Valve fixed a lot of what was broken in Episode One with Episode Two. First and foremost, the combat is fun again, perhaps the most fun combat in all Half-Life 2 games. Also, a criticism I had with the first Half-Life 2 (and the first episode) is you spend too much time in City 17. Here, you’re far away, surrounded by pine trees and woods. And all together, the story is more cohesive. Though this may be the last Half-Life game ever made, it’s a fitting end, raising the quality bar just above the previous two games.
You get a nice little recap of the first episode, in case you missed some of the story. It’s you and Alyx on a train escaping the city. Alyx suffers a mortal wound from an enemy, and a Vortiguant calls his “kin” in to help revive her. It’s ultimately four Vortiguants and yourself, Gordon Freeman, who saves her life after staving off a lot of antlions and taking some antlion eggs after the Vortigaunt’s insistence. The antlions are coming out of about three tunnels that lead to the room you’re in, and you and your allies are firing away shots. Already, the combat is way better.
Alyx also has better dialog. No longer saying the one-liners, she gives you valuable information. While talking about dialog, Valve threw in a “Bushism” (as in George W.), when a teammate says, “I think we misunderestimated them!” G-Man makes an appearance and speaks to you, perhaps telepathically, but I fear he reveals too much information. Part of what makes G-Man fun is the mystery surrounding his intentions.
There is a car again (hooray!), and it looks quite a bit like a Pontiac. You ride with Alyx, and there are puzzle-solving sequences, though they are not as difficult as the first game’s puzzles. Sooner or later, you reach a point where the Combine attacks, but you have allies that lend a hand. It’s never all that difficult. [Spoiler Alert] The game ends with a fun bit of blowing up striders (very tall three-legged robots) and hunters (similar to striders, but smaller) with specialty bombs for the striders, and rockets, gunshots, and anything else that might work for the hunters.
Once again, the music seems more frequent than in Half-Life 2, but I think Episode One‘s music is best. As noted in a previous review, the game ends with a cliffhanger, and let’s just say an important character dies. I read an article that says the voice actor of Dr. Breen actually died, in real life, making it difficult to make a sequel with him. It was just about eleven years ago that this game was released, meaning there might still be hope for a sequel. But sadly, I think Valve learned they make more money as a PC game distributor through Steam. If they were publicly traded, I’d buy stock.