I loved the original Half Life when it came out back in the late ’90s. I played it from start to finish twice, and replayed my favorite areas again and again. When Half Life 2 came out, I was all over it as well. Now, I set my sights on the second of the ‘episodic’ continuation of the Half Life 2 story arc. What a story it is, too. Move over, Mario Galaxy; there’s a new contender for Game of the Year.

Half Life Episode 2

You begin right where you left off in HL2: Episode 1; on a train, escaping the exploding Citadel. You escape alive, but Alyx is mortally wounded early on by a new breed of baddy – the Hunter. These things are evil incarnate; they are tough as hell to kill and will mop the floor with you in a heartbeat.  First, though, you have to save Alyx, which sends you on a memorable journey right into an Ant Lion den. It’s moments like this that make Episode 2 so enjoyable. One minute you’re holding off an Ant Lion invasion with a pair of rickety turrets and some rattled allies, and the next you’re trying to dodge an Ant Lion Guard with a Vortigaunt in tow.

Once clear of the Ant Lion den, you eventually get a car that is a blast to drive. I was worried about it because the driving sequences in Half Life 2 were the weakest part of the game to me. That’s not so here, as Valve seems to have figured out how to add vehicular levels into the game without breaking the experience.

Ok, back to those cursed Hunters. The worst part – even worse then their killing ability and tons of health – is that they travel in packs, often in the shadow of a Strider. This makes the game very, very hard when they’re involved, and this includes the battle to protect the missile silo. I hated that mission when I played it, and I still do. The Hunters would blow the ‘Magnisons’ out of your grip and destroy them before you could use them to blow the Striders up. You’d waste a boatload of ammo trying to kill the Hunters so you could get to the Strider while they are both shooting at you as they close in on the silo. If I never have to play a level like that again I will be a happy gamer

The graphics and sound a solid as a rock; I can’t find any faults. The characters have genuine personalities that you can relate to. Dr. Magnison – who named the devices you used in the ‘Defend the Silo’ battle after himself – at one point, as he sends you out to do battle with the Striders mentions that if you succeed he might forgive ‘that debacle’ at Black Mesa. I was about to be insulted that he would blame the entire alien invasion deal on me when he instead mentioned another, more specific incident, and all I could think was “oops, yeah, that was me.” It’s that kind of continuity that gives this game world it’s life.

If I had to find a real fault with this game, it’s that we don’t know when we’ll see Episode 3 to continue the story. Beyond that, there were a few minor quibbles with clipping and the difficulty level with the Hunters, but all in all I’m very pleased. If you buy this game in the Orange Box and haven’t played Half Life 2 or Episode 1 yet, I implore you to do so. In fact, I’d go so far as to recommend the original Half Life as a starting point. It still holds up today, gameplay-wise, if not graphically. Hopefully, I’ll be able to look back at Half Life 2 and it’s continuing episodes some 10 years from now and think the same thing about them, and do you know what? I think I will be able to. Alphasim out.