Brought all the strengths from HL2 and places it into one very sweet package.
Graphics: 9 (noticeable improvements from the Source Engine like bloom effects and concentrated facial expressions)
Sounds: 8 (same sounds brought forward from HL2 however Alyx has a lot more to say – and that's a good thing)
Value: 5 (extremely short / the game normally arrives in a bundled offer therefore great for newcomers and sucks for the rest of us / option to hear developers commentary)
Tilt: 9 (loved the idea of the 'one-bullet' achievement / excellent character bonding yet the 'episodic theory' didn't quite panned out the way it should have been)
Actual score: 8.1
With Half Life 2 ending in a cliff hanger and the many guesses of what's going to happen to Gordon Freeman and Co, there wasn't a hint of doubt that another game was on the horizon. Yet one can imagine the immense pressure developers Valve is going through to top its predecessors. So here comes HL2, Episode 1; quite a boring name yet the Valve's 'think-tank' presented the idea that instead of waiting eons for the next chapter is to release them in bite size snacks. How this game panned out was short, sweet and very tasty indeed.
So Half Life 2 Episode 1 (HL2:1) continues the story from Half Life 2. That is the citadel exploding and on a verge of creating some sort of mass explosion that can easily wipe out City 17 and its inhabitants. So you (Gordon Freeman) and Alyx main objective is quite simple: get the hell out of there as fast as possible whilst saving as many resistance lives in the process. A huge responsibility for the both of them yet as the G-Man states in the beginning of HL2 '…(Gordon Freeman) is the right person in the wrong time'.
Obviously to fully appreciate HL2:1 you need to play Half Life 2 first. Yet it can also be played as a standalone as it does explain the back story quite well. However I feel to grasp the story is to play HL2 first. So as come to expect the actual game play hasn't changed much at all. Actually looking in hindsight there wasn't much real innovation in the entire game that can be classed as 'innovation'. However what Valve has done is brought the strengths of HL2 into this game and actually condensed it; similar to drinking concentrated cordial – that is extremely rich.
So the strengths from Half Life 2 were the gravity gun, the main characters like Alyx, Dog et al and the entire resistance fighters' – especially their uncanny facial expressions. Stuff we all loved and cherish from HL2. Of course the combine soldiers, striders and many other nasty folks are back yet they really didn't have a big presence this time. Yet there was more emphasis in the relationship building between Gordon and Alyx (as she now plays a huge role throughout this game) and more puzzles to solve for the gravity gun. Heck there's also an achievement that you only allow to fire just one bullet throughout the entire game (yet rocket launchers / gravity gun / grenades and the crowbar kills are allowed). So what this tells you that it's possible to complete the game by other means as apposed to 'fire-at-will'.
Yet, just like the citadel as it comes tumbling down was the length. Personally I'm known for making a short game a long experience as I like to explore every nook and cranny. In this game and considering the natural fast pace, the game was over within five hours. Granted Valve promised a series of episodes however today we all know what happened to that idea so it was a truly disappointing concept. Yet and due to the terrific feedback Valve received from Half Life 2: The Lost Coast, you can play the entire game again listening to the director's commentary. This gives a valuable insight of the makings of this game however you cannot earn any achievements whilst commentary is on.
Considering HL2:E1 uses the same source engine from Half Life 2 (some two years prior) there are some noticeable improvements visually. For starters they improved the bloom and shadow effects for which greatly enhances the richness yet decaying City 17. You even get to witness this right from the get-go the ever imposing sun setting over the city casting eerie shadows. Yet the most evident one is the improved facial expressions from all the human characters. I thought this was absolutely top-notch as the entire cast are now quite human-like, believable characters that you really cared for. And once you start caring for them the game becomes memorable for a long time to come.
The Half Life series is known for its innovation. Since its debut back in 1998 it always has been the benchmark for FPS; and that's a major accomplishment considering how saturated this genre is. With the release of Half Life 2 and the many gambles it took, it was ever a wonder whether any future products will tumble. Well the 'Valve Think Machine' hasn't run out of steam yet (pun intended) and introduced a series of episodes, or short stories to keep the momentum going. Well we all know now that maybe that was a bad idea however HL2 Episode One brought all the strengths from HL2 and placed it into one very sweet package.