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'Half-Life 2' continues in 'flawless' fashion

June 13, 2006|by ROWAN COPLEY

"Half-Life 2: Episode One" is a game that involves zombie extermination and a race to escape ravaged City 17 torn apart by rebels opposing their alien oppressors, featuring the return of Gordon, a mute, crowbar-wielding theoretical physicist and his awesome sidekick, Alyx.

It's the first sequel to "Half Life 2" (Valve, 2004, PC), one of a trilogy of "episodes," each about six hours of gameplay ("HL2" was about 15 hours long), to be concluded by December 2007. Each episode will probably cost $20.

Picking up right where "Half-Life 2" left us, "Episode One" begins with a very basic premise: the Citadel, of which Gordon (the protagonist) and sidekick Alyx blew the top off in the climax of "Half-Life 2," is unstable and is going to blow up the whole of City 17. Thus begins the race to escape the city.

"Episode One" adds a few things to the already incredible graphics of "Half-Life 2," such as High Dynamic Range lighting, making shadows and highlights far more visually stimulating. Valve is a master atmosphere crafter. The immersion you feel in this game is amazing.

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But the best part about "Episode One" is, hands-down, Alyx. She is an entirely fleshed-out game person, who talks, fights and behaves completely believably. Valve has done an incredible job making Alyx so believably human.

The pacing in "Episode One" is flawless throughout the game. However, it doesn't feel like anything but an extension of "Half Life 2." That's still a good thing, but I hope to see "Episode Two" (due out in November) innovate beyond the fight/solve puzzles/explore formula.

"Episode One" provides just enough storyline between the dazzling scenes to keep us guessing, extrapolating and wanting more.

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