Review by Wolfvie
"Episodic gaming at it's high point"
Some almost eighteen months after the release of Episode One, "Half-Life 2: Episode Two", the second piece of episodic content for Half-Life 2 has finally made it's release onto store shelves and to put it lightly it's an absolute cracker of a game. Details? Read more to find out
Episode Two's storyline continues directly on from that of Episode 1 as now, Gordon and Alyx after narrowly escaping City 17, must now journey deep into the surrounding mountainsides and forests to rendezvous with their allies at the Resistance military base known by many as White Forest'. The game's plot keeps at a consistent pace throughout the games 7-8 hour length, and will constantly keep you at bay with exciting new plot-twists and epic cinematic events. Be warned though, the game ends with an almost brutally cruel cliffhanger. I won't give anything away, but those expecting a nice lengthy wrap-up, be warned.
While still running on Valve's aging Source Engine there's a noticeable improvement in both the game's animation, texturing and character models since Valves previous outing. The environments are highly detailed and cover a wide-variety of previously unexplored locations such as an abandoned mine, insect infested tunnels, a dense forest, a vast green valley, train yard and factory area, a mountain trail, a deserted mountain-side village, a riverside location and many more. The attention to detail is simply incredible. While lacking the mild horror-vibe and apocalyptic environments the previous games excelled so well in, the game more than makes up for it in beautiful lush green landscapes, clear rivers and streams and towering mountainous ranges in the horizon.
The dynamic lighting effects are excellent (as always) and the games draw-distance has been greatly improved. The frame-rate is kept at a consistent 60 fps pace all throughout the game, and graphics-wise, the game is visually the most appealing in the franchise.
The game as always, reprises the franchises great sound design and to a certain extent improves on it. The game's voice acting is stronger than ever before and all the voice actors make a return to play as their ever so memorable roles. Music as in previous games is not exactly the games strong point but is very good none-the-less and the sound effects are at the top of the class. From the weapons which sound quite alike to their real life counterparts, to the fuzzed muffle of the Combine intercom, as far as sound effects go, Episode two's are brilliant.
Like in Episode 1, the game adds in a number of new game mechanics to make the game still feel new and fresh. Those expecting these numbers to be a plethora, will probably be rather disappointed as the game still feels very simular to previous titles in terms of gameplay. Not that this is a bad thing though, it just feels very simular to it's predecessors as there hasn't been enough gameplay variation between the titles. Thankfully the game makes up for this with it's great level design, brilliant puzzles and overly brilliant gameplay.
Minor issues aside the game makes up for it in possibly the best chunk of gameplay the series has seen thus far. One segment in the game has you underground in a small resistance occupied base setting up turrets and defending the main base from a series of relentless Antlion assaults. These parts of the game really set it apart from the other generic FPS games which seem to be plaguing the very likes of the games industry at the moment. The game follows a simular formula to that of Episode 1 and for about half the game Alyx will accompany you through the games 7 intervals/chapters. Unlike Episode 1 though, teamwork is only a minor element, as it seems Episode 2 is mainly centred around an old beat-up buggy you and Alyx will use to traverse and navigate some of the games later levels.
Gunplay is still great, and as in previous instalments, Gordon has a large arsenal of firearms to use at his disposal. All the old favourites return as well as a few new ones notably- the Magnusson Device- a sort of sticky-bomb device which can, with the help of Gordon's Gravity Gun (still the preferred weapon), be hurled at some of the games new enemies causing mass damage, which not giving away in spoilers, proves to be especially useful in the game's last chapter.
Speaking of new enemies The game introduces quite a few new enemies into the Half-Life Universe. Most notably The Hunter'. The Hunter is basically a sort-of mini strider that, while lacks the size and brute strength of it's large spider-legged counterpart, it makes up for it in it's speed and agility, which can be quite annoying, especially when encountered in groups.
While still very much a linear game, because of the games environments, a few of the games later levels seem a little more open-ended than in previous outings which is good or bad depending on what way you look at it. Because of the game's more open-ended structure it makes for a few epic large scale battles, unfortunately though, these levels make for a slight lack in puzzles (but still not as significant as in Episode 1). While the actual puzzles may not be as plentiful as in Half-Life 2, some might consider them as arguably superior, and truly utilize the power of the physics engine (and Gravity Gun) to a level not seen before in other FPSes. Episode Two's AI is on-par or above Episode 1's AI and while not quite revolutionary, it is still very impressive.
The game is a little longer than Episode 1 (thankfully) but still hardly scratches the surface of Half- Life 2 (length-wise of course). All up it could last you anywhere from 5-8 hours at the most and compared to the twenty something hours the original HL2 offered, so I can see why many people would be disappointed especially when considering the game's overly extended development time. As in Episode 1 the game suffers a dreaded lack of additional features and replay value, which, would have brought the game down a considerable level had it not been for quality over quantity. As with other Valve's previous games Episode 2 is absolutely steaming with quality and high production values. (An updated deathmatch mode still would have been nice though). Overall an improvement in gameplay over the previous two titles despite the lack of any new innovative features.
Much alike Episode 1, the control scheme is much like that of Half-Life 2. I don't have to go into detail obviously because the majority of those reading the review will have already played/completed the previous two instalments so control-wise it should be almost intuitive. That said, the control method, as usual is excellent. The aiming is tight and responsive and the vehicular controls are no longer as slippery and loose as they were in Half-Life 2.
Now for a quick revision
+ Story is grand and brilliantly paced.
+ Best chunk of gameplay in the series thus far.
+ Level Design= Some of the best I've seen in recent memory.
+ Very strong and compelling voice acting.
+ Visually outstanding.
+ Excellent control scheme.
- Slight lack of new game mechanics.
- Lack of additional features; moderately short.
Better pacing, a fresh change in environments and brilliant plot development make for one of franchise's best games yet. Bring on Episode Three!
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 08/28/09
Game Release: Half-Life 2: Episode Two (US, 10/10/07)
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