Half-Life 2: Episode One
Critic Reviews add missing review
Average score: 83% (based on 52 ratings)
Average score: 4.1 out of 5 (based on 149 ratings with 6 reviews)
One word. Alyx. Alyx made me love this game. I have never been so attached to an NPC in my life. Her facial expressions, reactions, conversations, and friendliness are so astounding you forget you're sitting there playing with a digitally created character. Alyx covers your back, saves your neck, and even gives you a warm hug during the course of the game. (Most gamers reported tingling sensations during the hugging sequence.) ; )
The source engine, after a few tweaks here and there (namely facial muscles and HDR), still looks good after a couple of years. It's not the best graphics out there, but I was still impressed while running it in 640x480 (High Detail) on my Radeon 9550. Once I made the upgrade to the X800GTO I cranked the settings to high and at 1280x1024 and the visuals were mindblowing. Every rock and car is ground out to the highest detail, the citadel is like nothing you've ever seen, combine troops eyes glow at you from a distance, the black rappel ropes fling effortlessly through the air like they were... real ropes. Whoa.
The AI of the creatures was markedly improved, combine zombies (zombines) can track you down quickly and always seem to pull a grenade right when you don't have the gravity gun handy to whip it out of their hands and send it flying.
The difficulty settings were also better, I played the game all the way through on the hardest setting and actually had a few levels where it took me quite a few tries (10 to 15) to get past certain sections. Normal difficulty was just about perfect, not so easy that you coast through the levels, but not so hard that you can't get past them without being a pro.
I loved the fact that the game never seemed to go into "time filler" mode. Even though it clocked in at 7 hours for me on my first play (on Hard), they were the most action-packed 7 hours of my gaming life. I had trecked through the citadel, met familiar and unfamiliar enemies, gunned down endless creatures and troops, and fired probably one too many RPGs for my ears to handle.
Valve has done was has been very hard for gaming companies to do over the years. Create a game with characters we care about. We laugh at the so-brilliant-he's-stupid Dr. Kliener's, we honor and respect Dr. Vance, we feel like we're with an old war buddy when we're with Barney, and we guard Alyx with our life because... well you have to to win the game. ; )
There is much more is this short but deep adventure that I enjoyed, but I'll leave it to you to uncover.
No new weapons, no new characters (one new baddie), not much for new level design, just more of destructive ol' City 17.
The combine soldiers still seem stupid. Must be those crazy outfits.
I know Valve does this on purpose, but it still bugs me. I want to know more about what's going on. I've been through all the FAQs, all the Stories, Guides, Walkthroughs, with very few of them shedding any new light on the story of Half-Life. Information is given to you in morsels, and you are expected to continue trudging through the game relying only on tidbits of interesting data and dialog. But then again... maybe that's why I love playing this game, because we all have fear, and we always fear... what we don't understand.
Valve tantalizes our taste-buds time after time with this series, it's a beautiful love/hate scenario. We love what the games give us and yet hate Valve and Steam for the waits and the cryptic storylines, and yet again, that's why we keep coming back.
The Bottom Line
Debris are flying through space... Dr. Breen's ominous words echo through the digital panels... you are sucked back into the middle of an explosion... time stands still.
The soft rumbling of a familiar robot pierces your sensitive ear drums, you hear a familiar voice... someone searching... Alyx. The debris is lifted away and you are greeted with the overwhelming disaster that you have just created. Welcome... to Half-Life.
The Half-Life series (to me) is not about what's revealed. It's about what's NOT revealed. So much of the story and information that could be revealed isn't, they only tell you what you absolutely need to know. Nothing more. Nothing less. Every piece of data that you learn is critical, and should be well-taken note of.
Get ready for the ride of your life through a game (series) that will not be duplicated for years to come. "Action-Packed Adventure" is now the understatement of the year.
Half Life 2: Episode One, and the rest of the Half-Life games may or may not be your cup of tea, but it's one that I'm going to be sipping from for a long time.
Windows · by Ian Badeer (19) · 2006
So, the story of Gordon Freeman and merry aliens will finally be finished with the three episodes post-Half-Life 2 with this being the first of them.
I was never a big fan of Half-Life 2 as I felt it was too much of the old. The original Half-Life was the reason I got into FPS's, though. I never found Doom/Quake etc to my liking but HL was something I liked. It had a bit of a plot and level design had some interesting ideas and of course the scripted events were pretty new back then. Trouble with HL2 was it was too much of the old. From a gaming perspective there wasn't that much new even though the rest of the FPS world had moved on. Far Cry had massive outdoor areas and clever enemies. F.E.A.R. was scarier and had clever enemies, as well. Deus Ex was the perfect combination of FPS and RPG with an interesting plot. Freedom Fighters managed to turn an FPS into a team-game with intelligent team-mates and an excellent command system. And so on. And many shooters had included multiple ways of solving situations. Deus Ex and Far Cry in particular excelled in this aspect. HL2 didn't, it was still mostly a long run through a tunnel, just like the original HL. It wasn't a bad game but hardly the best FPS ever despite the hype.
Episode One is a sure-hit for people who liked HL2, as it's really mostly same old, same old. Level design is unfortunately less interesting and really a waste considering the setting. A city in turmoil would allow some interesting scenes and areas but mostly the game consists of running in cellars and other uninspiring areas within that city. Apart from the first area which isn't very interesting at all just like it wasn't in HL2. Somehow almost all of the areas are very confined and I can't figure out why. Why do I have to move through narrow passages all the time? Where are the large buildings with large, open interiors (sometimes the areas look big, but your movements are still hampered in some ways)? There really aren't any unforgettable levels in Episode One, and that is a shame because the game looks gorgeous and it does have a few neat tricks in its sleeve.
The most important one is Alyx. Without her the game would actually be quite boring for long periods. Especially the dark cellar areas are made a lot more interesting with her doing most of the shooting. She also makes up a lot of the atmosphere with her comments. Faithful to his style Freeman, I think, says exactly one word in the entire episode...
With such confined areas it's also hard to tell whether the enemy AI is good or not as they have very little space to maneuver. I like the Combine soldiers as enemy, especially the sound they make when they die. The new zombie type is, however, annoying more than anything. I suppose the best tactic is to shoot it from afar, but that's hardly possible in the small areas that Episode One is made of.
Confined areas also mean that the player is forced to play most areas in just the right way. He can't think of alternative routes or tactics - something I enjoy in an FPS. Rhythm of the game isn't quite to my liking either. I like to have slower and less action-packed areas to catch my breath once in a while but in this game the breathers are too short. It's practically "one room and after you open the next door, back to shooting beings". There's also a few annoying areas that I wish they had thought more about before releasing them. HL2 had a much better rhythm and as for the latter, it's like a bad version of Ravenholm in a few situations. Ravenholm, at least, was large (or made to appear like it) and managed to create a sort of panic in the player. In Ep One these areas are just annoying.
Being the first episode of the final part of the story, Ep One doesn't really move the plot forward at all. I personally don't get the point of Episode One. I'm sure some will love it, but for me it's not a very good shooter, has very little plot and is short. After all this time developing it one would have expected a little more, especially considering Valve didn't have to spend an awful lot of time developing the game engine.
Episode One is not a bad shooter. It's just average. A bit like a BMW. Technically brilliant but mostly bought by boring people. There is nothing to get excited about. If you have $20 burning in your pocket and nothing to do on a Sunday, you might check this out. But be sure you start the download on Saturday, it took me most of the night to get it.
Uninspiring level design, short-lived. Doesn't really move the story forward. The price is also quite high considering that 20 dollars gives you about five hours of gaming. That would only give you 10-15 hours for a standard price game, and most people think it's too little especially if the game is nothing special.
This episode also has its share of perhaps the most annoying feature of any FPS: the "ambush". With "ambush" I mean any situation in an FPS where you die the first time you get into it but after that it's easy to get through because you know what to expect. Suddenly falling through something into a very nasty place is a common way of setting up an "ambush". I think it's unfair to the player. Sometimes you do manage to get through the situation in the first try, but there is one particular scene that is just ridiculous.
The Bottom Line
Same old, same old, but with smaller and less inspiring levels. Quickly played and quickly forgotten. I'd expect a little more for $20 (almost $25 with taxes).
Windows · by Marko Poutiainen (1151) · 2006
Episode 1 gave fans of Half Life 2 and the source engine something we all wanted: more game to play through. Not a true expansion, it simply gave more interesting levels, dialogue, and even a few enemies to shoot through. The levels sport more of the quirky and unique level design found in Half Life 2, including a few neat, object based puzzles to get through, some interesting firefights, a couple of familiar, fun battles with gunships, and plenty of dark, underground places infested with zombies and Headcrabs. There's also a new twist added to this batch of levels: you fight alongside Alyx through almost the entirety of the game.
For what is essentially a 20 dollar level pack, it has about as much bang for your buck as a box of wet fireworks. Most players beat the episode in about 2 hours, at least according to Valve's recent statistics regarding play time.
And really, the game feels like a project that was procrastinated on until the last minute. Many portions of the episode are just familiar reruns from Half Life 2: for example, the first weapon you get is the super gravity gun, and you yet again use it to tear through enemy troops. One level is just a very short strip of obstacles leading into a train station, but you have to slowly lead four groups of people through it and into the train station, one at a time, before you can continue. Several portions of the game have a rather boring and annoying process where you have to 'plug up' a series of antlion burrows before you can continue, by putting cars over the holes with the gravity gun. It was interesting at first, but by the end of the episode you've done it 4 or 5 times and it's just another long, tedious process necessary to continue.
The constant presence of Alyx, while adding some interesting dialogue and a new dynamic to the game, quickly erodes your patience and goes from interesting to a hassle. Her comments are odd and out of character and really disrupt the mood of the game, especially during the tense, scary portions where you fight zombies in the dark. While an interesting addition, a bit more 'time off' from her during the game would have been fitting.
Fans awaiting answers to their questions from the last game's story, or at least an approach to some resolution for what has happened, will be sorely disappointed. There is barely any plot progression, and nothing that happens throughout the entire episode is unexpected or revealing.
The Bottom Line
Episode 1 is not an expansion. It adds no new weapons, only 1 new model, and doesn't touch on the story at all. I knew this before ever playing the game, but I was still perfectly willing to pay for some more high quality levels and play time.
But, for what is essentially a map pack with a 20 dollar price tag, there is hardly any content. 2 hours of play time on what is mostly old, re-used gameplay concepts and map design is a pretty raw deal. Fans should be perfectly willing to skip this title to save themselves a buck. The low amount of content simply cannot justify it's price.
Windows · by Andrew Bruck (3) · 2006
The expansion does attempt to add some variety by putting more emphasis on combat without the use of firearms, both by using gravity gun and co-operating with AI companions.
Unfortunately, it doesn't actually offer anything new when it comes to puzzles or mechanics, and mostly just recycles design ideas from the main game.
The Bottom Line
A minor attempt to set this expansion apart from the main game is made, but ultimately it fails to provide actual variety. It's not actively terrible, though. 5/10
Windows · by Pegarange (216) · 2023
After the ending of Half-Life 2, players knew it was not over. What they did not know however was that the expansions for HL2, would be released in episodes, there are reportedly going to be 4 total. Which makes me wonder why did Valve just not finish the all the episodes and release it as one game.
In Half-Life 2: Episode One, Gordon Freeman has just defeated Dr. Breen, and triggered an explosion of the citadel. At the end of HL2 the mysterious G-Man has rescued Freeman, from the explosion. Oddly, HL2:E1, does not pick up here. Instead, the Vortagons, help Gordon and Alyx. The G-Man is seen only once in this game, as are many others, such as Drs. Kliner, and Vance.
In this episode Gordon and Alyx must escape City 17, and help the now free humans flee as well. Along the way they will battle Combine troops, Zombies, including the new and very fierce Combine Zombies, as well as Head Crabs, etc. And solve some “puzzles”.
In the very beginning, HL2:E1, is much more solve the puzzle, than action oriented. The latter half of the expansion is more action based.
Valve made the right decision here by having the player once more assume the role of Gordon Freeman, the mute savior of the human race. Unlike the expansions for the original game which had the player being others. All the weapons return in this expansion, but many seem to take awhile to obtain. And the gameplay is similar with some new twists.
Aside from the new monsters. Episode One is also different than most FPS, in that instead of being alone, Alyx is with Gordon 98% of the game. And serves as a fellow combatant, as well as another first for FPS games, a love interest for Gordon. It is interesting to hear her flirt with the still non-speaking Freeman. Although it is more of we don’t hear what Gordon says, than he does not speak. And do not worry about keeping Alyx alive, as she cannot be killed, and is quite capable when it comes to combat.
The Graphics as in the original are amazing. Even set on their lowest setting. Realistic looking characters and environments abound. As well as most excellent lighting effects. Rag doll physics courtesy of the Havok engine.
Sound Effects and Music are up to par also, as we have come to expect. The voice acting is as good as it was the first time, as is the music and effects. And the game also has new music, almost all of it is new in fact.
There is another first here, in the form of commentary. Yes, Episode 1 has a commentary track. Activate the icons, and a member of Valve will talk about the level, or monsters, etc. An interesting, if strange addition.
This game is way too short. Clocking in at about 3-5 hours, this game can be finished, in one day. And yet it is still $20, although I got it for five bucks cheaper. This game should retail at 10-15 dollars, not 20.
I would have rather had one big expansion, than, four smaller ones.
The Bottom Line
Overall, Episode One, is just as enjoyable as HL2, so needless to say, HL2 fans will have to play this game.
Windows · by MasterMegid (723) · 2006
...does a better job of hiding its linearity than Half-Life 2?
Then again, it might just be because it's so short.
Episode One is mostly worst parts of Half-Life 2 mixed with some really really bad design decisions. Such as: Focusing the game on Gordon/Alyx relationship while Gordon is still a mute; Alyx doing everything for the player through first half of the game, then turning into useless groupie in second half; Putting player in dark, underground areas with flashlight lasting ten seconds; Having the obligatory "defend for x minutes form infinitely respawning enemies" section in said area; Combining grenade-wielding zombies with an NPC which blocks your way and some tight corridors; Using scripts to make things dumber, not smarter, such as reprogrammed rollermines automatically exploding exactly when when all enemies are dead and Combine soldiers charging out of cover straight at sniper positions. The story doesn't make any sense at all - Alyx uses her gizmo to mysteriously "zap" various things, which ends up with her getting some super sensitive Combine data. So the only logical thing to do is run around all of the City 17 drawing fire so that a dozen civilians can escape - escort missions, who doesn't love them. The game is predictable as hell - with only Gravity Gun in the Citadel we don't meet any enemies at all, but as soon as it's upgraded to being combat-worthy the levels swarm with Combine soldiers who never seem to drop their weapons because hey, it's The Blue Gravity Gun Section, and all the physics puzzles are same as first time around, and so on, and so on.
The Bottom Line
That's one afternoon you will never, ever get back.
Windows · by Peta Michalek (8) · 2010
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Critic reviews added by chirinea, Jeanne, Marko Poutiainen, Francesco Sfiligoi, COBRA-COBRETTI, Wizo, Patrick Bregger, Spenot, CalaisianMindthief, Yearman, Cantillon, vicrabb, Sciere, tarmo888, Xoleras, Solid Flamingo, Riamus, Spindash, yenruoj_tsegnol_eht (!!ihsoy), Tim Janssen, GTramp, Emmanuel de Chezelles, firefang9212, Scaryfun, lights out party, Alsy, Alaka.