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Half-Life 2: Episode One

Innovative new episodic game format lands on old ground

By Michael Waskiewicz

mikew@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2006-06-21


When it comes to the Half-Life series, I have an unyielding case of fanboyism. I’m not sure if I’m even capable of being fair in a Half-Life review. The fact of the matter is that the Half-Life is the Sopranos of video games. Like our favorite TV mob story, everything after it changed because someone (somewhere) figured out how to really tell dramatic stories in the “shooter” format.

They created characters and universes that we cared about and believed in. Half-Life 2 expanded the story and topped its predecessor with better storytelling, graphics and level design. Unfortunately, Half-Life 2 ended rather abruptly in a movie-serial-like cliffhanger. The door was wide open for an expansion pack, and we all knew it was coming.

Fast-forward nine or so months and Valve has scrapped the expansion pack for something a little more innovative. They changed Half-Life 2 into an episodic video game, releasing new levels every half-year. This represents a paradigm shift in how we buy and play video games. Believe me, this is only the first big game series of many to convert to this formula — especially if it’s successful, and all indications so far are that it is. I like the idea, provided there’s enough meat with each installment.

Unfortunately, this is where Half-Life 2: Episode One disappoints. It just doesn’t feel like there’s enough. I am by no means a great FPS player, but I was able to whip this game in about five hours. Additionally, with the exception of a few new things, Episode One doesn’t introduce much more in terms of locations, enemies or weapons and there was too much reliance on the gravity gun.

But this is still Half-Life. The level design was still top-notch and the game looked and sounded great. It delivers on the same level as Half-Life 2 and matches the graphic quality of the Lost Coast level. Like always, there are plenty of “Wow” moments, but those are mostly you gawking at impressive details of this tattered universe.

If you’re familiar with Half-Life, then you’re familiar with Alyx, Half-Life’s answer to Laura Croft. In Episode One, Alyx is practically a constant companion and is rather helpful during fights. She helps you with verbal hints for the many puzzles as she talks a lot, providing the commentary and exposition that push the story forward. Imagine her as a narrator with a gun. (How hot is that?)

The bottom line with this first installment is that it was a fun but disappointing first installment. I didn’t know it, but I really wanted Valve to create some new and unique areas for me to explore that were on the same level as Half-Life 2. I guess that game really set a high bar and hopefully a few more game in the series will put the series way ahead of the curve again. Still, for $20 it’s worth buying — especially if you’re a fan.

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