Monday, June 05 2006 @ 12:00 AM CDT
Half-Life and Half-Life 2 are both Game of the Year winners and have received countless awards. Their single player story telling has always been amazing in a genre where many games do not take the time to explain why you are killing everything that moves. Valve created an engrossing story and several expansions for the original that kept fans of the series always wanting more. Episode 1 has been released and so behind Half-Life episodic gameplay with three planned.
Episode 1 is the first of the planned trilogy. Each episode will run for $19.99 and do not require you have Half-Life 2 to play. Though these are essentially little expansions I do like that you do not need to own Half-Life 2 to play, but puzzled as why you would want to.
The game starts exactly where the last one ended with you atop an exploding Citadel, with your sidekick Alyx Vance waiting emanate death. Thatís about the entire story we are going to cover.
Fans of the Half-Life series will be pleased to see yet another well written story added onto the Half-Life universe. Levels remain pretty linier and have plenty of scripted scenes to keep the player on their toes. Playing through the early parts of the game though, it does not really feel fresh as you kill back through City 17ís environments.
To help add some eye candy though episode one continues the budding love story with Alyx as she is now attached at your hip. Unlike most games that struggle with the AI of the buddy system, Episode 1 never hits a moment where you need to stop and yell at the AI to react how you want it. To make her more then added firepower there are actually some impressive moments where you will need to work as a team. Shining your flashlights on zombies before she blows their heads of or playing bait boy and setting up the bad guys to be sniped. Valve really did an excellent job with her and it helps to carry the game.
Graphically the Half-Life 2 engine is still stunning. With the addition of the HDR lighting that was showcased in the Lost Coast demo it adds a lot to the City 17 atmosphere and still doesnít take a heavy hit on your system. Not much can be said other then visually this engine is hard to look bad. All three episodes should have no problem being released on the same engine and still look current. The Half-Life 2 engine is still ahead of itís time.
Fans of the Lost Coast demo loved the audio commentary. One of the most rewarding aspects on a DVD is the director commentary I have always felt. A good movie can be made even better when you hear the director talk about how specific scenes were accomplished. Episode 1 brings us the audio commentary which, once enabled, can be accessed via chat bubbles sprinkled throughout the game. The commentary has the developers mainly offering insights about design decisions that influenced sections of the game. I really wish more games would do this and think it is one of the best forms of reply value around.
For a $19.99 price tag for either the digital download from Steam or the boxed copy from a retailer this game is worth picking up for any gamer. Though overall the expansion doesnít provide a lot of new locales to kill through, the addition of Alyx at your side helps you forget you have killed here before. With the addition of HDR lighting, the audio commentary and the fact it can be played as a standalone product and also gives you deathmatch online play Episode 1 is a great deal.
While I am not sold on the episodic content trend I think the industry is going to take a swing towards, Episode 1 provides about five hours of gameplay for the average player. I would much rather play four or five hours of well scripted gameplay then and entire game of slop. As with all games Valve releases, Episode 1 may just be the best expansion we have seen on a first person shooter even if it does call itself an episode.