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Half-Life 2: Episode One Review
publisher: Valve Software
developer: Valve Software
PIV 1200, 256MB RAM
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Jun 01, 06 (released)
|» All About Half-Life 2: Episode One on ActionTrip|
Certainly, everyone expects us to review Half-Life 2 Episode 1. But, let me ask you this: Would any sane critic review 'The Sopranos' episode by episode? "This episode was very good, 8/10; the next one wasn't so good, I gave it 7/10; granted, episode 3 was just a build up to the events in episode 4, but you know, it's my job to review these episodes as they are aired." That just doesn't make any sense, does it? Well, it's the same with episodic gaming if you ask me, and especially with the single-player FPS genre. Even more so with Valve's games, which strive for that interactive movie experience.
I get it this late in the game?!
Gah! Stop pointing that thing at me!
Granted, I do understand why Valve is doing this (They view the gaming public as Cash Cows in desperate need of milking? -Mo). They want to provide us with the content, they want to offer us glimpses into their Half-Life opus, while not being bound by the technology creep, which would almost inevitably force them to build the 'proper' sequel to Half-Life 2 on a brand new engine. And that might take years. Then again, the more cynical of you could argue that Valve is only doing this for the money, but I don't think that would be fair to the company (Guilty as charged -Mo). Sure, the financial aspect of cashing in on these episodes (20 bucks a pop) is appealing to any company that wants to reap the benefits of its hard work. Valve in particular has showed remarkable resilience in that sense - shunning the publishers in favor of an original publishing and distribution model - but the very fact that you could tell your story this way without being bound *too* much by the downsides of developing a full game for six years are clear I think.
That said, however, it is my belief that us games journalists are walking into a trap by following the 'standard procedure' when reviewing these episodes. If anything, let's try to contain ourselves by actually scoring entire 'seasons', as there really is no point in scoring each of the episodes individually. Sure, you could score it on the merit of the 'rollercoaster ride effect', but that might not be fair to the game taken as a whole. I may have made a mistake by scoring Sin Episodes: The Emergence, but at least Emergence had a beginning; from now on, AT will not give scores to episodes. I will rather just wait for the series to end before passing my numerical judgment. Use this review as a very simple 'yay' or 'nay' guide to buying Episode 1.
So with due apologies for this rather lengthy explanation of our decision, let's carry on with the review.
This thing's about to go 'BOOM!'
End credits already?!
As you could probably guess from my 'subtle' innuendos in the opening paragraphs, Episode 1 doesn't offer any answers as to what's going on in the game (I'm shocked! -Mo). Episode 1 kicks off right where Half-Life 2 left off, and from the get go, it's a rollercoaster ride through the rather familiar levels of the game. The first episode sadly doesn't offer the same dynamics and the varied expansiveness of the levels that we saw in the original. The 'wow' factor of the gameplay itself is also drastically reduced, as players won't be treated to anything they haven't seen in HL2. For all intents and purposes, you will be playing the same game, just a couple of more levels of it. As such, these levels are intense and action packed. The use of ad hoc puzzle solving is superb and Valve is still showing why they are masters of the genre. One noticeable, yet very subtle difference is the sporadic inclusion of humorous lines by Alyx. This gives the game even more personality and cinematic value.
Alas, nothing truly spectacular happens in Episode 1. It's clear that it is just a build up for the main events to come. Forty or sixty bucks from now, we may be treated to some really spectacular and novel scenes. This naturally brings me to the main point of the review. Should you shell out twenty dollars for Episode 1? The short answer is that you should most definitely try to rent it instead. While the gameplay still has its spectacular moments, with more lifelike character than ever before (simply put, Valve still beats any other FPS developer hands down), none of this seems to justify the price tag. That's the bottom line.
Yes, I believe that every self-respecting FPS aficionado should play the continuation of Half-Life 2, but we shouldn't be played for fools either. A good MMORPG in contrast will offer infinitely more content and hours of gameplay for 15 bucks a month. I'm not saying that the episodic content model is bad; it's not. It definitely has its good and its bad sides, but the pricing should be modified accordingly. Episode 1 offers 4-5 hours of gameplay. If you can, rent it instead.
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