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Half Life 2: Episode 1

Recently re-released within Valve's Orange Box, Half-Life 2: Episode 1 was naturally the first episode released for the greatly acclaimed Half-Life 2 (HL2), followed a year later by the aptly named Episode 2. Initially entitled as "Aftermath", Episode 1 was generally well received by critics. Surely all Valve needed to do was release more content in the style of HL2 for this to be a great game, right?


Fighting alongside the irresistible Alyx
I will start by saying I want to avoid giving away too many spoilers for those who may not have had the chance to try this out yet. Conversely though my first spoiler is there isn't many. It is of little surprise that you, still playing as the subdued Gorden Freeman, are still alive after the ominous explosion while on top of the Citadel.

You spend the first half of this, at most 6 hour episode, wandering around the mediocre lower citadel levels seen at the end of HL2. There are some decent set pieces - above all fighting alongside the irresistible Alyx - but by and large there seems to be a lack of flair on display. Re-using the same scenery and some unimaginative puzzles becomes a tedious and depressing experience; one I was sadly hoping would end soon.

Once escaped from the Citadel by means of a stylish set piece, you find yourself back in the war zone that is City 17 itself. The pace barely picks up, mainly thanks to the frustrating scripted scenes with Alyx. Be it not for her unlimited charm, I would quite literally be introducing hopper mines to her elegant contours.

The level design does get a little more enjoyable thanks to the more open feel of being outside, but the general gameplay still fails to make an impression. An example is the repeated use of the gravity gun to push cars into holes, from which infinitely spawning Antlions appear. This is a tedious enough chore on its own, but to have to complete the same routine several times while being constantly attacked is just irritating.

Still, after that there is some fun to be extracted, even though this is again somewhat marred by re-using the same locations from the original for most of the time. It's not until the final slice of this episode which entails an epic encounter that the quality and pace picks up a notch.

Brand spanking new HDR effects
The engine used is essentially identical to the one seen in HL2. This is no bad thing, since the general look and feel can still impress, even if it is starting to show the signs of aging. The physics are always a joy to play with; most objects can be picked up and hurtling them into anything and everything is still amusing. The animation and facial expressions are still top class, bringing life and emotion into all of it's characters. The brand spanking new HDR effects seen here are still the best to date, and helps keep the game look modern and easy on the eye.

Gets the heart pacing during the heat of the battle
One aspect easily ignored in the HL2 series is the first-rate voice acting. The script and dialogue hits you with enough emotion to care about Alyx, despite the rest of the games failings. Elsewhere, regrettably, there is little to get excited about. Since the majority of the sounds are re-used from the original HL2 it is largely forgettable. The tempo and style of the music on the other hand still gets the heart pacing during the heat of the battle, which peculiarly provides a welcome respite to the rest of the game.

A good user made mod
You might have sensed an edge of negativity in this review. If you have just thought that, don't expect to get a degree in psychology! Seriously though, don't let this review put you off trying it. It's basically available for free inside the assortment king The Orange Box. The problem I find with this Episode is that for the most part, it's disappointing. Over-use of scripted scenes with Alyx tends to slow the pace down; too much of a good thing just makes it average. There is a distinctive lack of new content, and only a peppering of story continuance. In essence the best way to sum up this first expansion is to compare it to a good user made mod, which isn't good enough considering this from Valve.

  • Great voice acting
  • Nice new HDR effects
  • Alyx!
  • Repetitive gameplay elements
  • Nothing much new
  • Too short


7 out of 10


4 out of 10


8 out of 10


8 out of 10


7 out of 10
POBmaestro | 25th October, 2008

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