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Half-Life 2 Episode 1 Review

Half-Life 2: Episode 1 pack shot
Developer:Valve Software
Publisher:Valve (Steam) / EA (Box)
Genre:First Person Shooter
Platform:PC
Official Site:http://ep1.half-life2.com/
Release Date:June 2, 2006 (UK)
Reviewer:Craig Dudley (Mani)
Buy now at Amazon.co.uk

If you've not played either of the Half-Life games then you're either a dirty heretic or entirely new to PC gaming, they are both quite simply must buys. Now here we are with Valve's first episode in the Half-Life 2 story continuation and given its heritage I was pretty much willing to say it's a must buy too, even before I played it. I'm frankly shocked it's taken me this long to get round to giving it a run through, but then I was on Holiday when it was released so I don't deserve to be burnt at the stake just yet.

Half-Life 2: Episode 1 is as the name suggests an episode in this story and I understand we can expect a further two. Episodic content is a topic of hot debate at the moment; however the only issue that matters to me is value for money. Developers can keep churning out content in smaller and smaller chunks if they so desire, as long as the price falls accordingly of course.

Half-Life 2: Episode 1 screenshot 1 Half-Life 2: Episode 1 screenshot 2 Half-Life 2: Episode 1 screenshot 4 Half-Life 2: Episode 1 screenshot 4

Episode one is available for $19.99 + tax, which worked out at about £13 in the UK, that's pretty much half the cost of most full length games these days. Therefore it's perhaps logical to assume that this would be about half the length of a full priced game. However, while Episode 1 is not quite half the length of the really quite long Half-Life 2, it is easily half the length of most first person shooters. You can begin to draw your own conclusions about value for money based entirely on cost and game length if you wish, but that's only part of the story.

I'll try not to spoil the story if I can help it, but Episode 1 does start with a bit of G-Man inspired weirdness as is becoming customary in Half-Life games. However it won't be long until your mission to defeat the combine is back on track with the lovely Alyx as your partner in crime. We do also pretty much pick up where Half-Life 2 left off from a game-play point of view, spending the first sections of the game with only the gravity gun for a weapon, unfortunately this did start to bore me after a while, the introduction of some different weapons came just in time. However this was the only time that things got even remotely tedious.

Half-Life 2: Episode 1 screenshot 5 Half-Life 2: Episode 1 screenshot 6 Half-Life 2: Episode 1 screenshot 7 Half-Life 2: Episode 1 screenshot 8 Half-Life 2: Episode 1 screenshot 9 Half-Life 2: Episode 1 screenshot 10 Half-Life 2: Episode 1 screenshot 11 Half-Life 2: Episode 1 screenshot 12

Spending so much time with Alyx is much less of a pain that I was expecting, usually computer controlled NPC's just get in the way and either die too easily therefore making some areas really hard or are more or less invincible and make things too easy. Now I've not seen Alyx die yet but she doesn't pack a lot of firepower so you'll still have to do a lot of the work alone, this seems to create a nice balance and it somehow feels quite natural to have her with you, impressive stuff.

The addition of high dynamic range lighting amongst others things has really helped the Source engine keep it's visual impact over time, add that to the fact the it runs great on modern graphics cards and you still have a winner. However, HDR-Lighting is slightly overused in places in my opinion, but that's more of a design issue than one with the technology itself. Early game-play movies from Episode 2 would also seem to show further improvements which bodes well for the longevity of the engine.

Half-Life 2: Episode 1 screenshot 13 Half-Life 2: Episode 1 screenshot 14 Half-Life 2: Episode 1 screenshot 15 Half-Life 2: Episode 1 screenshot 16

Indeed, the facial animation system is still clearly better than anything else we've yet seen. The value of being able to believe in and relate to the characters you interact with cannot be underestimated in such games, once you add the excellent and familiar voice acting it's clear that Valve are still in a league of their own in this respect. Sound is also solid although I felt there was a little too much echo at times, however there's nothing that would cause me to mark down the game at all.

Level design is of course another key element in creating a believable world and again we are not let down, from roaming around the severely damaged Combine citadel to the derelict streets and buildings of City 17 everything looks great. Again we get a number physics problems to solve; pushing cars over Ant-Lion nests seems a favourite. The number of pieces of debris that can be picked up and thrown also continues to impress, even without expensive physics cards.

We don't actually get any new enemies to fight or indeed any new weapons but that's not really the point, Episode 1 seems to be all about telling a story and it does a good enough job. I was certainly keen for it to continue, and there's my only real gripe with episodic content. I just wasn't really satisfied at the end, although I enjoyed the game; I needed more and didn't really want to wait several months for it. So while I do consider this a must buy for all FPS fans, should you not have bought it already, you might want to wait until a few days before Episode 2 comes out before doing so.

Summary

Essentially Half-Life 2: Episode 1 is just an extension of the HL2 story; it doesn't really bring anything new in terms of weaponry or enemies, but quite frankly that doesn't really matter too much. It's still a very enjoyable few hours of gaming in the awesome world created by Valve; it doesn't really have any faults worth expanding upon. If this particular chunk of Half-Life 2 story was a little longer or indeed contained something new and exciting we'd be pushing beyond the 9 mark, as it is, I feel a little harsh in only handing out an 8.5.

The bottom line
8.5 / 10

Good stuff

  • HDR-lighting looks cool
  • Excellent level design
  • Brilliant face animation
  • Great voice acting
  • Alyx's AI is impressive
  • The price is right

Not so good stuff

  • Adds nothing new
  • Didn't quite satisfy me


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