Half-Life 2: Episode 1 Reader Review
My defining experience with Half Life 2: Episode One is when I made my way into a room with Alyx, home to several other rebels. There was an old TV playing the Professor’s message (which can be summarized as ‘Go forth and multiply while you can’) over and over again. The speech, delivered with great voice acting as well as great expressions, was interesting enough to hold my attention for a few minutes. Just playing around, I picked the TV with my Gravity Gun and pulled it towards me. The switch came out and the TV went blank – I proceeded to smash it against another wall. Behind me, Alyx said something like, ‘That’s right – we cannot waste too much time listening to messages’ or something like that. I turned towards my sister who was watching, and our jaws collectively dropped.
That is just one of the indications as to how much care went into the production of this episode. Don’t expect a movie – seen in that context, Alyx’s expressions look a little overwrought, her voice a little too smooth, and she would struggle to match the talents of Jessica Simpson. Or will she?
Thing is, it is NOT a movie. What it does is offer an atmosphere and a sense of immersion far better than many recent Hollywood blockbusters. Also, don’t expect ‘new gameplay’ as so many of my fellow EG visitors are fond of whining for. But wait – there IS new gameplay despite what the reviews might say – you will find yourself shooting while looking for an exit, a switch, or shooting in pitch dark (the dark parts are darker than anything offered by FEAR), or sneaking along a wall while hoping Alyx gets her shots right, while zipping away antlions with your Gravity Gun.
Many people whine about the AI, or lack thereof. To me, it is increasingly clear that soldiers of HL2 are different from those of FEAR, and the gameplay alone most of the times takes care of any need for an AI. You are eager to find out what happens next, while negotiating the toughest firefights yet seen in a Half Life game. Make no mistake – I am not advocating dumb soldiers – all I am saying is that their numbers and positioning creates plenty of challenge in itself.
The game kicks off right where HL2 left off, and you and Alyx are rescued thanks to one of the bigger cop-outs seen in gaming. Both of you are dumped into a pit of sorts, surrounded by rubble and with only one way out, while the Citadel flexes its visual might in front of you, its top ablaze. To get into the Citadel requires a bit of creative platforming – but you don’t do that, Alyx does. Finally, Dog finds a way to throw you into the building.
The first level is largely similar in setup to the last one of HL2, and you are left to your own devices and the Gravity gun. There are switches to pull, orbs to throw, chasms to cross, and some fairly head-scratching (for me, at least) puzzles to negotiate. The Citadel never fails to impress, and the Core section in itself is a visual tour de force.
Again, many will complain how HL2 is not pushing too many pixels or the lack of real-time lighting. I agree that the lighting would have helped, but I am sure that with that, it wouldn’t be able to run this smoothly at 2084x1020 on my rig. According to many websites, this still is the best looking game around and a lot of that can be attributed to the artwork and the sheer aesthetic sense poured into it by the design team. True, the rocks look ugly up close and the strewn rubble is often a clever texture, but these things do nothing to mar your wonder at how something that looks this good can run this well. In the end, it is not the pixel pushing or technical prowess, but the design decisions that catapult this game into one of the best looking around, even amidst the likes of Doom, FEAR and Far Cry.
I played at the Hard difficulty and I must admit that the Combine soldiers were toast. However, the other ‘monsters’ such as the antlion, the headcrabs, and the zombies became a pain in the you know what. The second level, ‘Lowlife’, offers prolonged sections where you are in complete darkness, armed with only your flashlight which you have to shine at Zombies so Alyx can take them out. All this while you have to look for a switch or an exit. The flashlight has limited life and the moment it goes out (to recharge), the zombies begin closing in on you while Alyx is supposedly peeing in her pants by the way she sounds. It is wonderful, it is unique, and scary as hell to boot. In fact, you will get the scares at par with those of FEAR and Doom. But then, that’s just my opinion.
Another memorable moment is when you are trapped in a rickety wooden structure and have to take out the Combine chopper. Just take a look at that stage and tell me this is not one of the best looking games around. The wood breaks beneath your feet, the roof disappears chunk by chunk, while you madly dash up and down the stairs to collect the rockets for your RPG and fire them at your adversary. Yes, the stairs remain unscathed and so does Alyx cowering beneath them. What the hell, it is not a movie!
I have completed the Episode, but there is no point in telling you the story. Suffice it to say that you are supposed to get away from City 17 but the harder you try, the deeper you sink. Most of the times you will be having too much fun playing to care about the story, and the end credits will jump on you just like one of those headcrabs. Happy hunting!
9 / 10