One cannot speak about the Half-Life history without mentioning the idea of episodic content, a concept that has determined the development of the series after the launch of Half-Life 2 and, in a certain way, the whole industry reacted. It’s interesting that although Valve were the pioneers of this approach, they are also the ones that have applied it in the most unexpected way. Initially, we were supposed to receive 3 episodes in one year, a great idea, even if it seemed like pay-per-view, which players were not used to and did not care for much – this was proved when the community responded to charging for the horse armour in Oblivion.
After this initial promise the time-frame goes hectic, Episode One is launched but is as short as a football match (ok, extra-time included) and Episode Two is postponed several times. Still, no one can contest the fact that Half-Life 2 is a great game, that the screenplay has room to develop and that the people at Valve have a unique way of capturing our attention with a great story and excellent gameplay, so every time one of their titles ends the conclusion is clear: it was worth the wait. But for Episode Two this time was ridiculously long: almost a year and a half between the launches, given the fact that the engine was created, the characters known, the weapons functional and the marketing in place. We’ll probably never know why it took so long.
This title starts exactly where the last part ended, with the train we boarded, running from an area about to be destroyed. Alyx is still with us, but we have no more weapons, so the little lady will offer the Gravity Gun. We can now admire what we have been waiting from the first trailers – open spaces, woods, rivers with well recreated water – the only mention is that there are barriers placed in a less than natural way so we will still start exploring caverns and corridors.
The first hours are, just like in Episode One, composed of killing some Antlions, solving a small puzzle based on the physics in the game (the implementation of the Havok system is still impressive). Then comes a scripted event and Freeman loses consciousness, but is still able to notice important details for the story about to unfold. And yes, we’ve seen all this before.
This first part presents two new enemies, one is a Antlion subspecies called Worker, that uses as a main attack a toxic acid that acts as hail as it is made up of more particles. Taking in a full load of this type will cause major damage and the parts where these maxi-insects are working against us are not the easiest in the game. The second enemy is the Hunter, a smaller Strider which is extremely hard to put down, very agile and can easily move in the same environments as Gordon (there are long sequences when such an enemy keeps following us through houses, woods or basements). These creatures are indeed important parts of Episode Two, but just like the small order of fries at your favourite fast-food place I am a little disappointed because I could have digested more novelties. Another small disappointment is the fact that there are no new weapons, there is a small gadget the game introduces as a weapon, but it’s just an accessory used for small periods of time.
As the game progresses, the initial familiar sensation disappears and we get caught up in the story again, there are many open spaces and we’ll be able to drive another car (a modified Dodge Charger) on more types of terrain. Then you join old friends, the story gets more fluent and the game becomes much more adhesive with fierce fighting sequences against varied enemies and in different locations. This time we have a more important team gameplay because Alyx is no longer the only one Gordon is working with.