Where no Freeman has gone before.
Gordon Freeman embodies mankind’s ultimate evolution, single-handedly fighting and defeating hordes of alien invaders with just a crowbar. He’s a scientist in the loosest of definitions, as his focus of study appears to be “kicking ass.” He wears one outfit for years, but somehow no one comments on the smell. Rambo Shmambo – Gordon is the world’s greatest action hero.
Which I suppose fits the new episodic nature of his life. Like Magnum P.I. or the A-Team, Gordon’s upcoming adventures will be distributed in smaller episodes instead of full-length movies. If Half-Life 2: Episode One (previously called Aftermath) is any indication, Half-Life 2: The Series looks to be well scripted and voice-acted, but offers very little that you haven’t seen before.
[image1]Episode One picks up at the exact moment that Half-Life 2 ended. Those who played through the entirety of that game will know that the ending was a bit of a dramatic letdown, as one is forced to assume that most of the major characters died. Well, with a little help from some aliens and, presumably, magic, all the cast members you knew and loved continue to live. Sorry for the spoiler, but that’s all explained in the first 30 seconds of the game.
The rest of the new story follows the now-continuing adventures of Gordon and his attractive sidekick, Alyx, who must escape City 17 before everything explodes. This conveniently leads them back into the belly of the enemy headquarters and out into the ruins of the city, all of which you’ve seen in the original game. With all the voice-actors returning to reprise their roles and the terrific scripting setting the gold standard for video game plot development, Episode One is delivered well, a treat for those who desperately want to know as much as they can about the world of Half-Life. It feels just as cinematic and downright cool to watch as its predecessors.
But this isn’t a movie or TV show - this is a video game, and there’s just not that much new in its gameplay. With no new weapons, abilities or environments, Episode One is lacking in compelling enhancements. The one new enemy, a head crab infested combine soldier, seems like kind of a cop out. It’s a bad guy wearing a crab hat. Big wow.
Speaking of cops, Alyx turns out to be tougher to kill than Freeman, thanks to unlimited ammo and incredible aim. Sexy and deadly, she’s the perfect action sidekick. Action-oriented FPS fans might have a problem with this, though, as often you have to depend on Alyx to destroy the aliens while you solve the puzzle aspects of the levels. You wind up using the gravity gun for much of the game, and while that’s still fun, it’s just not very new anymore.
[image2]Nor are the graphics, but they still rock. The folks at Valve even took advantage of some of the new features found in the top of the line graphics cards, with plenty of groovy new lighting effects. Older cards that ran the original Half-Life 2 still work fine, so don’t freak out if you haven’t upgraded recently.
The real question with Episode One is whether or not the content justifies the $20 price. Though short (with total gameplay running around 4-8 hours), the story is really told well and should adequately entertain fans. But the meat of any expansion - new environments, new weapons, and new enemies – is painfully thin. I suppose that’s why this is called an episode instead of an expansion, but rather than take issue with this new world of incremental updates, I’ll just go on record recommending Episode One. While I’d rather have a full game and I still hate the Steam download service with a passion, this is a worthwhile purchase for anyone interested in the further adventures of the toughest scientist this side of Buckaroo Banzai.