I actually finished Half-Life 2: Episode 1 nearly a week ago, but thanks to finals I had to put off properly reviewing it. And honestly, it’s a little tricky reviewing episodic gaming like this. It’s the same game I’ve already reviewed, just a little more of it. But I’m going to do my best to give each episode (including 3, whenever Valve feels like finishing it) a fair review.
Half-Life 2.1, as I’ve taken to calling it, picks up immediately after the end of the previous game. You remember the cliffhanger, right? The Citadel tower’s reactor is about to blow up, along with Gordon and Alyx, when time freezes. The G-Man appears & sends Gordon back into stasis for another time. Well, 2.1 starts up right before the G-Man appears as Vortigaunts whisk Gordon & Alyx outside the Citadel, narrowly escaping the explosion. But as it turns out, their fates have only been suspended, because the reactor is still going to meltdown, taking City 17 with it. The story really has two parts. The first is when Alyx & Gordon re-enter the tower to slow the reactor’s meltdown, hopefully giving them to time to escape the city. The second part is the duo’s attempt to escape the city, meeting several refugees along the way.
Gameplay is basically the same as in HL2. There are no new weapons added, although near the beginning you do get to use the upgraded Gravity Gun for a bit. The only new mechanic is the improved companion AI, since Alyx accompanies you for pretty much the whole game. There’s nothing ground-breaking about it, but it does add a few interesting features. For example, there’s one section where you’re in a dark garage and Alyx can only shoot the zombies if you shine your flashlight at them. And speaking of zombies, there is one new enemy: the Zombine. A Combine soldier with a hopper on it. They’re a bit faster and stronger than the regular zombies, & prone to blowing themselves up with grenades.
Story: Being an episode game, it’s very short. Only five chapters, compared to HL2’s 14. But that’s the purpose of it. Because of that, I don’t feel I can count off points for ending on a cliffhanger again. That being said, I do think 2.1 does a good job of continuing the story of Half-Life. It adds a bit of intrigue to make you want to play the next episode. I also liked that all of the recurring characters make at least a cameo. It adds to the coherence. Score: 4
Gameplay: Again, pretty much the same as before. However, there were two new mechanics added that I thought Valve did a good job with. One was letting me use the roller-mines. They were there in HL2, but they were only an annoyance. But in this game, if you bring the mine to Alyx she can reprogram them to attack the Combine. They aren’t used as much as I’d like in this episode, but they’re fun & I hope to see more of them in future episodes. But the biggest upgrade from Valve was updating the follower AI for Alyx. And oh my God, Valve did the impossible: they made a companion AI that is actually helpful & not annoying whatsoever! I didn’t think it was possible, but Alyx is the first companion I’ve played with in a game that didn’t make it feel like a glorified babysitting job. She’s actually useful. She can shoot enemies, avoid them, stays out of my way & apparently can’t die. I say “apparently” because she took quite a bit of damage during my playthrough without dying. Even got blown up a few times. I read that Valve programmed Alyx in this game with a “personality code” rather than an “AI code” to avoid the problems most AI have. But I actually liked having Alyx around. Not only do I like her personality, but I didn’t have to babysit her. She even provides cover a few times during the game. I wasn’t as crazy about escorting survivors to the train three or four times, but even their AI seemed improved over the first HL2. I only had one die because he stepped on a hopper mine. I also didn’t like the glass elevator inside the tower. In that sequence, you have to catch large pieces of falling debris so they don’t break your elevator. It was slow & tedious. But any complaints I had are made up for with the improved AI. Score: 5
Visuals & Audio: Not a whole lot for me to say. It’s the same as HL2, both in sound design & graphics. I will say that the faces didn’t seem as pixellated as before, making characters look more realistic & less rough, which is an improvement. Score 4
Replayabilitiy: Average. As with HL2, I don’t feel a great need to play it again. However, the shorter length may lead others to play multiple times. And I think once all episodes are released, a lot of people will play the entire series through from start to finish to really get the full effect. Score: 3
Overall Score: 4
Final Word: Not a lot has changed from HL2, but if you enjoyed the previous Half-Life games you’ll enjoy the first episode. If you’re not sold on the series yet, it’s worth checking out, but you may want to wait until all episodes are out.
Title: Half-Life 2: Episode 1 Console: 360, PS3, PC Rating: M Developer: Valve Corporation Publisher: Valve Corporation Release Date: June 1, 2006