After having the game checked out for nearly two months (I get distracted easily) I finally finished Half-Life 2: Episode 2. And I have to say, I think it’s the best of the two episodes so far… despite ending on a massive cliffhanger. I think now I see why people have been harassing Valve to finish Episode 3. Compared to the first episode, I felt that this one had a greater variety of tasks, despite the standard “go to Point A while killing everything along the way” formula.
Half-Life 2.2 picks up immediately after Episode 1. If you recall, Gordon & Alyx boarded a Combine train to escape City 17 before the reactor blew up. After some heavy resistance, they barely made it out in time, just escaping the blast. But that didn’t stop the shockwave from derailing their train in the middle of the forest. The plot of Episode 2 has Alyx & Gordon trying to reach the resistance base in White Forest with the Combine hot on their tails, desperate to retrieve the data Alyx gathered while in the Citadel, which contains a code to close the portal linking the two worlds. Obviously, closing the portal would greatly hamper the Combine. This episode is slightly longer than the previous (seven chapters) & has some significant plot developments.
As with the previous episode, there aren’t really any new gameplay mechanics. However, there are some new set pieces. Some of the highlights include dodging a antlion guardian by running through tunnels, see-sawing a bridge to ramp a jalopy, launching bombs at a chopper & sneaking through rubble to avoid an automated gun. The game introduces two new enemy types: an acidlion, an acid-spitting antlion, & the hunters, heavy-hitting Combine units. The only new weapon added in a large bomb that is thrown with the Gravity Gun. It’s only used in the climatic battle & functions as a sticky bomb that can destroy a strider in one shot. Episode 2 also features a lot of driving in a gutted Charger, which gets upgraded near the end. These upgrades include a radar to find enemies, hidden caches & a compass on your suit to track the vehicle.
Story: Although the episode did end on a massive cliffhanger, I felt it did a good job of wrapping up the major plot thread for this chapter while still keeping interest in what’s coming up next. The addition of the Aperture ship, which is the same company from Portal, I thought was pretty clever & makes me wonder what Gordon & Alyx will find when they get there. I felt that there was better plot progression this time around. I also liked the addition of a conspiracy to the story (Spoiler: that the G-Man was actually behind the Black Mesa incident in the first place). And of course Valve continues their tradition of characterizing their NPC’s very well, making them very realistic. Score: 5
Gameplay: The variety of set pieces helps to keep the game interesting, even if nothing technically has changed. The new enemies add some more difficulty to areas & there were definitely some areas that felt frantic & exciting. I liked the driving sections, even if I have some complaints about the controls. I really think the driving would be better with an acceleration button & relegating the analogue stick to steering. It can be very frustrating when you’re trying to turn around but the engine quits because you weren’t pushing perfectly up or down. But I have to say, when the game focuses on more than just brute force, it’s actually pretty smart. What I mean is, when there’s a path or strategy involved, the developers do a good job of making you think about it for a minute without making it too hard. A good example that comes to mind is while Gordon is searching for a hidden cache. I came across a locked fence with the switch on top of a platform without any stairs. After a few minutes of looking for things to stack, I noticed a metal flap on the floor I could move. But the ramp was too steep the climb. After a few more minutes of shooting the flap with the Gravity Gun, I realized I could chuck a grenade under the flap, stand on it & propel myself into the air & the platform above. Smart & fun. Score: 4
Visuals & Audio: Basically the same as the previous games. I liked that the entire game takes place outside rather than being stuck in the city. The White Forest is a beautiful place, when not covered in Combine soldiers, & it’s a nice change from a dilapidated post-apocalyptic city. The audio is the same as well. You know, I never really thought about it until now, but I like the sparseness of the music. There’s usually only music during the really exciting battles. It really helps separate them from the normal activity, making them seem more cinematic & tense. Score: 5
Replayability: Average. I had a lot more fun with this episode than the others, so I can see people playing it more than once, even if technically there’s no reason to. Nothing changes in the story, you can just play through your favorite moments again. Score: 3
Overall Score: 4
Final Word: Personally, I think this is the best Half-Life 2 game so far. The only downside to playing it now is we have to wait until Valve gets around to releasing the final episode.
Title: Half-Life 2: Episode 2 Console: 360, PS3 & PC Rating: M Developer: Valve Corporation Publisher: Valve Corporation
Release Date: October 10, 2007