It was nice of Valve Software to give us two new games in the Half-Life series, right before Half-Life was put on hold indefinitely. Though some fan out there is probably still begging for Half-Life 3, sometimes you have to be grateful for what you got. Though combat sequences in Half-Life 2: Episode One weren’t as enjoyable as in Half-Life 2, this game keeps it fresh with almost constant companionship with Alyx, and, for example, a likable scientist on the televisions, talking about how to undo what Dr. Breen has done.
You pick up exactly where Half-Life 2 ends. Alyx goes through some sort of portal, and alien vortigaunts save her life while the Citadel is being destroyed. You end up escaping the Citadel with Alyx, and there are a lot of physics-based puzzles. Alyx’s commentary falls flat. She says things like “What was that thing?,” “Did you see that?,” and “That… was close.”. I am all in favor of empowered female protagonists, but the writing could use some work.
Upon exiting the Citadel, you wander through an underground roadway that eventually becomes a parking garage. You have to use your flashlight with draining flashlight power, or pick up a flare, which eventually expires. It’s as close as the series will know to survival horror, though it’s also a throwback to the first Half-Life to have an underground road. It’s the same headcrab-infested zombies from Half-Life 2 that you need to defeat here. When you finally reach the surface [spoiler], City 17 is in ruins and all you really want to do is get out.
There is also a hospital with Combine soldiers, though it looks more like a school than a hospital, until you reach an operating room. And there’s a bit where your friends want to be saved (Barney Calhoun, et al.), and you basically do all the shooting while you guide them to safety. In hindsight, it isn’t too different from an expansion pack for the first game, though it does feel like Valve developed it (and not Gearbox), and the story takes center stage.
I played Episode One and Episode Two as part of the “Orange Box” for Xbox 360. Valve once again showed they are in the business of value propositions because The Orange Box is five games in one: Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episode One, Half-Life 2: Episode Two, Portal (an all new title), and Team Fortress 2. Playing on a controller was fine.
As a final word, Valve has put quite a bit of its excellent electronic music into this episode, which has actually been a part of the series since the first game. There’s actually more music than usual. Episode One isn’t as good, as long, or as gripping as Half-Life 2, but thanks for reminding us that Dr. Breen lost, and more scenes with G-Man would have been nice.