Review by LtCardboard
"The race to White Forest is on!"
Episode 2 picks up where Episode 1 left off. The game follows Gordon and Alyx as they head to White Forest in order to give vital intel to the resistance leaders. Meanwhile, the resistance are planning a nuclear launch upon the unstable portal created at the end of Half Life 2, in an attempt to erase it. Half Life has never been known for its masterful plot, but Episode 2 certainly improves, quite significantly, upon the story telling ability of the series. For once, one actually cares about the characters, as the plot is a lot tighter and a lot more intimate. It's far more focused on the characters, Alyx Vance in particular and, as a result, there's a far greater sense of involvement in the story this time round.
The gameplay is as excellent as ever. Episode 2 has a number of new enemies, such as antlions which fire acid and the deadly Hunters, a combine gunning robot which is fast and agile. These new enemies add variety to the gameplay, but once again, it's the set pieces which shine. As intense as always, you'll be taking on hordes of antlions using gun emplacements, shed loads (literally) of zombies and, in a breathtaking final set piece, a dozen striders using a new sticky bomb weapon (all while banging along to the always excellent soundtrack!). The set pieces are, for the most part, unique to this game. The only things that haven't been approached in a new way are the zombie fights. This is excellent, as the set pieces provide fresh gameplay, not seen in the series before. Nevertheless, the core gameplay remains the exact same, and for the most part, if you've played Half Life 2, you know what to expect. If you enjoyed the past games, I've no doubt that you'll love this one too.
Episode 2 also sees the return of vehicles, this time in the form of a car. The car lacks a gun of any sort so, unfortunately, it's mostly used for transportation purposes only. Nevertheless, it provides a welcome alternative to the running-and-gunning, something that Episode 1 sorely lacked. The car is used sparingly, and you'll always look forward to hopping into it again.
Episode 2 is a reasonable length, placing itself somewhere between Half Life 2 and Episode 1. Fortunately, there isn't a single dull moment in the game, and the plot is vastly improved. It's a better game than Episode 1, no question, but most surprisingly, it's comparable to the original Half Life 2. A side by side comparison would reveal Episode 2 to be more consistently excellent (the original had a couple of dull moments), yet less varied than the original (due to its length). While it does introduce a couple of new styles of gameplay, it's the similarities that hold Episode 2 back from being a true masterpiece. Half Life 2 was released way back in 2005, and the formula is showing its age. The source engine doesn't pop like it used to, and the gameplay, while still excellent, hasn't changed enough from the original to be unforgettable. After all, there's only so much you can get out of one engine and, unfortunately, it seems as if this limit has been reached. It's a bloody good extension, but it still feels like that an extension. When people look back, Episode 2 will be remembered not as its own game, but as a part of Half Life 2. Then again, what greater honour is there than that?
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 02/08/10
Game Release: Half-Life 2: Episode Two (EU, 04/11/08)
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