hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts

Destructoid review: Half-Life 2: Episode Two

12:25 PM on 10.12.2007 // Anthony Burch

qwewqeq

[This is just one of the new games available in The Orange Box. Don't forget to read our reviews of Portal and Team Fortress 2, and keep your eyes peeled for forthcoming console reviews.]

I'll admit it -- my expectations for the next installment of the Half-Life 2 saga* were pretty high. Like everyone else who has ever laid their hands on a Half-Life game, I love the series and I've grown reasonably attached to Alyx, Dog, and the gravity gun. 

Yet, as much as I came to love everything about Half-Life 2, I also loathed Valve's "episodic" system; delay after delay after delay, the gap of time between Episode One and Episode Two ended up longer than sixteen months. After such a (relatively) long wait, would Episode Two deliver on everything promised by the episodic format? Would it continue the intense, imaginative, and emotional gameplay started in Half-Life 2 and developed in Episode One?

The short answer? Yes.

The long answer? Hell yes.

Hit the jump for the full review. 

*I can't wait until the episodic series is finished and we can stop calling them "the Half-Life 2 episodes." Put together, they are Half-Life 3, for chrissake.

Half-Life 2: Episode Two (PC)
Developed by Valve Software
Released on October 10th, 2007

Until Episode Two, I would have never thought that a franchise installment with so many minor or purely cosmetic changes and improvements could make for such a palpably more enjoyable experience than the games which preceded it. Yes -- Episode Two is unquestionably better than Episode One, and if it was longer, it’d be a hell of a lot better than the entirety of Half-Life 2, as well.

Part of the reason Valve wanted to try the episodic format for the sequels to Half-Life 2 dealt with their ability to implement new technology into each successive episode, and Episode Two showcases this quite well. The changes are mostly aesthetic, but the effect they have on the game’s atmosphere, story, and characterizations are pretty difficult to understate. The “cinematic physics” mechanic, for instance, may seem to be nothing more than the Havok engine on a massive scale. However, once you see a steel bridge collapse in a hundred pieces, or when you watch a Strider blow apart a wood cabin into innumerable splinters and planks, you’ll understand just how much more epic, involving, and exciting the series can be. The cinematic physics are just one of the numerous, minute changes made in Episode Two: the lighting systems have been redone (working your way through the Antlion spawning caves is much moodier and visually arresting thanks to the effect your flashlight has on the shadows and environment), the character models have been noticeably improved (Alyx especially), and numerous gameplay tweaks have made the game a great deal more fun.

Por ejemplo, your flashlight and sprint power no longer drain energy from the same source; you can keep your flashlight on and sprint to your heart’s content without worrying about one action draining the other. This means that during a lengthy chase sequence in the underground antlion caves, you don't have to worry about alternating between visibility and movement.

Again, these changes may seem very small when considered individually, but they have a noticeable effect on the gameplay as a whole. Things feel more accessible, more fun, and (in the case of Alyx’s improved expressions and character model) more endearing.

wer

“Endearing” -- not really a word you hear too often in conjunction with first-person shooters. Really, that’s what sets Episode Two apart from other action titles, and, indeed, other Half-Life installments as well; where the majority of FPS objectives tend to revolve around impersonal goals like “kill this dude” or “defend this guy,” more than a few of Episode Two’s major action setpieces revolve around defending characters you actually care about, thus giving the action a greater weight and giving the entire game a much more substantial feel. When you and two other resistance fighters (one of whom is played with perfect comic timing by Adam Baldwin) have to defend four different tunnels from huge crowds of Antlions, the experience -- while almost fiendishly fun in and of itself -- is made even better thanks to the fact that if you fail, you know a wounded character you’ve come to care for will die as a result.

I really can’t overstate how easy it is to connect with the characters on an emotional level: whether you’re meeting up with Eli Vance, hanging out with Alyx, or catching a glimpse of the G-Man when you least expect it, you’ll feel truly involved in the story, thanks to how connected you’ve become to all of these characters, for better or for worse. I literally found myself almost shouting at the screen during certain cinematic scenes. We’re talking characters who were so well-defined, who meant so much to me, that I was nearly yelling at my goddamned monitor when they were put in danger -- Episode Two has truly raised the bar when it comes to characterization and narrative. Hell, even the sole new character, Dr. Magnusson, is irritable and crotchety to the point of being hilarious, but you still sort of like him by the game's end.

But hey, who gives a rat’s ass about character interaction when there’s stuff to be killed, right? Well, thankfully, Episode Two improves upon its predecessors in that area, as well. As with the aesthetics and controls, only minor changes have been made to the overall gameplay. Only two substantial additions have been made to the gameplay: the Magnusson device (if you don’t know its purpose by now, it’s better if you just find out through playing the game), and the new Combine Hunter enemy. Both work wonderfully, but if you’re looking for massive enemy upgrades or dozens of new weapons, then you’re in the wrong place. Hell, Episode Two’s true beauty doesn’t necessarily derive from how it implements new mechanics, but in how it alters the old ones. Episode Two takes our preconceptions of what a typical Half-Life 2 battle should be, and then twists it into something much more original and fun; I can’t go into detail without spoiling some of the best moments of the game for you, but imagine taking out a Combine helicopter… without a rocket launcher.

werewr

What really kills me is that the things which make Episode Two so great are the very things I can’t spoil for you: certain things happen to certain characters, and it makes you feel a certain way, but I can’t tell you specifics (though if you’ve seen the trailers for Episode Two, you’ll know that Dog fights a particular sort of enemy all by himself -- and trust me, it’s just as badass as we all thought it would be). The ending, from both a gameplay and narrative perspective, is probably one of the best parts of the game. Without going into too much detail, Gordon is given a new type of weapon, and is put in a large, nonlinear -- yes, nonlinear -- arena where he has to drive around and defeat several gargantuan enemies before they reach a resistance base. I honestly feel that this final battle may be one of the most singularly entertaining sections of gameplay I’ve experienced in a long, long time. I’m going to be replaying the scene over and over throughout the next few weeks.

Now, for the tradeoff: Episode Two is short. Not Portal short, but short nonetheless. I got through the game in about 4 ½ hours my first time through, and while I do have a tendency to work through games pretty quickly, I don’t feel as if I truly rushed myself. Such is the price of episodic gaming: we get some kickass technological updates and some wonderful gameplay setpieces, but, at the end of the day, we’re still talking about less than five hours of playtime after a year of waiting (and probably another year until we get the sequel). Of course, those two years also went toward the development of Team Fortress 2 and Portal, so it’s really quite hard to complain when they’re packaged together for such a reasonable price.

Overall, Episode Two is the most satisfying installment of the Half-Life saga yet, in respects to both story and gameplay. Moving the action from City 17 into the surrounding forest really makes the environment feel fresh and new, the many small gameplay changes immeasurably improve the game’s fun factor, and the plot and characters truly show us what videogames are capable of as a storytelling medium. Yeah, it’s damned short, but there’s never a dull moment and you’ll be replaying some of the major setpieces for weeks to come (not to mention the immense replayability offered by the commentary track). If you’re financially and physically capable of buying Episode Two, and you don’t, I really have to wonder about your state of mind.

Score: 9.0

Verdict: Buy It!




 Setup email comments

Unsavory comments? Please report harassment, spam, and hate speech to our moderators, and flag the user (we will ban users dishing bad karma). Can't see comments? Apps like Avast or browser extensions can cause it. You can fix it by adding *.disqus.com to your whitelists.

 Quickposts
Status updates from C-bloggers

LinkSlayer64 avatarLinkSlayer64
Since my blog using this is basically useless, I still wanted to share it. [img]http://i.imgur.com/a33WM5Q.png[/img] CAN YOU DIG IT!?
Manchild avatarManchild
I don't think you should be able to say #Fuckonami if you are deciding to support their product anyways. I don't often agree with boycotting and am not condoning that, but get your story straight and show a little consistency.
CJ Andriessen avatarCJ Andriessen
When the band began to play the stars were shining bright. Now the milkman's on his way and it's too late to say good night. So, Good Morning! Good Morning!
Rad Party God avatarRad Party God
I just realized that MGS V unlocks for me tomorrow at noon. I'll be at work by the time this game unlocks, wich unless I manage to let it install remotely, I won't be playing it by Sept 1. #FucKonami >:C
IDrawOnTape avatarIDrawOnTape
I'm guessing all rock bands in the world must have stopped making music videos this year, since I read fall out boy's "Uma Thurman" won for rock video of the year. I can only assume there were no other nominees.that's the only rational explanation.
RatCasket avatarRatCasket
dtoid discussion has been awfully bitchy these past couple of days. knock it off. its just video games.
StripyTrousers avatarStripyTrousers
Just posted my first Dtoid Community blog. Hello all!
ChillyBilly avatarChillyBilly
Good Morning Good Morning We've talked the whole night through Good Morning Good Morning to you Good Morning Good Morning It's great to stay up late Good Morning Good Morning to you
Daniel Lingen avatarDaniel Lingen
#PAX2015
Agent9 avatarAgent9
gonna help my mom move and pack some things. what it means is I'm gonna sit and get yelled at whether I do or do not do something. I can't be the only one with a picky parent that expects nothing less than clairvoyance (-_-)
WryGuy avatarWryGuy
If some weren't aware, Phil/Mike Martin needs some help right now but can't access traditional donation avenues like Paypal on his own. I'm offering to be a middle man. I'm also offering to match 50% moving forward right now. [email protected]
OverlordZetta avatarOverlordZetta
At first I thought it would be fun. Then more ideas came, so I kept adding. More! More! But soon it just became stubbornness. Now, as I stare at 10000 words of meandering loon about a subject I'd almost rather be porn, I must question all my life choices.
Fenriff avatarFenriff
Someone on Gamefaqs asking the real questions. How mad would you be if halfway through the Mad Max game he stumbles upon a tribe of kids and the rest of the game is a lighthearted romp?
MeanderBot avatarMeanderBot
I think, for my first try, I drew a pretty damn good Ryu, if I do say so myself [img]https://www.filepicker.io/api/file/edB8UKLdSZep8ZSOYF8u[/img]
RexterNathan avatarRexterNathan
Really sad that Wes Craven has passed away. He made really fun films.
CJ Andriessen avatarCJ Andriessen
R.I.P. Wes Craven. I'll always remember you for A Nightmare On Elm Street, Scream and Red Eye. I'll try not to remember you for Music of the Heart.
OverlordZetta avatarOverlordZetta
So apparently Nintendo is taking down Mario Maker Let's Plays as fast as they can. Good job!
Snaveage avatarSnaveage
Phantom Pain is fucking glorious.
IDrawOnTape avatarIDrawOnTape
Anyone remember the cartoon "Freakazoid"? I'm doing artwork for a box for work to hold my supplies, but I cant remember some of the better characters. Freakazoid, Steph, Cosgrove, Candlejack, the Lobe, Caveguy... but who else?
TheAngriestCarp avatarTheAngriestCarp
Gotta love all those Dtoid community members that magically appear whenever there's a giveaway.
more quickposts


Contest!


Seriously

Invert site colors

  Dark Theme
  Light Theme


Destructoid means family.
Living the dream, since 2006

Pssst. konami code + enter

modernmethod logo



Back to Top


We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
Pssst. Konami Code + Enter!
You may remix stuff our site under creative commons w/@
- Destructoid means family. Living the dream, since 2006 -