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.