A flat joke establishes the name of an enemy creature.
The original Half-Life 2 has an ending that unapologetic fans of the story of the first Half-Life would love, though its cliffhanger nature may be unsatisfactory to others. To quote the developers themselves, there is also some unrealized gameplay potential that could have been had from the story.
Therefore, the makers of Half-Life 2 have decided to make a continuation of the story, in addition to disregarding the ending of Half-Life 2.
If one is to be harsh, Episode One seemed like more of the same, with little if anything brand-new to be seen. However, to those that are very fond of the experience that Half-Life 2 delivered, they might be quite thrilled to have more of Valve’s offerings.
As mentioned earlier, Valve has conveniently ignored the original ending of Half-Life 2. Instead of Gordon Freeman being consigned to pseudo-oblivion yet again, certain allies with powers beyond the physical realm held back his would-be jailor, as well as saving him and his lady friend from certain plasma-inflicted doom.
Speaking of his lady friend, the duo would go on yet another adventure, this time to escape the collapsing City 17 and helping anyone left behind do the same. There is more character development to be seen, at least for people other than the ever-taciturn Gordon Freeman.
Alyx Vance played the role of the secondary character in the story of Half-Life 2, but in Episode One, she would play a far more active role, and for the better too.
However, her gameplay designs would have to be described first. They so happen to be rather curiously expedient.
Firstly, she is next to indestructible. She does have a health counter, but it refills tremendously quickly, thus allowing her to absorb plenty of incoming damage. She can only die if she is attacked by many, many enemies, and upon that, the player is served with a game-over, perhaps to his/her shame because it is indeed very difficult for Alyx to die without any extraordinary intervention on the player’s part.
(Moreover, the enemies in the game tend to prioritize Gordon Freeman over Alyx.)
Secondly, she has unlimited ammunition. Her ammunition reserves automatically refill very quickly, which allows her to deliver a punishing rate of fire with her custom-designed auto-handgun (that the player does not get to use without resorting to cheating).
The player will be hearing the chatter of her gun many times over in the game. Although it is a reassuring noise that informs the player that Alyx is well aware of the presence of a threat that can be brought down by gunfire, it can seem repetitive.
If the player can forgive or dismiss these oddities, then Alyx is easily one of the most impressive and likeable secondary characters to have ever been seen in a game.
In Half-Life 2, Alyx is intended to lead the player around. Most of the time, she is out of trouble, and thus not seen to be involved in combat often.
In Episode One, she follows the player around instead – a change that she will state out loud, amusingly enough. Thanks to the aforementioned conveniences with her combat capabilities, she is hardly a liability in battle, but her contribution to a battle is also not remarkably varied or brilliant enough to provide fondly memorable experiences.
Yet curiously, this means that her non-combat contribution to the experience of the game is better highlighted, which is perhaps for the betterment of the game and her as a character. Her remarks at the situations that she and Gordon get in are often engaging enough to be amusing. They also happen to flesh out her personality as a strong, smart and independent woman, though not without concerns and worries of her own.
There are also scripted sequences that are intended to show off her nimbleness, such as when she scales a wall to get to somewhere to open the way for the much less agile Gordon. These sequences also display Valve’s growing fondness with motion capture.
CONTRAST WITH GORDON:
Unfortunately, Alyx’s splendid character designs happen to highlight the lack of any for Gordon Freeman’s own. He remains a silent protagonist, a constant that even Alyx would make a remark on.
The developers themselves have mentioned that such lack of character development on Gordon’s part has been deliberate, so that the player can imagine for themselves how Gordon’s personality is like.
Yet, there are possible oversights in the writing that suggested that Gordon Freeman was intended to be a colourful character. For example, there are remarks coming from Barney Calhoun that suggest that Gordon is a fun friend and rival to have before the events of Black Mesa.
Following the tradition of the Half-Life series, there are many scenarios in Episode One where the player is given a spectacular sight to look at, if the player is inclined to have Gordon Freeman looking in their direction.
The player is free to move about looking at nooks and crannies or even move on to the next scene if he/she would rather not waste time looking at eye-candy. This is again a tradition of the series that accommodates the preferences of different players, which is good.
There are only a few moments in the game where the player is shoe-horned into staying in tight spots with the only freedom that he/she has is just to look around. However, these tend to be very important moments in the story, so the player may want to pay attention anyway.
A clever nuance about most of these scenes is that the player is usually rewarded for looking away from the most happening scene in these moments. For example, there are characters that are behind Freeman who make subtle motions and expressions during these scenes.
Some of the most exciting set pieces concern Dog, Alyx’s robot companion that only got a few scenes in Half-Life 2. In Episode 2, the player gets to see more of Dog’s robust capabilities and brutish enthusiasm at work.
CHANGES IN WEAPONS:
Whatever that has been described thus far concerns the story-writing and –direction for Episode One. Unfortunately, not much can be said about its gameplay that had not been seen in Half-Life 2 before.
The most notable change in the gameplay – and that is actually not saying much – is certain balancing designs that have been applied on the existing weapons. Most of these are nerfs, such as reductions in magazine capacities. These unfortunately made them less fun to play in Episode One’s ultimately single-player-only experience.
If there is any consolation, it is that the very fun segment involving a powered-up Gravity Gun in Half-Life 2 is repeated again in Episode One.
Most of the enemies in Episode One have already been seen in Half-Life 2, but with the technologically-adept Alyx at Freeman’s side, some of the more robotic ones can be turned against the oppressive Combine, often with entertainingly explosive results.
For example, watching two opposed Roller Mines kill each other while bouncing all over the place can be very amusing (though perhaps deadly to onlookers).
The only supposedly “new” enemy that is introduced in Episode One is a new variant of the Headcrab Zombie. Its introduction is mainly intended to raise the in-universe controversy that the Combine’s elite troopers may not have much of a human skull in the first place. It may have an attack that is unique to itself and has body armor when it is compared to other zombies, but otherwise it behaves in the same way.
For people that want to know more about what goes on behind the scenes, Episode One allows the player to turn on the developers’ commentaries. After that, shiny speech bubbles appear over certain places in the game’s levels. They can seem rather cheesy though, especially the ones that can be seen even in dark places.
Most of these are best listened to when things have gone quiet around the player, but some of these commentaries freeze the game – and the player character’s movement – in order to get their point across. Some hijacks the player’s control or even send the player character elsewhere, but otherwise, they return the player to where he/she was before he/she interacted with the commentaries.
Most of the commentaries can sound very technical and monotonous, though this is to be expected when they are delivered by people that are certainly not talented voice actors/actresses. They do, unfortunately, feed the stereotype of software nerds.
Regardless, if the player wants to know the reasons behind certain designs of Episode One, he/she would be quite satisfied with the developers’ answers.
GRAPHICS & AUDIO:
Being a stand-alone continuation of Half-Life 2, there is not much of anything that is technologically new to be seen or heard in Episode One. Valve does seem to have fixed many issues with the Source engine, which was nascent at the time, so the player that has played the previous game may notice that Episode One seems a bit more stable and efficient at loading files.
Although the player that transitioned from Half-Life 2 would not see any new technical designs in the graphics technology of Source in Episode One, Episode One does make use of the stabilized Source engine for the aforementioned set-pieces.
Following the tradition of the game before it, Episode One does not give any voice-overs to Gordon Freeman at all. He remains a taciturn man with grit so great that he does not even utter a thing when he gets hurt. The only legible speech that would come out of him is the automated voices of his suit.
The other characters in the game are given voice-overs, fortunately. In fact, most of the voice talents from Half-Life 2 return. The most prominent among them is of course Alyx Vance’s, Merle Dandridge. Considering that the player will be hearing her talk a lot, it is fortunate that Dandridge delivers a splendid performance with Alyx’s many lines, doing a good job of expressing her tough but still pleasant personality.
Another notable voice talent is that for Dr. Kleiner. Harry S. Robins delivers a splendid performance in expressing Kleiner’s hilarious social awkwardness. An example can be heard in one particular chapter of the game where he broadcasts an unintentionally amusing message regarding the benefits of the destruction of the technology that is holding back the human race.
PERCEPTION OF VALUE:
Episode One may offer a great time with its continuation of Half-Life 2’s story, but it is irrevocably short when compared to the experience in Half-Life 2. It may have a lower price, but it does not offer any brand-new gameplay designs and the experience is still strictly single-player.
Indeed, even to the present day, Episode One is still offered at a substantial price, when it is not offered with discounts.
With such considerations, it would be difficult to defend Episode One as having particularly good value.
If Episode One is to be regarded according to how much it would contribute to the field of game designs, it is doubtful that it has anything new to offer, especially if it is compared to Half-Life 2, which was very refreshing during its time.
However, if the player is an ardent Half-Life fan and is looking for more on the saga of Half-Life, then Episode One’s fun, albeit short, single-player experience may just satisfy that desire. Moreover, Episode One does appear to take advantage of its story to deliver some of the most memorable characters that have been seen in games other than the silent Gordon Freeman himself.