Half Life 2: Episode One: another top dollar FPS

It came out yesterday: the allegedly mediocre Sin episodes aside, Valve’s major foray into the world of episodic, internet delivered FPS gaming content.

What can I say: the worst thing about it is that the titling makes no sense (It’s part 1 of Part 2 of part 2!).

Short summary: for 20$, you get a solid chunk of gameplay (shorter than most expansion packs, but denser: I didn’t rush through, and it felt like a solid chunk of adventure that I was very happy with) that directly extends the Half-Life 2 story some more without trying to be Half-life 3. While it doesn’t add too much that’s new (two new enemies that you fight, two that you see that are setup for Episode 2, and a bunch of new behaviors but no new weapons, unless you count the flares) what it does do is carry forward Valve’s knack for always recombining familiar elements into combat situations, puzzles, and encounters that feel fresh. One of the reasons not to mind the running time is that so m

It also gets right, for maybe the first time, the idea of having a NPC companion in a game. Without giving anything away about all the neat twists and elements and comments, having Alyx with you in this game really enhances what was already well done in all Half-life games: making you feel like you are moving through a sequence of dynamic events, both immediately and implied, rather than just a series of boxes with monsters to shoot. They do a really good job of making you feel like you’re working together, and I never once had an issue where she got stuck or did something robotic (this game is incredibly well-polished). There were a few places in the beginning of the game where it felt like there was too much “trapped in a room, watching and listening” exposition, but by and large it all worked, and exposition is certainly something Half-life games could use more of.

The game also includes a commentary system which I’m definately enjoying on a second playthrough today. I played through without it the first time (giant rotating question bubbles sort of ruin the atmosphere, no?) Now I’m playing through again, but this time with the developers telling me at key points why they did this or that thing, what they tried and didn’t work, how they did it, and what they hope to do in the future. Really neat, and I hope all games start using this (Chronicles of Riddick is the only other one of I know of that has done it)

Finally, the preview for Episode 2 was simply awesome: overall I was disappointed with the Hl2 striders (awesome concept, but just too powerful and simplistic in how you have to take them on to be too much fun), but in ep2

these new mini-striders look to be the high powered fight I’ve been wanting.

A developer commentary in a GAME! Sweet. I have never seen anything like that. I have Chronicles of Riddick for Xbox (one of the best Xbox games, probably the best, fuck Halo, C-of-R manages to take a horrible movie and make an unbelievable game, rant over.) But I’ve never seen the developer commentary on that game. Is it only on the PC version of the game?

I’m couple of chapters in, and am enjoying it except for some tech problems. The game crashes after a while, usually with a stutter.

This is a well-known bane of HL players. The Steam forums are full of talk about this already. What’s really irritating is that HL2 plays fine, no glitches. This new game runs fine, but is apparently unstable. Frustrating.

Haven’t had a problem yet, and I too am a few chapters in. The game is just amazing. An improvement on all fronts, though I would have like to a see a new wepaon or two.

Oh, and HDR+AA is gaming heaven.

I finished it last night. Really great… once I got it running. Unfortunetly, I think I spent more time just trying to get it to launch than I did actually playing it. Some problem with my nVidia drivers: I launched the game the first time, and it suggested I update them. I didn’t, and it launched, but I was getting some stuttering, so I got the new drivers and everything went to hell. Finally got it going by turning off everything under the Advanced section of the video options. Game still looked pretty good, but it should have been so much better. Ah, well, I’ll check periodically to see if there’s an update and give it a second run through with everything tweaked out. On top of that, twice I managed to break the AI pathing on squadmates, once requiring a bit of backtracking to “unstick” Alyx, and once having to reload an earlier checkpoint because Barney got stuck in a pipe.

Despite all that, despite the number of times I cursed, “No fucking game is worth this much hassel just to start,” the game was totally worth that much hassel just to start. There were two absolutely stellar moments in the game, one scripted, and one not:

[spoiler]The part where the train crashes and Alyx is pinned by the stalker in the harness is possibly the single creepiest thing I’ve ever seen in a game. That was the scripted moment. The other moment was the cumulation of the fight in the tunnels. That whole sequence was great, but the very end, when the elevator finally arrives, I was cut off from it by a horde of zombies. A half dozen of the old school zombies, two “zombines,” and I think one of the dessicated, quick zombies. And all I had left was the pistol and maybe forty bullets. I was pretty sure I was screwed, when I saw a zombine pull out a grenade and hold it over his head to charge me. The light on the grenade stood out in the darkness, and I instinctvely aimed for it, detonating it while it was still in the zombine’s hand and blasting the entire mob into pieces. I literally cheered.

And then the game crashed.[/spoiler]

I love this game! It is short enough to beat in a single day, but for those few hours it is truly an epic experience. It starts off right where Half Life 2 ends, and if you ask me it’s worth the $20 just for the first 10 minutes.

Actually, it is possible to get Alyx’s new automaic pistol, but only by cheating. I discovered this a few months ago, by accident, from a glitch in a Half Life 2 level I made; I actually knew about Alyx’s gun before the game even came out! :smiley:

The developer commentary is something I hope (and expect) to see in future games. The game was short enough to play through in one afternoon, but it was fun to play it through a second time with HDR and commentary enabled.

One random thing I found really interesting (possible spoilers, but nothing major):

The effects on the citadel core are fantastic. What amazes me especially is that if you look at the sphere in wireframe mode (“sv_cheats 1; mat_wireframe 1” in the console) you can see the volumetric shader effects the guy talks about in the commentary: What you see in the game is a big outer sphere with a refraction texture with a smaller dark sphere and a few glowing circles on the inside. The actual model itself, though, is only one sphere, and the interior circles can be computed by comparing the normals of the sphere to the position of the player. It’s quite an ingenius effect from a technical standpoint.

The thing I’m most impressed with, aside from the awe-inspiring model of the citadel, is all the little behaviors they put into the NPCs. They gave Alyx new attacking animations, and she’ll make comments based on what you do in the game. If you turn off your flashlight in the dark areas, she says “Where’d you go?” and if you shine the light in her face, she’ll put her hand up to block the light. There are probably more of those that I haven’t even discovered yet.

If I have one complaint about the game, it’s that the ending sort of comes out of nowhere without anything really building up to it. It does make me want to play Episode 2 though.

Just finished it, and it was a blast. There were some Alyx lockup points, like the parking garage, where if you open the gate to go forwards before you plug the last nest, Alyx just stands there, or did for me. That aside, the game was tremendously fun, except for points where I was frustrated before noticing something I hadn’t before, such as an open door.

I saw the trailer for Episode 2, and all I can say is, if Alyx dies, I’ll be REALLY ANGRY. I LIKE that girl. Please please please let her live. I laughed at the "Zombine joke. :frowning:

It was way awesome. There was one part where Alyx got stuck. In the Citadel, there’s a place where you have to duck under an arch. If you mess up the debris around the arch, Alyx will stop moving once she gets near it.

But I quickloaded and didn’t have to go back very far. My other criticisms:
The Citadel was cool, but it also felt like a rehash of the end of HL2, and it’s not as fun to jump right back in with just the uber-grav gun. That part worked very well in HL2’s cycle of challenge and reward (riding the boat for a while gets really challenging, then they give you a gun; having to deal with tons of antlions, then getting to control them; etc), but I don’t like it so much as a beginning of this. It was still fun though.
The going back and forth part near the end got tiresome, mostly because of the infinitely spawning enemies.

Alyx has got to be the best developed FPS character ever. I loved her line about how she heard of Gordon’s exploits in air vents.
Really good job of capturing her movements as well. Whenever you come across stalkers, you can tell by her body language that she’s freaked out by them, even though she doesn’t say it.

I like what they’ve done with the barnacles. They added a new way to make them scary again by having some of them lie dormant and not letting down their tongues until you walk under them.
The Sin Episode really is kind of mediocre though, at least for $20.