Half-Life 2: Episode Two

Reviewed by Dave Linger, Posted on 2007-10-27


Developer: Valve Publisher: Valve
Release Date: October 9, 2007 Also On: None

Episode 2 is the second stand-alone expansion pack for Valve’s Half-Life 2, released in 2004. It is packaged in the Orange Box with Portal and Team Fortress 2, which become Episode 2’s puzzle and multiplayer elements. The game itself is simply an extension of the single player story of Half-Life 2 with no new modes or weapons. Interestingly, although the game can be bought and played without owning either Half-Life 2 or Episode 1, it is very dependent upon the story laid out by the past two games, and I would not recommend that anyone start by playing Episode 2. Even though the game is an expansion pack, it sports significant upgrades to Half-Life 2’s Source engine.

In Episode 2, many models and textures have been updated, as well as additions like dynamic lights and a revamped particle system. For example, in Half-Life 2, or Episode 1, if you shine your flashlight on an enemy standing in front of you, the light will realistically light the character, as well as anything behind him. In Episode 2, the engine creates dynamic soft shadows behind the character, resulting in a large shadow on whatever is behind the subject, depending on the angle and proximity of the light source. At first this may go unnoticed, but if you go back and play the last two games in the series, you will certainly notice its absence. The upgraded particle system replaces the outdated flame, blood, and liquid entities with newer, more vibrant and realistic ones.

Another significant upgrade I noticed was something which I had not read in any press releases prior to the game’s release – new surface types. For example, in the past games, alien characters had flat (non-glossy) - the same type of surface as, say, a wall – only in the shape and color of an alien. In Episode 2, the skin has a smooth, wet appearance with slight transparency which light affects quite beautifully. Another such surface is eyes. Yes, eyes. The eyes of characters in Episode 2 look like they came straight out of a Pixar movie. The Vortigaunt’s eyes are especially impressive, with dynamic pupils and a feeling of depth to the color of the cornea.

As far as the actual game is concerned, it is a perfect continuation of the Half-Life 2 story, with nearly as much gameplay time as the original game itself. After playing Episode 1, I was happy, but at the same time, I had wished that the game would have been a bit more diverse and longer. Episode 2 addresses those wishes and more. You start just moments after the end of Episode 1 and have yet again lost all of your equipment.

You start with Alyx finding you in the crashed train and giving you your gravity gun back. Like Episode 1, you slowly collect your weapons throughout the game, if only to prevent tedium and to have accomplishments. Speaking of accomplishments, Valve has implemented achievements into the Orange Box games, which is a cool way of lengthening the game. Some achievements are required in completing the game, such as completing specific mission-critical objectives, while others are more "in your spare time" type, such as running over so many enemies, or carrying a garden gnome through the entire game (I could not make that one up).

The game is paced very well and is constantly rewarding you with new experiences, like the new vehicle (hot-rod type car), or a new enemy or two. Valve really shows off the power of the Source engine in Episode 2, including complete building destruction (down to the individual boards), and tons of eye candy with HDR and dynamic lighting. It's not short, it's not boring, and it kept me coming back for more. The only downside I can come up with is that it ends with quite a cliffhanger, and leaves many questions unanswered, but so has every other game in the series, so I wasn't too surprised.

When you step back and look at the game as a whole, it is really the ideal expansion pack: new features, upgraded old stuff, new characters, new areas, new enemies, and a good game length. Props to Valve for making these expansion packs stand-alone. They could have EASILY made them require Half-Life 2, especially considering how story-driven they are, but they did not. They chose to make these games as accessible as possible. If you loved Half-Life 2, you will love Episode 2. And the best part is, because it is running the upgraded Source engine, it will run fine on older machines, but look top-notch on gaming rigs. I will be eagerly waiting for Episode 3 the moment it's released.

Graphics: 10
Sound: 9
Gameplay: 9
Creativity: 9
Replay Value/Game Length: 9
Final: 9
Written by Dave Review Guide

Reviewed by Dave Linger