43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
Episode One- A Worthy Continuation, 2 Jun. 2006
I think it's a fairly safe bet to assume that if you're reading this, you have played Half-Life 2. Now, right off the bat, let me tell you; Episode One is not a full length game, nor does it have the ammount of conent you'd expect from one.
There are no new weapons for the player to use, and only one new enemy to face (A zombified version of a Combine Soldier, apropriately christened "The Zombine" by Alyx). However, if you let this deter you, then more fool you.
Each of the five new chapters are entirely new, and the level design, in my opinion, FAR surpasses that Half-Life 2. While the basic premise is the same, (Kill enemies > Find a strangley conveniant hole in the wall > Move on) Valve have really upped the ante. Enemy placement is far more even; In the original, I found myself wandering for several rooms at a time before encountering a platoon of enemy troops, whereas in Episode One, there are very few rooms with no enemies, just as there are very few where you are swamped. Coupled with the decrease in the number of ammunation crates scattered around the levels, this gives almost the whole of Episode One a frantic nature, which certainly keeps you on your toes throughout.
The main new feature introduced in Episode One is that of co-operation. The female side-kick, Alyx Vance, from Half-Life 2 is now elevated to a starring role, as she follows you for the entire game (Or at least, 97% of it). Now, I hear you thinking back to the squad AI of Half-Life 2, and moaning at the prospect of being laden with it for a whole game. Not so. Valve has again pulled out all the stops in Alyx's AI department. She is no longer a hinderance, and, in times of low ammunition, she can be a great help. By shining your flashlight onto certain enemies, or immobilising them with the Gravity Gun, Alyx realises that you want them dealing with first, and will switch her aim to your target. Indeed, in many sections of the game, I found myself literally bullet-less, and had to rely on Alyx to get me through. She did, and did in style as well.
Another area of improvement is the Source Engine itself. While it was still an amazing engine running Half-Life 2, Source really comes into its own playing Episode One. With the introduction of new technology such as High Dynamic Range Lighting, and completely recoded Lighting Algorithms, it is easily apparent that Source is the future. Even on my aging graphic card (nVidia GeForce 4 MX), the game is still noticably prettier than Half-Life 2.
The primary criticsm levelled at the game has been the length. Let's get this out in the open now, this is NOT a long game. For myself, a fairly average gamer, the game lasted just over four hours. £15 for four hours entertainment is entirely your choice, but let me say now that at NO point in the four hours was I bored, as I frequently found myself during Half-Life 2's epic sixteen hour journey. This is four hours of what is quite simply, one of the best games I have ever played.
On a side note, when installing Episode One, it is a requirement that you install Valve's Steam service. Frequently cited as the primary reason for not buying the game, I too was cautious of Steam until I did some research into what it was. Steam is a small application which connects to the internet and downloads small patches for each Valve game you own. This takes (on average) less than two minutes. Gone are the days of waiting for game developers to release one large patch addressing multiple bugs and game balance issues; with Steam, Valve can address a single issue, and have the fix out to the public the day it is finished. Many people often claim that some of these Steam updates break their games, requiring a reinstall. Not to deny this, but neither I, nor any of my Steam using friends have ever encountered such a problem. Personally, I have never had any problem with Steam whatsoever.
To sum up. The easiest way to describe Episode One is like this; Imagine your favourite moment from Half-Life 2. Now make it four hours long. Worth every penny.