Saturday, February 7, 2015


The second game in this cult classic series.

Some call the first Half-Life one of the defining titles in the FPS genre. Six years after the original, Half-Life 2 did it all over again!
Eyz reviews Valve Software's iconic titles:

VGR: HλLF-LIFE2 or Half-Life 2 also known as simply HL2 or also λ²
From VALVE/Sierra Entertainment/Vivendi Universal Games/Electronic Arts
Played on Xbox 360
Also available on PS3, PC, Linux, Mac OS and Xbox

Type FPS
Year 2004

The sequel to the all-time classic Half-Life. Half-Life 2 is science-fiction first person shooter.

Like its predecessor, Half-Life 2 was once again developed by Valve Corporation. After spending a couple of years working on new ideas for what would become the game's new engine, and following over 5 years of production, HL2 would finally be released back in November 2004.

At the time the game had one of the biggest development costs imaginable. About $40 million-worth, which was completely unheard of back then. You can understand a lot of hype was built up around the incoming release of the game, it even had its own share of controversies included an infamous huge leak (a pretty much complete roughly final version of the game was leaked on the Internet).

The game was through Sierra Entertainment and later its parent company Vivendi Universal Games, which would then be closed down around that same year (yes, despite the excellent sales of the game). Subsequent releases of Half-Life 2 would since then be through Electronic Arts.

Taking over the ol' GoldSrc engine, a new engine was completely built up from the ground by Valve. Called the Source game engine, it actually debuted first with a new updated port of another Valve classic, Counter-Strike: Source. Source was (and still is to this very day) a very unique proficient 3D game engine unlike most engines. It doesn't revolve around fixed numbered versions but it is able to receive frequent updates punctually, an innovative way to look at gaming engines in today's ever-evolving market. Source is used for the game's visuals, audio and even AI. It was built upon an heavily modified Havok engine while using the original GoldSrc as basis (as such, there are still somehow remaining bits of id Software's own Quake Engine in there, as noted per John Carmack himself). It was particularly refined around the linear narrative-structure of Half-Life. It puts a big emphasis on realistic physics, but takes also care of complex graphics. It's flexible enough to render the cartoony look of the likes of Team Fortress 2 to the photo-realistic rendering of Left 4 Dead. It's adaptive and perfectly suited for most sorts of game, from your basic shooters to roleplaying games or puzzle games, MMORPGs, etc. They incorporated the best and latest technology from the rendering via Direct3D, to allowing elements from a very complex physics engine (based on Havok) while streaming online games, realistic water flow effects, modern lighting mechanics, etc.

Source has since become mostly popular with fans with its declination Source Filmmaker able to capture videos within the Source, the way in-game movies are created in these Source games, which is now readily available open for public use. And the fun Garry's Mod (more on that at the end) span from the Source engine.

A first demonstration was made public, created from a cut segment from the game. Called Half-Life 2: Lost Coast, it consists of a small level showing off as many effects and possibilities thanks to the Source engine, an impressive tech demon. The level was taken off from a small cut sequence taking place in this coastal cliff around the nearby invaded town.

If anything this Source engine is really impressive in how it is able to evolve along the technology and avoid the trappings in the usual model where developers would have to make the jump between versions with most engines. Source supports automatic updates. And it really shows in between each Episodes, despite still running on the same engine (more on that below). Valve could keep adding new features and make Source signifanctly better with little additions like particles effects, dynamic rendering, and more.

Half-Life 2 was also developed right alongside Valve's next biggest project (which continues to keep their entire focus to this day) - Steam! Impressively enough, with Steam Valve was able to finally help PC gaming get organize and it has since then become the default platform for PC games releases.

Following a fantastic reception at E3 in May 2003, Valve suffered a huge major leak right prior the original release date of the game in September 2003! Their entire internal network was cracked at the time, so many things were leaked online including the source code, most game maps, character models, Counter-Strike Source and even an almost-final cut of HL2! It really made Gabe Newell mad back then - the head and CEO of Valve. He asked fans to help track down the people responsible for the leak, if possible. The FBI (!!) was called in and they ended up arresting several suspected hackers. It was ugly...

Onto the story now!

Once more the player takes control of this silent protagonist, Gordon Freeman. The story takes place in a very unique world - following the incident at the Black Mesa Facility. Mankind is now living in this strange dystopian world. Earth took a turn for the worse. After the "resonance cascade" opened a rift in the world and these interdimensional creatures took over Black Mesa, this brought Earth to the attention of far worse and more dangerous beings. A "Seven Hour War" took place between these aliens, the Combine, and the entire forces of Earth. Our world took a huge death toll, most of humanity was killed or "harvested". And now people live as much as they can in this Combine-occupied planet. It is never much discussed in the game itself, and only briefly alluded to and mentioned on these newspapers clips you can glimpse around the city.

Gordon Freeman is kind of responsible for all this, in a weird twisted way. It all started when the scientists at Black Mesa started poking this alien crystal sample, which allowed all these enslaved alien creatures to cross over, including the Vortigaunts and all these headcrabs turning over the workers of the research facility into mindless zombies. Gordon Freeman fought his way through the Lambda Complex and he was able to take the fight to the borderworld of Xen and shut the rift down for good.. when suddenly this mysterious G-Man that had been watching Freeman through the entire game offered him a job.. before putting him in a stasis.

The game begins as Freeman is awaken and send to this place, City 17. Heart of the Combine empire occupation of Earth and home to the Combine Citadel. It is later revealed this old Administrator of Black Mesa, Dr. Wallace Breen, was the one that negotiated the complete surrender of the last remaining humans and he is now supervising the management of the survivors on behalf of the Combine. People can't have children anymore, because of this "suppression field". The Combine have installed a police state. They're also recruiting assimilated humans (and other alien species) to act as their puppets and police force. But hope is still very much alive, a "Lambda Resistance" is not that far behind, escaped humans and Vortigaunts are now working together. They believe Freeman is their savior! He will return, and be the one to appropriately lead them to freedom!

Freeman is inserted in this train arriving at City 17. He is detected, but quickly escapes the Combine forces and meets up with this other former Black Mesa employeem security guard Barney Calhoun! Barney (from Blue Shift!) is now working undercover. Freeman is introduced to Alyx Vance, the daughter of another former colleague of his, Dr. Eli Vance. They try teleporting directly into this Black Mesa East location, but due to a little incident involving Dr. Kleiner (another old aquaintance of Freeman) and his own little headcrab petm Freeman is forced to make his way through the entire city canal system.

Freeman is equipped once again with an HEV environment suit and a crowbar (you mean he was not wearing his suit for the first part of the game??). He gets to Black Mesa East off the city with a airboat. Freeman meets Eli and a few other resistance soldiers and scientists. Freeman gets to play with Alyx' pet robot D0g which (serves as a big disguised tutorial for the Zero Point Energy Field Manipulator). The rebels are under attack and the Combine capture Vance and a few others for repurposing, those are sent to a nearby prison. Freeman is forced to make his way through the headcrab zombie-infested town of Ravenholm, one of the last remains of the war of the invasion of Earth. Following a creepy passage through this town and mine, Freeman makes gets to this coastal road, and finally arrives for the attack on Nova Prospekt.

Freem reunites with Alyx and locate Eli, it was almost too late! They try to escape Nova Prospekt with barely any time to escape from this giant Combine teleporter about to explode! They actually teleport on time... only to find out it was a "slow teleport". An entire week has passed!

Alyx is captured and taken to the Citadel. Gordon, Barney and D0g go after her and break into the Citadel. In there, all their weapons are immediately destroyed, except the gravity weapon which overheats with the energy and gets strangely enhanced into this super gravity gun for most of the end of the game! Gordon is captured in a pod, and meets Dr. Breen. Like a good cliché villain, Breen exposes him his plans to conquer mankind, how he's been letting the Combine take over all along. This huge portal is destroyed with the super gravity gun killing Breen in the process.

As everything is about to be destroyed and our protagonists killed... time is mysteriously frozen..? The G-Man is back! He congratulates our hero for a job well done, he was growing tired of City 17 and its Combine occupation, and the Citadel, it appears. Gordon Freeman is put back into stasis, until he is needed again...

Like its precursor, Half-Life 2 doesn't use any pre-rendered cutscenes. The entire story is told in-game via exposition from the other characters and the scripted events witnessed around the player. No detailed documents revealing a complicated grand scheme, the entire backstory is only alluded to and glimpsed through the environment.

Onto the gameplay now. Half-Life 2 is a fairly classic first person shooter, one of the last of its kind for sure. Played from Freeman's point of view through the entire game. It follows the same linear continous structure of the first game, broken down into on-going chapters/stages each revolving around smaller segments only separated by short but frequent loading times, but not that annoying since they're usually quick and never found in the middle of fights.

The game features basically the same general structure and game mechanics of the original Half-Life, right down to its health and weapon systems. When not gunning down hordes of Combines or zombies, the game features lots of physics-based puzzles. The game employs a very linear structure but it's still able to allow enough room for exploration, which always rewards you with a surplus of life and ammo. There's even entire optional areas that can be missed if you keep to the main path.

There are several puzzles. One of the big features of the Source engine at the time was its really impressive detailed realistic physics simulation. So they made a good use of it through the game. These puzzles often playing with this new ability to pick up objects. Taking account of the shape and weight of the different objects. It's fun to be able to build your own staircases sometimes, which means there are often various approaches that can be applied to several situations.

Your start the game with very little weapons, but you build an entire arsenal over the entire game. Although you can't really rely on much outside a few segments, be it because of the little ammo available for it or the various conditions. You find these pretty fun alien "pheropods" that allow you to command these Antlions that infest the coast, but calling these insects won't really work anymore once you hit the later levels inside these buildings. There are all kinds of weapons ranging from your usual modern guns, such as pistols, shotguns and more to a few original "unique" weapons like this crossbow that shoots metal rods to a handful of fun alien tech (although on a much lesser scale than the original Half-Life's). The biggest addition is without a doubt the Gravity Gun, designed specifically to play with this new engine. You can grab stuff and propulse that quickly at your enemies ahead. You can manipulate heavy objects with it. You mostly will have to use it to solve most of the puzzle situations, but it can be fun using it to combat, to turn simple nearby objects you find around into potential deadly projectiles. The most fun is simply through these gasoline cans or buzzsaw blades at your foes.

The enemies are a varied bunch, ever-changing in relation to the story and where Freeman is currently located. Really smart AI, particularly from the more humanoid foes. From transhuman soldiers enemies working for the Combine as well as the various alien creatures under their control. There is a lot of tactics involved into the way you decide to approach these enemies. Larger groups can be a pain as they try to out-maneuver the player. Some will prefer a more direct approach, other might be completely unpredictable. They hide, cover for themselves, they try to hide back, etc. You're able to kill most enemies, but you can also either try using more indirect means sometimes, like using the environment or the dangerous hazards found around from explosives cannisters to traps you can play with.

Exploring an idea briefly touched upon in the original game (namely in Opposing Force), you can also have a few allies from the Resistance backing you for help during a few situations. You can even call them back to explore further with a couple of limited orders. But be careful because they can still die (unlike Alyx or D0g), and it's best to try keeping them around as long as possible, there's even field medics!

Several segments will have Gordon Freeman driving vehicles to move forward. There's a fan-favorite part (which I'm not a big fan of) with the "Junker"which you can "get a Game Over screen" if you either lose or destroy the car! At least Valve saw how annoying it could get and they integrated a locator of the vehicle on the HUD screen , so you can always find it back (it was absent just prior to the release of the game, in fact it wasn't implement yet in the leaked release right before the game was shipped).

The game has a lot going for it. It was easily the most stunning game available at the time. And even if the it lacks some shiny new current "next gen" features and has kind of aged since then, it still looks clean and "breathing" with life.

The game is really fun and original, it offers so many different experiences from the traditional "run and gun" from past FPS games (even modern multiplayer-based FPS suffer from that in my eyes). One of the most memorable sequences from the entire game is easily Ravenholm. It turns this fun light scifi shooter into a pure horror creepy game, almost like a survival horror once you notice how difficult it can be to keep once's health and ammo during that moment.

Continuing the tradition from the original, Half-Life 2 took even more direct visual cues from the Stephen King's short story The Mist. The original already took its idea having creatures from a parallel dimensions taking over the world during an accident (and it was originally going to be called "Arrowhead" from it). But HL2 draws even more direct influences and references from it. Such as a few designs of these big creatures, thanks to the advancement of the technology at the time. Both alien infestations resulting from a military experiment gone wrong, which opened this portal to another dimension.

Finally, a really big important aspect was the focus put on the entire sound department, crafting this very real world for the player to explore. The game is once again composed by the talented Kelly Bailey, already responsible for Half-Life 1. Bailey composed such a fantastic impressive score this time. While still inspired by some cues from HL1, he let it take its own different direction. The score is a lot more impressive and engrossing in its own way. Covering all kinds of mood and beats through this fairly long adventure. It ranges from sharp electronic rhythms to more instrumental pieces.

After such a long development, along the cut segment for Half-Life 2: Lost Coast, a lot of content had to be cut down and entirely removed from the game, only a few traces remain from it. The game was originally intended to be much larger (and it's already pretty big as it stands). It was set to have a much darker tone, a grittier direction, showing more clues to what situation was going around the world, with oceans drained for their minerals, horrible disfigured gruesome creatures running around from the experiments from the Combine. A ton of stuff would  be cut off entirely from the game (only a few of those ideas would be recycled in the later Half-Life 2 episodes). The game was to have far more diverse settings, going far outside the mere settings of City 17 - which only covered about the first half of the game. Some ideas were later recycled, but we never got to set foot on this small submarine ship, these whole planned Arctic regions (the "Borealis" heavily alluded to in the game) and this whole scrapped skyscraper building. Much more citizens-heavy, like the arrival at the train station.

Half-Life 2 is a very fun shooter, the best the genre could ever offer. It's a smart game, fun, well written and featuring really unique implemented puzzles you have to solve within the environment. Realistic physics at the time, which was so unique.

Apart from the Combine forces there's also all these different alien wildflife that now infest Earth, such as the series' iconic headcrabs that took over this entire creepy abandoned city block.

There are some lesser setpieces, such as the driving stages, but each giving each "chapter" a different tone of its own. From organizing an assault at enemy bases to taking over giant boss creatures or aircrafts. The vehicle segments are fun but can be a bit tricky or annoying on repeated later playthroughs. Thankfully they're all well thought and set along the story, never overstaying their welcome. There are some really original situations, there's always something new and different to shake things down so the formula never gets old.

As far as the multiplayer aspect go, the original release of Half-Life 2 on the PC came bundled with Counter-Strike: Source as its multiplayer component, which was basically a pretty standard but great upgrade of the original classic on the Source engine. CS is always great and fun. As of now, they've kinda ditched and ignored Counter-Strike for Team Fortress, but at the time they actually offered as well and meant for Half-Life 2: Deathmatch to be this game's multiplayer experience. A standalone version of both of those were released later on. Half-Life Deathmatch offers free-for-all combat. You get to play with gameplay elements within the original Half-Life 2 game, using the gravity gun each to their own advantage, making use of the physics. They also added a few features to it, a new gun and such. The game allowed for both a Deathmatch and a Team Deathmatch scenario (which I imagine was used as basis when they began working on what would evolve into the later Left 4 Dead)

Overall, Half-Life 2 is such a gorgeous looking game, highly replayable, and it just has such a unique atmosphere. It built upon what the first Half-Life offered and took it to completely new different horizons. It's not super short, but as far as FPS games go this is pretty decent and long enouigh. It really gets you through its unique musical atmosphere, ambient sounds, and the way the different creatures and Combine seem to react. It's a captivating enough story that get you involved. Highly Recommended!

Like the original, it was released to much critical acclaim, and went on winning several nominations all over the world. Countless "Game of the Year" and "Game of the Decade" titles. It was one of the highest grossing games of that decade and went on quickly selling over 7 million copies by itself in retail stores (not counting the subsequent copies sold on Steam since then), and it easily went on reaching the double since then. Thanks to all the awards it received, it went made it into the Guinness World Records!

In a way, it simply did the impossible - it did what the original Half-Life game did and surpassed it all over again! It became a new standards for the FPS genre (even if that was to a lesser extend since the original invented most of the basics already).

The game has very impressive physics and game design ideas. The graphics were great (even if they slightly aged since then).

The game received a lot of fan mods and support, thanks to SourceForts and Garry's Mod - a sandbox physics game/engine, an heavily modified "mod" for Source. Fans have even taken on themselves to develop a total conversion of the original HL through the Source engine!

The game would be ported to several current high-end systems. The original game was developed for Windows, and re-released via Steam since then. There was a first Xbox port by Electronic Arts, which kinda suffered a few noticeable downgrades while trying to keep as much of the original game intact as possible. That version lacked any form of multiplayer, had some frame-rate issues but it was otherwise decent. Valve's original idea was to bring HL2 to the new "next-gen" consoles at the time (the 360 and the PS3). The game came packaged with the additional expansions Episode One and Two, and a few bonuses such as having Team Fortress 2 serve as multiplayer and the funny/quirky title Portal - a unique fantastic puzzle game inspired by a few indie titles at the time when the those small developers were incorporated into Valve's team. 

This packaging collecting the entire "Source engine" series (Half-Life 2, Episode One, Episode Two, Portal and Team Fortress) was titled The Orange Box and was released for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. The 360 version was overseen by Valve, porting Source themselves, while letting the PS3 version in the hands of an external studio (there were a few issues with that port of Source, until Valve took upon themselves to work on the PS3 port of Portal 2 a few years later). It was such a perfect deal, all things considered. Offering all this experience for a pretty cheap price. All these titles were different enough, even amongst the Episodes having each its own pretty different tone and atmosphere, each its own tonal shift. Portal was truly unique unlike anything thanks to its take on a puzzle/adventure formula and its take on a HAL 9000-like figure. Team Fortress 2 being the biggest surprising comeback, this old little title usually considered second tier next to the more popular Counter-Strike back in the day - now completely revamped with such a fun cartoon look and really effective gameplay mechanics - it has now become one of the most played multiplayer games out there, still very much played every day by people all around the world, to this very day thanks to constant updates and additions.

The series was also since then ported to Mac OS X, Linux and as of now supports the Oculus Rift headset! Only the PS3 version really has some noticeable framerate issues, but nothing major. It still a very much enjoyable and fun game, on console or computer.

While Half-Life 3 has never seen any sign of life ever since, Valve released some additional levels and actual full-blown "expansions" that sort of work as direct sequels for now. Aside from the short but nice experience of Half-Life 2: Lost Coast, the cut segment following the "Highway 17" stage (kind of like the original Half-Life: Uplink with the first game), Half-Life 2 would also receive a first proper expansion in the form of the above-mentioned Half-Life 2: Episode One, immediately set after the events of HL2. And a later Half-Life 2: Episode Two directly tying the loose ends after the end of Episode One. These two "missions" taking place following the events of the main game. Valve originally wanted to set this "trilogy" while people were awaiting for a proper sequel. And there hasn't been any news regarding either a Half-Life 3 or a Half-Life 2 Episode Three ever since - and I'm kinda doubting we will ever do. Valve has since become famous for apparently not being able to count up to three (we'll see if we ever see a Portal 3, Team Fortress 3 or even Left 4 Dead 3 some day..). But for the meantime this will have to do, Gabe Newell sort of considers  these Half-Life episodes to be "essentially Half-Life 3". They should have titled these "Half-Life 3: Episode One" instead, since they do actually come with a few improvements to the Source engine, even noticeable visual updates. They were originally meant to work as a quicker way to offer new episodic content instead of having the audience wait several new years for a full HL 3 installment. Sadly it looks like this is just what we got anyway, since there hasn't been any news from a new Half-Life game this past decade, and now with Valve and their hands full working on smaller independent projects and Steam nowadays...

Still, there's more to discuss. The Orange Box pictured above, which came with the release of Episode 2, also introduced the world to a first person puzzle game, more or less sharing the same universe. In 2007 we all discovered Portal, which itself received a standalone sequel Portal 2 in 2011. But that will be for another time...

I give it:
3 / 3 Quacks!

VGR: Half-Life 2: Episode One aka Half-Life 2: Aftermath
By VALVE/Electronic Arts
Type Stand-alone expansion pack
Year 2006

Originally meant to be the first entry in what would be a trilogy of Half-Life 2 episodes, Half-Life 2: Episode One was released in 2006 and takes place immediately after the end of the events in Half-Life. In the now-war torn town of City 17. The game revolving around the effects of the aftermath of the main game.

The game was originally known as Half-Life 2: Aftermath. They switched the title back to the more generic "Episode One" name pretty late in, close to the release of this expansion. To support the new episodic structure. It was set to be the first arc in this planned new story trilogy.

Like the expansions from the original Half-Life, there were originally a few rumors the player would get to play as Alyx Vance in Episode One. Which turned out false, sadly.

It's a stand-alone expansion, which means it doesn't actually require the original game to be installed. It introduced several upgrades to Source, since Alyx was going to be a big part of this episode, better dynamic rendering capabilities were more important and they added an all-new upgraded facial animations system.

Following the attack on the Citadel, time stopped as our heroes were about be killed by an explosions. Suddenly a few Vortigaunts appeared to rescue Alxy. They were also able to prevent the G-Man from getting Freeman back. Our heroes wake up outside the Citadel, in a pile of rubble in the street. D0g helps them both get back to the city where they find Barney with the resistance, fighting for the city. Meanwhile Kleiner is broadcasting instruction through the city, to help people evacuate. The main objective revolving around trying to get back to the train station as the Citadel is about to blow up for good. To get as far off the city as possible, as this shockwave from the blast is about to hit the entire area...

Episode One puts a lot more focus on character development that moving the actual story forward. Most of the game revolving between the interaction between Gordon Freeman and his friend and female sidekick Alyx, who accompanies him the entire game here.

There's been a lot of damages to the Citadel, everything's coming to ruins. There are a lot of fights close quarters, both around the premises of the Citadel and City 17.

A few new enemies are introduced (mostly the scrapped Stalkers from HL2 originally). The player gets to explore much of the glimpsed areas in the Citadel.

Overall: This "Episode" falls in between your more traditional add-ons and actual proper sequel, like I said it was originally going to be just the first chapter of this pseudo "Half-Life 3" broken down to pieces.

At the time it was received to much positive reception, but also received its fair share of critics. The principal problem with this game was how it tried to develop the characters while putting too much focus on combat. There's also far less other things you get to do unlike in the original HL2. As such it offers very little actual variety. And it's also pretty short, even by expansion standards. It takes about four hours max. to explore everything (it gets even worse when you consider this was originally released as a standalone title!)

There's more fun interactivity you get to play with, specially in regards to Alyx. The AI was also greatly improved. But aside from that, there's nothing much new to it. At least Alys is still great companion AI, with some actual depth regarding her character. 

They tried surprising the player as much as possible and keep things moving and interesting. But there are very little new ideas brought in, nothing new really. More emphasis on combat and the co-operation with Alyx.

It's without a doubt the least good entry of these Half-Life 2 titles. Pretty short and the story leaves you hanging for more, "in-between".

I give this one a: 1.5 / 3 Score! 

VGR: Half-Life 2: Episode Two  
By VALVE/Electronic Arts
Type Stand-alone expansion pack
Year 2007

Release in 2007, Half-Life 2: Episode Two is the second and sadly last episode for Half-Life 2 released to this day (and I doubt we will ever get to see the final episode one day, there's more chances for a proper full-length Half-Life 3 by this point).

Both these first two episodes were developed concurrently by separate different internal teams.

Episode Two was originally set to be released alongside two different Half-Life packages - a "Black Box" for PC only containing Episode Two, Team Fortress and Portal, and the "Orange Box" only originally slated for consoles containing the entire game series (including the original Half-Life 2 and Episode One). But finally only the Orange Box was released in the end.

While Episode One didn't add much, Episode Two tries to focus on completely different more open expansive areas, giving the player the ability to explore and backttrack through these huge environments. There's also several situations in which you have to defend these positions and fight these big impressive nonlinear battles, stand your ground to survive these onslaughts.

Following the events of the Episode One, the player can finally now leave City 17 behind for the nearby surroundings, into the wilderness!

The game is about seven new chapters-long. It revolves around this journey to an outland Resitance base, taking place in this White Forest. After the destruction of the Citadel, the Combine is seen trying to open this massive superportal to call in reinforcements. The last of the Combine forces is scattered through the region. They're trying to alert and get help from the Combine Overworld  (which I'm sure most fans would have loved to get to explore in Episode Three, I'm sure...). For now the Combine's currently disorganized. Freeman and Alxy have to get all their informations back to the Resistance to prevent an even greater and more dangerous Combine invasion or this will have been for nothing. Running around the woods are these all-new deadlier Hunter. A couple of Vortigaunts will help, even healing our heroes. They will have to travel under the radar, go through several places including a junkyard. We even get a glimpse of this Aperture Science vessel supposedly carrying powerful techoology ("Now you're thinking with Portals"?).

While the gameplay was not really changed, the game mechanics were played with a little. Offering a radically different experience from the original game. Valve made this Episode a bit more focused on these big expansive open-world environments, this forest just outside City 17, away from the usual claustrophobic urban setting and long straight corridors of the Episode One. Much of these new levels revolving around these big battlefields you have to survive.

There's a new "Muscle Car", reminiscent of those car segments from Half-Life 2.

Valve was not really interested in coming up with new weapons at the time, instead more interested in having the player experiment with the Gravity Gun as much as possible. 

The game is generally much longer than Episode One, about 2/3 of the original HL2's length, easily.

A few more new enemies are introduced this time though. Each featuring its own more complex AI as well. Such as these big Combine Hunter and new classes of the Antlions.

The game also finally explored the mysterious Combine invaders, by introducing those creepy Combine Advisors creature to the lore.

They made big new updates to this "Source 2007" update, such as the addition of visual improvements regarding a couple of so-called "next gen" features, like motion blur, dynamic lighting and shadowing and other particle effects. Most textures were also pretty much improved, from the characters to the objects.

Overall: Episode Two was a much more decent expansion.

Because of the abandon of the Half-Life series, for now it will have to work as the temporary conclusion to the franchise.

Even if the engine showed some signs old age in the past titles, Valve was still able to make this new entry interesting and surprise us. With new mechanics ideas amongst those innovations.

Episode One didn't try much, but this episode opened up the exploration to this nearby forest. The Gravity Gun is still very much your best friend to survive. There are a lot of open areas, more outside places that completely change the way to approach combats. There's lots of intense segments and new things to do such as a big fight against a chopper. The game still has such a unique great atmosphere, one of the biggest aspects of the Half-Life series.

The only real issue I have with it is how it keeps asking new questions and answering so very little. The entire sideplot revolving around the enigmatic G-Man keeps intriguing and captivating us, despite moving so slowly (and with no chance for any resolution any time soon now..).

I give this one a: 2.5 / 3 Score! 

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