Sunday, September 10, 2006

You Go Ahead! I'll Cover You!

Half Life 2: Episode 1

Valve's Half-Life games are arguably some of the best video games ever made, and nothing about them is particularly innovative or original, but both entries in the series simply have the slickest, glossiest production ever seen in games. From beginning to end the gameplay, graphics and sound are flawless down to the smallest details making the games truly immersive, almost cinematic experiences. Half-Life 2 even took things a step further, introducing actual subtext into the story that was actually enhanced by the interactive nature of the game.

Valve have chosen to continue the series in episodic format, although seeing as how their idea of episodic is one episode every six months to a year I wouldn't look to them as the best example of this new business model (hopefully the upcoming Sam And Max games will be the first real contender for that title), and the first instalment in the Half-Life Episodes series is a satisfying taste of that Half-Lifey goodness, although it's too brief to attain the epic heights of its predecessor. That's not to say it was too short though, the game was actually much longer than I expected, and I was quite satisfied that I got my $30 worth. Plot wise not much happens, once again we start out exactly where the last game leaves off and your goal is to safely escape City 17, as the alien fortress that you infiltrated in the last game is about to blow up and take a good chunk of the countryside with it. Along the way you are accosted by the remnants of the alien invasion that you took down in Half Life 2. A few more plot elements are introduced, ranging from the obvious and stupid (“Whatever is in this mysterious data capsule must be incredibly important to the aliens!”) to the potentially interesting (your egghead scientist ally from Half-Life 2 taking charge of the human survivors and his ardent hatred of the posthumans), but we'll have to wait for later instalments to see how they pan out.

Valve have obviously listened to what their fans wanted more of, and it appears that what they wanted more of was clearly the gravity gun! I am fairly sure you could do the whole game (excepting maybe the boss battles) using only the gravity gun as a weapon as almost every part of the game requires it in some way, and with your well armed sidekick Alyx backing you up for most of the game it's very rarely even worth swapping it out for a different weapon. You'd think that picking stuff up and throwing it around would get boring, but the designers once again show their talent and produce a large variety of interesting new scenarios to chuck stuff around in. Introducing Alyx (a major character from the first game) as a permanent partner is nicely done. Her AI is generally pretty good and her comments on your actions (like for example gushing with admiration after you take down a boss enemy) makes the game feel a little more immersive.

Mostly however it's just more of the same that we got in the previous games. The boss battles are recycled from Half-Life 2, and you'll recognise many of the locations you visit from that game too. This is by no means a bad thing of course, just like the first two games this episode is a joy to play simply because of the simple attention to detail and imaginative level design brought to it by the developers. Yes, many of the scenarios are variations on those found in earlier games but these guys seem to have some clever knack to making them fresh and fun each time you encounter them.


andrew brown said...

my greatest achievement in HL2 was getting through the game with a GeForce2mx, I ran it in DX7 mode with NO detail, and objects would appear only meters away from me, and the frame rate would never rise about 25 and in some spots it was more seconds per frame (mind you, that was in a non-interactive portion, so that's ok)

That's a challenge!

I'd like to try this new one out on my laptop, it's just a shame I don't have a mouse or enough hard drive space.

Jon said...

That's quite an achievement. Sounds like me trying to play Oblivion before I got my new computer.