Day 332-- Half-Life 2: Episode One (2006)

The Half-Life game series continues to amaze me. As entertainment, they work exceptionally well. But they work almost just as well in a story-telling sense; as technologically ground-breaking as the game is, the interaction between the characters and the on-going story (and the questions raised over the course of the series) are what really draw me in.

Half-Life (1998) introduced Gordan Freeman, the player-controlled protagonist throughout most of the series. A skilled theoretical physicist, Freeman is caught in a devastating accident that ends up ripping a portal open to another world. Freeman survives the chaos as aliens and military units collide, the latter sent to 'clean up' the mess (i.e., kill all witnesses). Half-Life 2 (2004) is set two decades later in an alien-controlled Earth. Freeman ends up a mythical figure leading the human resistance, and eventually cripples the aliens and their human puppets (the Combine). This is where the game ends.

And that sets the stage for this game. It's easy to play if you don't have any history with the other Half-Life games, but for people that have been following the series since the late '90s it's quite rewarding. Episode One (2006) is the first of three 'episodic' games released (the second should be out in the next few months). They're shorter in length than any of the other games (about 4-6 hours of game play), but they're also inexpensive.

Playing again as Freeman, you wake up outside of the burning husk of the Citadel, the hub of operations for the Combine. With the help of Alyx Vance--daughter of an old co-worker and reoccurring character--Freeman manages to preventing the Citadel's nuclear core from melting down. From this point, Freeman and Alyx try to escape the city, getting as many civilians as they can to escape. Episode One ends on a cliffhanger, and let me tell you--it's intense. Better than many movies I've seen, ever.

What makes this game (and the other Half-Life installments) shine over other first-person type games are the brains and heart behind it. Instead of just shooting everything in sight, you have to be creative to overcome obstacles. A Combine soldier hurls a grenade at you and Alyx--you could run, of course, but you could also use your gravity-manipulating device to hurl the grenade at a stack of barrels that will collapse on the soldier and crush him. You also learn to care for the characters, especially Alyx. She's not just a computer-controlled character that acts as a second gun in a fight; she's a friend. In an abandoned hospital that's infested with zombies (humans that have succumbed to a parasitic alien), she makes scary noises in the dark to lighten the mood. She makes small-talk to avoid focusing on the atrocities the aliens are responsible for. She encourages you as you try to take down a tank with a rocket launcher.

Episode One is very exciting, and it just looks great. Without Episode Two coming out soon, I'm anxious to see what happens to Gordan and the gang.


posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/03/2007 08:32:00 PM,


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