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Half-Life 2: Episode 2 Review | by Mike
October 12, 2007 (9:08am EST)
I will first start off by saying that, of all the really great games that have come out over the last year (and the next couple months have a few more great ones), this is probably the one I've been looking forward to the most. I enjoyed the hell out of Half-Life, and likewise Half-Life 2 and Episode 1 were really great. Valve are masters of polish and attention to detail, and while the Half-Life 2 story is not necessarily thrown in your face, it's presented in a way that makes it interesting and makes you want to learn more. It's not the most in depth thing, but it's there if you want to read into it.

That all said, as one might expect Episode 2 is more of what we've come to expect from Valve. A really well done world, interesting storytelling and a lot of fun.

Episode 2 starts off right where Episode 1 left off, with you in the same train you made your escape from City 17 in, only now the train is smashed to bits. Also City 17 is smashed to bits. There's a smaller, contained story that more or less involves getting to safety and defending a lot of stuff along the way (more on that later), as well as the bigger picture story. If you remember the data packet Alyx intercepts during Episode 1, you are now trying to get that to a place where it can be decoded and analyzed. On top of that apparently the destruction of City 17 has opened a gaping portal to the Combine planet/dimension/whatever and they are in the midst of building up their army to attempt to take Earth back. Only as Eli puts it, "It will be like the Seven Hours War, only this time we won't last seven minutes!" So yeah, probably a good idea to try and close that thing.

The gameplay of Episode 2 essentially consists of three things. There is random puzzle figure-outing, which is a pretty small part of it (and even non-mandatory in many cases), and then there is getting from point A to point B. Invariably when you get to point B you will have to hang around there for a while and defend it from some sort of onslaught. The first of this is a mission where you are in the middle of some caves which are highly prone to antlions attack (a security system to detect them has been set up). There are five entrances and you have two turrets and two AI characters helping you. However if you are getting flashbacks to the Nova Prospekt turret sequence in Half-Life 2, don't worry because it's nowhere near as difficult, and actually pretty fun for the most part since a single turret can hold off a moderate onslaught of antlions.

At any rate that's the type of thing you deal with throughout the game. You get to a point and are promptly bombarded with enemies while you are trapped there. It happens with antlions, combine soldiers, hunters (more on them in a bit), striders, a helicopter, those big fuck-off antlions and probably a couple others. However, while this may sound repetitive, it's actually a lot of fun in most cases due to the layout of the areas you're in and often you will have friendly NPCs helping you out as well.

One of the new enemies introduced for this episode are called Hunters. They are bipedal and sort of like small striders, only a lot quicker and a lot smarter. They fire crazy exploding dart thingies and are a pretty good addition to the gameplay. Your first (interactive) encounter with them is in a run down house where you are attacked by a few while you are trapped inside and surrounded. It's a pretty intense fight and when it's over you (or I, anyway, your mileage may vary) feel like you've accomplished something. Like you lived through it and it was awesome that you did so.

The environments of Episode 2 are also more varied than the previous two games in this series. Where Half-Life 2 limited you to corridors and the coastal streets/beaches and Episode 1 is almost entirely in a heavily damaged City 17, Episode 2 takes place in a mountainous forest, something not yet done in a Half-Life game. It of course has the requisite crazy looking crate-ish buildings and stone corridors, but aside from the forest you also get to hang out in an antlion den, some cool looking caves and a mine.

One of the major complaints about Episode 2 was the gameplay length/price ratio, though most people contended that the overall quality of Episode 1 was well worth the $20 it cost at the time. Of course with Orange Box, you get Episode 2, Portal and Team Fortress 2 for $50 ($45 if you pre-ordered), so it's hard to complain. You can buy Episode 2 alone for $30, but you'd be insane to do so since you really need to play Portal, and that's $20 by itself, so you may as well get the package that includes TF2 as well. Anyway my point is price isn't really an issue this time around. Where Episode 1 provided 3-4 hours of play for $20, Episode 2 should give you 5-6 (4 if you rush) for $30 or less.

And finally, there are questions answered (but others that surface). You learn a little more about the G-Man, and you learn that you're not the only one who has dealt with him. You also get the story of Portal loosely tied into Half-Life (with more to follow on that, according to Valve) and even a few heart-wrenching moments. I honestly wasn't sure if I cared about any of the characters introduced in Half-Life 2, but after playing this I can tell you without a doubt that I do care about them, which is something very few games, especially shooters, ever achieve.

There's also a certain degree of humor, which is nice to have. For example at one point you fall into a pit and as you are climbing out the vortiguant following you quips "No pit would be complete without the Freeman climbing out of it." There are other interesting quips and moments, and stuff like that is pretty nice to have.

All in all Episode 2, as you'd expect, is an excellent game. Valve has put out some amazing game content recently and this is no different. As you'd expect it takes all the faults of previous games and removes them, while improving upon what was good and even adding a couple new elements here and there. Of course at its core it's still Half-Life, and if you enjoyed the previous games, you will obviously enjoy this.
Half-Life 2: Episode 2

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Episode 2: Trapped in the Forest. Also a portal.

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The Citadel is not what it used to be.

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That's Dr. Magnusson. He's a big jerk.

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Oh god what the fuck is that thing?!

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This is where the antlions and their new acid-spitting buddies live.

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Turn down that racket!

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This bridge is highly unlikely.

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How many pipes lit by red light will Gordon Freeman be forced to crawl through?! Probably a lot.

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That's never a good sign.

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This is as close as I could get to a saw blade action shot. It's ridiculous how chopping zombies in half is still as fun as the day HL2 came out.

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Okay we really need some curtains.

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Does this guy ever leave us alone?!

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Hey look it's a Combine Advisor pod!

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Me hate barrel!

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Gordon Freeman does not have time to parallel park. Also this is your sweet ride. Totally kicks the ass of that dune buggy.

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Dog fucking owns a strider. Holy crap that looks painful.

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Kleiner is back and so is Eli Vance! Of course.

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Here we have a vortiguant wearing a lab coat, Alyx and some guy who really wanted me to have a medkit since he would shortly be road kill.

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This is a strider exploding. You really have to see it in action to get the full effect.

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So wait, this button gives me lunch? I am pretty hungry; I don't think I've eaten since before Half-Life...