Half-Life 2: Episode One Xbox 360 Review
Episode One is a bit short, perhaps a bit too short. Unlike most of the other games in the Half Life 2 series, namely the 2004 original and the brand spanking new Episode 2, you never get a feeling that the game has hit its stride, and as a result the set pieces never really reach the highs you expect them to. Furthermore, the game is not quite as easy to fall in love with as the rest of the series due to the distinct absence of brand new ideas. However, even after this borderline scathing intro that is not to say Episode One is a bad game. In fact, compared to the copious amount of run of the mill FPS releases of recent years the game is godly, and Valve easily trounce most of the competition out there. The only problem with the game is that Valve did not want to try and top themselves, thus making Episode One feel like a fun-sized attempt at the Half-Life formula rather than the all encompassing KitKat chunkiness of the original.
Of course, having more of the same of something that is already so good is not necessarily a bad thing, but in truth you can’t help but feel disappointed by the lack some true leap forward. Many aspects you’d expect to make an appearance, such as new weapons, enemies and locations do not materialize, and instead you are left to tackle most of the same situations you’ve experienced before. This is never more evident than in the game’s first level in which you are literally tossed, yes literally, back into the same citadel which bore the brunt of a rather large explosion at the end of the first game. Familiar gameplay ensues with you having to take down the last of the straggling Combine that are confined within. After this introduction your rest of the time with the game remains in the confines of the streets and buildings of City 17.
Thankfully, even though you are playing through familiar levels Valve does a good job of mixing each level up to try and keep things exciting. Although fans should already know what to expect from City 17 it is nice to see the developer is not afraid to regularly move from street battles to indoor dogfights, and then jump back and forth multiple times as you go. Antlions and Combine will fight each other in the streets letting you pick both of them off before they even see you. Also, Zombies now seem to play a much bigger part in this episode, with even ‘Zombines’ (those are grenade-wielding zombie combines) making an appearance. Overall, just like the original, the game excels at setting a good atmosphere, and you really feel like this city is going to hell as you struggle to work your way through it throughout the game.
There is some solid change on show though, particularly with Alyx now playing a much bigger part this time round, becoming your AI controlled co-op partner throughout most of the game. As you work your way through the levels she always remains close at hand making many competent decisions to help you as you struggle to get out of the confines of City 17. For an AI character most of her decision seem staggeringly human, more human than the ones most of us would make while playing with a friend in other FPS titles. For the most part she is handy enough with her pistol, offering great backup for the first few levels. She is also quite proficient at taking out any combines or zombies that get too close with a quick well placed roundhouse kick, something that even the great Gordon Freeman cannot do. Also, speaking of things that the one free man is not quite proficient at, Alyx is also quite good and getting into places Gordon cannot, and hanging back to use a sniper or gun emplacement to help you out from a distance. Interestingly, if your health is low she also seems to take note and tries up her game and put that little bit more effort in to help you out. This is truly great work by Valve as it offers another layer of humanity to a character already steeped with believable personality and emotion.
As with the 360 release of Half Life 2, a game which also takes pride of place in The Orange Box, a nice selection of Achievements are also thrown into the fray. Once again they are well thought out ones to give the game so extra longevity. Perhaps the hardest of the bunch is the one titled ‘The One Free Bullet’ which tasks you with playing though the whole game but only firing one shot. However, you can still use you grenades, your gravity gun, the rocket launcher and the crowbar, but stuff like your shotgun, magnum and pistol will have to be tossed to the wayside if you want to get your hands on the points. This is not only a great Achievement but in actual fact it could be one of the smartest Achievements included by a developer yet, as it makes you want to play the full game again, but play it in a different way which makes the whole 3+ hour trek fun all over again.
With the games storyline confined to locations situated around City 17 Valve really did not have many new features to play around with in Episode One to truly amaze gamers. Naturally, having the lovely and high capable Alyx Vance as a constant companion throughout the game is a welcome addition but you can’t help but feel very limited. Nevertheless, having this game as part of the Orange Box is a good decision, and with access to the other two Half Life games preceding and following this title the limits of Episode One are well masked. Sure, it may not be the best game in the series, but it is still quality, and is certainly a must for fans.
Not the best Half Life, but still better than most.