PS3 Review Page 2
Half-Life 2: Episode One...
Half-Life 2: Episode One continues on from the end of Half-Life 2. Without giving away too much of Half-Life 2's ending, a massive explosion happens where Gordon and Alyx are basically in a situation where they aren't going to walk away from. However, Gman interrupts, once again. Unfortunately for him, so do the Vortiguants, who save both characters. Players will find themselves under a large pile of rubble at the base of the citadel in City 17, with Dog and Alyx stumbling across Gordon. The two quickly make contact with Dr. Kleiner and Eli Vance who explains that they must get out of the city before the Citadel's reactor goes critical. However, it seems the Combine are trying to use the energy from the pending explosion to send off a data packet, forcing Alyx and Gordon to trek back into the crumbling Citadel to try and stop this, or at least obtain the data being sent. Getting back into the Citadel proves a bit easier than they anticipated; however, trying to leave once they have done their work is a different matter, especially given they need to not only flee the Citadel, but the entire of City 17 if they are to survive the impending explosion! One interesting thing to note here is that Gman is barely present in this game, as it is revealed he loses control of Gordon, at least for the time being, in the opening sequence of the game.
Unfortunately, it's not all excellent news, as Episode One does suffer a few flaws. Technically the game runs perfectly. I never once experienced frame rate issues or slowdown of any kind in my play through of the game. However, it suffers problems of another kind.
When it was originally released as a standalone title on PC, there was a part of the game that was ultra-difficult. I am of course talking about the pitch-black room you have to survive in whilst waiting for a particularly slow lift. Before a few months were up, Valve had released a patch making this sequence a little bit easier. It was a welcome change; however, it seems they have made it even easier again, with the wait time a lot shorter and fewer zombies. While this will suit some gamers nicely, it, for me, detracts from the moment in the game. This point in the plot always represented to me a massive block, where the game seemed to reach an almost impossible battle that you had to get over, and it kind of represented the moment that happens in Hollywood movies where a hero redeems himself after falling. I feel that this is somewhat lost now. Better that than an almost impossible battle though I suppose.
As far as looks go, the game makes some improvements from the first Half-Life 2 game, but they aren't particularly large. Unfortunately the largest improvement on the PC game, even more detail facial features, is lost on the PS3 release, as the faces in Half-Life 2 were also simplified somewhat. However, the game still looks wonderful and, as with Half-Life 2, holds its own against any other shooter on the PS3 market to date.
Audio is also done to pretty much the same degree as the previous release part of the review here, with the exception that music and effects are used in a fashion much more suited to the almost survival/horror nature of the game. All top-notch quality and hard to improve upon.
It seems Valve just continue to out-do themselves. This time, they've managed to deliver the immersive action-packed game we have come to expect from them, and not only inject many survival/horror elements into the game play, but also introduce emotion and attachment to characters that almost seems void in most games. The latter in particular is seldom evident in FPS games, as they tend to focus on action and rogue-heroism, but it works more than excellently here and is bound to get you keen for Episode Two.
Half-Life 2: Episode Two...
It seems Valve agreed with the masses, that spending almost the entire game with Alyx was a good idea in the previous episode, as once again, Alyx plays almost as big a role here as Gordon himself. Without ruining the end of Episode One, the game starts off similarly, with Gordon and Alyx being dug out of rubble. Quickly, they decide to continue their journey to meet up with Alyx's father, Eli, and the scientist, Dr. Kleiner. In order to do this the duo must reach a rebel base called White Forest.
I mentioned that this is an emotional experience... I don't want to ruin anything here for anyone, but I really think I have to mention that this game really plays with your heart. There are moments where you share feelings of absolute joy, satisfaction and relief with the characters, and moments of complete and utter despair and sadness. I'm sure some of you will make me regret saying this, but I have never been so close to tears from a game, and almost everyone I know who has played Episode Two has said the same.
One of the other things that sets Episode Two apart from previous instalments in the Half-Life series is that much of the game takes place in very large, outdoor, forest areas. Not only is this done well, but the Source engine seems to be just as suited to action-packed game play in this arena as in the more typical Half-Life levels. We've read a bit about apparent slowdown in the game, but I can happily say that at no time did I ever experience anything below a split-second minor frame-rate drop – as in nothing that isn't there in pretty much every game. Yes, it is unfortunate that even that small issue exists, but given the overall game, I really don't think there is anything to complain about it.
Not to skimp on the overall improvements, graphically this game is another step up from the previous instalments, or at least it seems to be. It's hard to compare given the entirely different environments and even new enemies (even some of the combine undergo a suit-upgrade this time round), but it certainly at least seems to take things to a new level. If nothing else, it is a perfectly timed change of scenery for Gordon and his companion.
Episode Two really sets a new benchmark as far as story-driven FPS goes, but pushes the bar in many areas that are foreign to the genre. Up until the very last moment when the TV fades to black, Valve play with your emotions and pull at your heartstrings perfectly. It's hard to imagine this episode being outdone anytime soon, and the only real criticism anyone seems to be able to give it is its length (depending on how you play and your skill, it can be finished in 6 hours). Of course, part of Episode Two's greatness is due to the chapters before it, but even as a standalone title, it leaves its mark in the crowd.