Not only is this one of the most cinematic adventures you’ll be able to enjoy on your PC, but it’s also one of the best first-person shooters to come out in the last years.
Half-Life 2 was an amazing game when it came out, and at the time it really felt like a suitable follow-up to the original Half-Life, but something that most players weren’t quite expecting was the former’s unpredictable cliffhanger. City 17 was about to blow up and then suddenly credits start rolling and the game ends. Fortunately, and rather than start working on Half-Life 3, Valve decided to release episodic content to keep telling the same story and even though Half-Life 2 Episode One is really short, it provides one of the most well delivered first-person shooter experiences ever created.
The main objective of the game is to escape City 17 as your actions have caused the citadel’s core to be extremely unstable. Alyx will be your main companion through almost the entirety of the adventure and this provides the game with a really nice change of pace as it gives you this unique sense of companionship, making the episode not only more satisfying but also extremely memorable. One of the main things you’ll probably notice is that the episode is divided into just 5 different chapters, revealing that it’s much shorter when compared to Half-Life 2. The story does go to some uncharted territories, but while some important questions are clearly answered, some other intriguing ones are raised and when you eventually reach your final destination the game will undoubtedly leave you wanting more.
From a gameplay perspective, there have also been some attractive changes, the main one being the superb mixture of combat and puzzle-solving. The Half-Life series has always managed to include both, but for some reason, they’ve never quite blended together seamlessly or at least not to this extent. In this episode, you’ll have an opportunity to solve puzzles in the middle of fights against many enemies and this makes gameplay much more dynamic. Furthermore, the fact that Alyx accompanies you on your journey to find a way out of the wrecked city is also meaningful to the gameplay, mainly because she’ll be fighting alongside you. It should be noted that at times, you’ll need to protect her and if she dies that’s an immediate game over. Nevertheless, for an AI character she’s great and she knows how to take cover, protect you and she’ll point out what you should be doing next in order to progress with the story.
But her inclusion isn’t only as a simple assistant as she’s also used as comic relief and her dialogues provide some of the sharpest writing on a game. Most of the secondary characters are also featured and their involvement is pretty meaningful to the story. For example, when D0g first appears he does it in an incredibly notable and distinguished way. On the other hand, some other features feel to have been reused like the setting, enemies and the arsenal of weapons. Most environments have been completely recycled, but the fact that most of them are in ruins changes them enough to justify their inclusion. The exact same arsenal is also included in its entirety, but you should definitely pay attention to it or you may finish the episode without using certain weapons at all.
Though these features give a sense of déjà vu Episode One still includes some strong moments. A few minutes after the game starts there’s a compelling twist in which a failed experiment turns your gravity gun into a completely different weapon that allows you to pick up and throw enemies at will. As you don’t have any other fire arm to use against them, you are required to use it to defeat the soldiers. Additionally, this weapon is really handy to manipulate other objects, to solve puzzles and open doors or create bridges, making it both resourceful and extremely satisfying.
Unfortunately, no vehicles were included in Episode One and this is an odd decision indeed, especially considering how prominently used they were in Half-Life 2. Also, enemies feel a little more intelligent overall and they are challenging and will act accordingly, still, don’t expect them to coordinate complex tactics or anything like that.
Graphically, the episode looks pretty good. The Source graphics engine has been reused for this game, but it has enough new additions like better lightning and improved open space sequences and shadows. All these technical improvements help create the unique atmosphere the game is so well known for and it also allows characters to be more expressive and lifelike. Aurally, the game is also outstanding, probably because the same voice cast is present in this follow up. As I already mentioned, witty dialogues were included and the terrific voice acting definitely enhances the sharp writing.
Overall, Half-Life 2 Episode One feels like a natural continuation of the story rather than a forced sequel. The only minor shortcoming with the game is that it’s way too short and tenacious players will be able to finish it in one sitting without much trouble. The episode is over in 5 to 6 hours and the conclusion ends up in yet another cliffhanger that’ll be continued in Episode 2.