the wait and reminds me why I’ve loved Half-Life for so many years.
The Good: More Half-Life! Not only does Episode One expand on the storyline, it comes with a shiny new coat of paint in the form of higher resolution textures and HDR lighting. New enemies and improved AI make this expansion feel anything but the same old.
The Bad: It’s short – about 4-5 hours of gameplay. But with a $20 price tag, you can hardly complain. No new weapons.
Episode One picks up right where Half-Life 2 left off. You just blew up the Citadel, time stopped and lots of bright stuff. I was hoping that they would explain things right off the top, but I’m afraid I’m even more confused in regards to just WTF happened up there. In any case, you wake up under a pile of rumble back on the ground and you’re greeted by Dog who’s digging you out. Alyx isn’t far away and the 2 of you join forces once again to continue to battle your way out of City 17, with a little help from your friends along the way. And that’s about all I’m going to say about the story or major events that unfold therein. So, no need to worry about spoilers from here on in.
Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Episode One and from the second I fired it up and saw the menu screen, I knew I was in for a treat. Everything I loved about Half-Life 2 is fully in tact. And there’s lots of improvements to get excited about.
Right off the bat, you’ll notice that Alyx looks a whole lot better. Her facial expressions in particular are astounding! You’ll see her go from happy to sad and everything in between. Barney also looks significantly better. This time around, he looks in rough shape and hardly cracks a smile ever. None the less, it’s great to see both characters back in action. I actually got excited the first time I saw Barney. Like meeting up with an old friend unexpectedly. And thankfully, he remembered to bring my crowbar once again. One of the best character improvements if the dialog. You play the majority of the game with Alyx by your side and it truly feels like you’ve got a buddy tagging along or better suited, covering your ass. Alyx is very witty this time around and constantly cracking jokes. I found myself laughing out loud on a number of occasions. Partly because I wasn’t expecting her to say the things she did, I’m sure. Some of her comments are just down-right hilarious!
Episode One comes fully equipped with HDR lighting and if you’ve got the hardware to support it, you’re in for a show. Unfortunately, I didn’t have that luxury. Christopher Welch has a nice set on Flickr with HDR enabled. Check that out if you’re not sure what kind of effect is produces.
Enemy AI has also been improved. You’ll notice that everyone from the zombies to Combine and even the Striders are quite a bit smarter and will use the environment against you whenever the opportunity arises. Added to the mix of baddies are the zombified Combine, dubbed by Alyx as Zombine. These dudes are fast, tough and suicidal. They light up grenades, hold them above their head and charge head-long at you while it beeps away. Needless to say, the first few times I came across them, I was on the edge of my seat. Shortly after your first encounter with a Zombine, you find yourself in a few dark areas where you have to rely on your flashlight and sporadic flares to guide you. This entire sequence was super intense with dudes coming at you from all angles and literally appearing through the darkness.
As you might expect, there’s some puzzles dependent on the incredible physics engine that might get you scratching your head. They won’t take long to figure out and there’s always that hint of joy that follows once you’ve figured one out and completed it. One in particular that involves numerous explosive barrels and trip mines. Fun, fun, fun!
They story and back story of Half-Life has always been a little hazy. As I mentioned, this is still the case in Episode One. But along the way, you’ll learn quite a bit about the smaller details. While you don’t come face to face with Dr. Kleiner this time around, you see and hear him through the game in the form of a repeating public service announcement that’s being broadcast through-out City 17. Very cool way of getting out more into for those that are interested. If you’d rather be shooting shit, keep moving and ignore him. Nice that you have the option either way.
There really isn’t enough good things I could say about this game. I’ve been a fan of the Half-Life series since HL1 had me staying up until 4am on school nights. If you played Half-Life 2 and enjoyed it, without a doubt get Episode One. It’s Half-Life 2 with everything slightly improved.