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Half-Life 2: Episode One

Half-Life 2: Episode One is a first-person shooter, released 2006 by Valve Corporation. It’s the first sequel to Half Life 2, and the name is additive. This means it’s not the first episode of Half Life 2, it’s Half Life 2 plus the first episode of whatever comes after Half Life 2 (common wisdom dictates that this would be Half Life 3, but that term is nowhere mentioned), except it doesn’t contain Half Life 2, causing people all over the world to be very confused. Anyway, it’s followed by Half-Life 2: Episode Two (I bet you didn’t see that one coming!), and some day there will be a Half-Life 2: Episode Three, too. Those three together will apparently form Half Life 3. Whatever.

In this game, scientist-turned-hero Gordon Freeman has to use all his skills, not to save humanity or free anyone, but rather to get to a train station in order to escape a city that is going to explode soonish, more or less thanks to his actions in the previous games and the enemies’ reaction to them. The twist to all this is that he isn’t on his own. Rather, he takes Alyx Vance, a daughter of an old friend and love interest, with him. Unlike most if not all other computer-controlled sidekicks (including herself in Half-Life 2), Alyx actually works very well.

Oddly enough, while people all over the world agree that it’s basically a better game than the original Half Life 2, it gets consistently lower ratings. This is partly because the game is rather short compared to it’s original price, but also because the game did not improve as much over time as the rest of the industry, or at least the reviewers’ targets.

The Trains

I know I might spoil this for you if you haven’t played it yet, but the result is that he reaches the train station and gets on the last train leaving town. Well, frankly, if you are surprised that, you’re weird, so I don’t really care about spoiling it for you anyway.

Razor

However, before you board that train, you board a different train first, with exactly the same intention. It’s one of the dreaded Razor Trains, and this time, you get a look at the inside, too!

It's dark, depressing, and filled with screaming creatures that look like humans, except they are extremely skinny, can only scream and have their limbs and forehead replaced with metal implants. While it is never mentioned during the game, I assume the car also lacks air conditioning.

The odd creatures in there used to be human, but got turned into mindless slaves by the Combine, this game’s evil alien overlords. It’s really not a nice train to be on, no matter what way you look at it.

As always, it’s a fictional train, so it’s hard, if not completely impossible to make out anything wrong with it, except that it’s twice as high as any other train in the game. You’ve seen what the Combine does with humans, would you put it past them to increase the tunnel height on all railroad tracks they use? Actually, I would, since that is a major investment, while the Combine are really only intent on running earth down and stealing every last resource they can, but hey, what do I know.

Through the Underground

You will notice that the train, well, comes a little undone

No matter what, the world around you is falling apart, and pretty soon, your train derails. So now you are left in a large, underground maze, formed by old traffic tunnels, parking houses, subway stations, electricity substations, sewers, air ducts and occasionally just plain old basements, connected through ways that are sometimes plausible and sometimes not. You will fight all kinds of enemies (including ones that destroy themselves if you leave them alone long enough. Unfortunately, they won’t leave you alone long enough) until you have a huge fight in total darkness, illuminated only by your flash light, and finally escape to the light using an elevator that is the only way out of a subway station you appear to have entered. Finally on the fresh air, you will see the huge destruction and hear a speech about how significant this is. Chances are you’ll be so blown away that you forget to ask the most important question:

What the hell was that?

Good thing I’m here to remind you to ask that question.

The subway station has stairs to enter the station. From there, you will go down using an elevator.

The problem is that subway stations don’t have elevators, or at least not as the only way to get to the platforms. Never mind that this station appears to have neither platforms nor tracks, if it looks on the surface like a subway station, I’ll apply subway station criteria, thank you very much. Anyway, an elevator is just damn slow. If you want to move lots of people (and if you didn’t, you wouldn’t have built a subway in the first place), escalators or even just plain stairs are much better.

Last Train Leaving Town

You will battle enemies of all kinds, shoot lots of stuff, find some refugees that have the same goal, separate from them again to protect them, well, the usual. Finally, you will get to do something useful: Lead civilians and others about a hundred meters to the station, over and over again, until you got them all on the other side. Sounds easy, except the enemies do all they can to stop you. Oh well.

The Repair Shop

A significant part of that fight takes place in a locomotive repair shop, and that’s where things finally get somewhat interesting again.

There are two locomotives in there, one of which used to hang from some kind of crane, but has partly fallen down since, so it hangs there at an odd angle.

There is one thing very odd about this depot. You will see two locomotives in there. What you won’t see is a way for them to get in. Sure, there is a very high gate, and it is implied that you can get in that way, but the transfer table that holds one of the locomotives does not go through there. It’s also not possible to get the locomotives out using a crane (while this is really as bad an idea as it sounds, it has been done before, on the Glasgow Subway until 1977), as the crane doesn’t go all the way through the gate either.

Do you know what else is odd? English language warning signs in an eastern european country.

It says very clearly: Danger, admittance to authorized personnel only

You will pass that way many times, bringing all kinds of rebels through while being shot at and shooting yourself, until all of them are safe and sound. At that time, you will enter the actual station.

You will have to fight a few minor and major enemies and finally arrive at the last train leaving town. Alyx will be very happy and urging you to board the train as soon as possible, but if you can’t spare a few moments to inspect trains, then what’s the point in saving the world in the first place?

Riding the Rails

For the most part, this train is just your average Half-Life 2 train, with all the normal freight cars and, of course, the odd engine that looks like it is half of a double engine. However, there are two special cars in there.

They are passenger cars with porches at one end.

Wikipedia incorrectly classifies this kind of car as a caboose in their article about Episode 1, but that’s wrong, as a caboose looks completely different and was never used in the soviet union anyway. According to the developer commentary, these two cars are supposed to be a blend of caboose and passenger car.

Ah, where to begin with them. Cars with open porches were used in most countries for some time, but they always had two of them, at every end. This one has only one. In all of history, there is only kind of car that uses such a layout, the american business car. This car was used mainly for VIP transportation (and other special duties, like track inspection, if there was a lack of VIPs), and the porch was used so that they could look out and hold speeches right from the car.

However, such cars are particular to North America, and as far as I know, were never used in Russia. That’s not enough, the porch is woefully incomplete.

While there are the basic frames to attach a roof and a ladder to it, the roof and ladder are missing.

Honestly, what’s the point? Well, the point is that you get a good look on what happens after you leave, which involves some larger-scale mayhem, of course, but it still sucks. A roof would really not have hurt that much, and why put in bars as if to add a ladder if you don’t put in the bars themselves?

Alyx will hack the computers that control train movement and you will head out. All that is left for you is stand on the porch of the last wagon and watch.

France

Among the many things you’ll see are signals. Those signals are the same ones that you have seen all the way through Half-Life 2 and even at times in Episode Two. I always though they looked funny, but did not know enough to call them explicitly wrong. Now, however, I learned what is wrong with them.

They are oddly shaped, a long line of lights with one offset, and a plate reading 'Nf' at the bottom

As it turns out, they aren’t british (as I had initially thought) or american (I was rather certain of that, but you never know), let alone eastern european (you didn’t really expect that, did you?). They’re french. Now if that isn’t creative, french signals in an american game set in eastern europe. If that isn’t international, then I don’t know.

Shortly afterwards, the game ends.

Other Transportation

It’s kind of boring to write about this game when all you see is exactly like in Half Life 2. I guess it’s also kind of boring to read about it. Cars? Just the same. Crates? Identical. Paletts? As in HL2. The one thing that’s different is user-controllable vehicles, and that’s because there aren’t any. It’s as if this whole section of the review is useless. Of course, that’s not true. Actually, it is the entire review that’s useless. However, that is really not the point. The actual point is something I’ve forgotten long ago, so don’t ask.

The Game

Notice: This section does not calculate in the rating.

The game’s name, confusing as it may be, is perfectly valid. This isn’t the first part of Half Life 3 or anything like that, it’s more of Half Life 2. That’s just great if you happened to like Half Life 2, and if you didn’t, you wouldn’t have bought this one anyway.

Story

There’s hardly any longer plot here. Your job is to get out of town as quickly as possible, and the one and only twist is that you have something your enemies really do not want you to have (you never learn any details during this game, by the way). Practically all the questions the previous game raised remain open, and a hand full of new ones are added to the mix.

However, this game doesn’t need much plot to tell a story. It’s about Alyx Vance’s character, which gets much deeper here, and her relation to Gordon Freeman.

Technology and Graphics

Yeah. It’s Half Life 2 all over again. In theory, HDR rendering should allow for much better looks. Well, maybe it does, but my computer is too old for that, so for me, it’s all the same.

Half Life 2 has limited issues, and I’ve managed to overcome all of them. I’ve had it crash maybe two or three times. Half Life 2 Episode One shows you how much technology advanced by crashing left, right and center, especially in a few areas that seem to really annoy the game. I hear some other people don’t have this problem, but if I cared about other people, I’d have spared the world this website in the first place.

Playing

Did I mention it’s just like Half Life 2? I think I did. There’s no new weapon, no new move, interestingly no vehicle at all. However, some enemies appear in new forms, such as armed zombies that can use grenades (really not a good idea for him. If you can run fast enough or steal his grenade, good for you). The lion-sized insects (appropriately called Antlions) now come from underground tunnels that you have to plug in some way. Also, during most of the early parts of the game, you have no real weapon, which means you’ll have to be very creative at times.

Result

The game is too much Half Life 2 to warrant a very different result. The russian business car in the final train is really outrageous, but you are presented with an extremely good view in return, so I’m willing to let this one slide. Not very far, but still far enough to give a “mediocre” rating. Hey, I’m always open for a good barter.


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