This Episode of Half-Life 2 is an exquisit achievement that will leave you yearning for more.
Episode One starts off exactly where the original Half-Life 2 ended. After a brief "introduction" by The G-Man, we are plunged right back into the story. Buried under debris, Gordon Freeman, everybody's favorite geek, is found by d0g & Alyx, a bit banged up but still alive.
Armed with his trusty Gravity Gun and accompanied by Alyx throughout most of the game, Gordon sets out to escape City 17 after the destruction of Dr. Breen... but, naturally, his escape will not go as easy as he might have expected. There are still remnants of the Combine trying to annihilate Freeman and his sidekick... but who's orders are they following? Why are they still pursuing him?
If you are looking for answers to those questions, sadly, they will not be answered in Episode One, as Valve still remains as cryptic as ever with their storytelling. This is not to say that the story is bad, far from it actually. The story is still incredibly captivating and follows suit with the original game perfectly.
The gameplay still remains flawless and entertaining. The gun fights are intense, although you'll be armed with only the Gravity Gun for a pretty long while in the beginning before laying your hands on your first gun. But still, when the Gravity Gun is "powered up", it offers a very hard (and satisfying) punch.
There are some puzzle solving sequences throughout Episode One, although they are not too complicated to solve. Nothing very frustrating here.
But the one thing that stands out with Episode One is how this game immerses you in Gordon's world. Moments that stand out the most for me are numerous and varied:
- When Alyx hugs you straight at the beginning of the game, you feel as though you are actually reuniting with a long lost friend;
- When you are fighting you way underground and only have your pocket lamp as lighting. You hear the "zombies" scream in the distance as they make their way towards you in the dark and you actually feel panicked as you frantically look for them;
- When you are desperately fighting for your life against the Ant Lion Mother as she charges towards you and you are desperately trying to destroy her and escape.
Those are only a couple of examples, as there are numerous others throughout the game. Valve has accomplished something that is very hard to do in First Person Shooters: make you feel as though Gordon's fate, as well as the rest of his allies, rests on your shoulders.
The artificial intelligence in the game is somewhat varied. The Combine soldiers and walking dead are rather easy to kill and not that much of a challenge. As for the bigger creatures, like the Ant Lion Mother and Strider, they are a little bit harder to handle.
As for your partner in crime, Alyx Vance, she is quite helpful in some situations, but will get in the way in others. She is a pretty good shot and will take down most of the enemies without much of a fuss, but has some nasty habit of getting in your way when some possessed Combine soldiers with grenades run towards you. But, all in all, she is a big help throughout the game and adds a "human" side to the proceedings.
One bad thing about the gameplay is the loading times. These can get pretty atrocious and long at some points and take you out of the game completely. Naturally, this depends on the type of PC that you own, but still, it would be good if Valve reduced or removed these completely in the next Episode.
The graphics in the game are amazing, as they were in the original Half-Life 2 game. Although there still is a little bit of clipping here and there, the overall presentation is done with class and is a big part of the immersion in the game.
The sound is top notch once again. The voice acting is done with class and superbly delivered by all of the original cast from Half-Life 2. The sounds of the weapons are identical to the original, as are the sounds coming from the various creatures. The Combine Soldiers' radio talk is still awesome to hear.
I also like the soundtrack within the game. I especially like when it picks up at exactly the right moment, when something major is about to happen.
This game will last you around 6-8 hours, which is pretty good for $20. People might say that it's too short, but I found it just right, although it left me wanting more. There isn't much replay value here, but the game does come with Half-Life 2 Deathmatch, an online multiplayer game which can be fun for a little while but is not the game's strong point.
All in all, Half-Life 2: Episode One is a very immersive and fun game. I highly recommend it to fans of the series and I cannot wait to get my hands on Episode Two this fall.