Overall, it is very good. It’s more of that Half Life 2 goodness we all love. The story continues nicely and the ending for Episode One is excellent, a real cliff hanger. Much better than Half Life 2’s. As to whether it’s too short, I’m happy with it. It’s a nice length to snick in the odd couple of hours to play it through to completion.
*Spoilers Ahead* But, and there’s always a but, I didn’t feel it got going until the escape from City 17. The episode consists of five chapters totalling about the same amount of gameplay time as Sin Emergence – Episode One. If I’m honest there isn’t much to fault with it and my grumbles are down to my dislike of the level settings for the first three chapters. Specifically the Citadel and dark underground levels.
Architecturally the Citadel levels are pretty simple. The Core section has some amazing visual effects, but they are boring looking levels. There are some new puzzles which were interesting, but closing down the Core reminded me of the reactor level in Half Life (1) where you’re fighting the tentacled beasty thing.
That’s then followed up by the train escape from the Citadel where it crashes and you end up having to go on foot to the surface. You go through various underground tunnels and areas with little to no lighting and lots of headcrabs, zombies and zombines ;). Here the torch is your friend. Not my idea of fun. However I must admit the atmosphere is pretty gripping, it’s just that I don’t like faffing around the dark.
For some reason I thought I’d be playing as Alyx, but you hop back into the hazard suit of Dr. Freeman. Alyx is there with you for pretty much the entire episode and it works really well. She doesn’t get in your way, isn’t pushy and generally helps you out. The character development of Alyx is impressive and the use of facial expressions and body language is very well done. I also liked the interaction between Alyx and Dog at the beginning of the episode and it’s a real pity his appearance was so short. But it was certainly memorable!
I found that once I met up with Barney it seemed to flow better and I really enjoyed the final section in the train station. I think it’s because I prefer the gritty style of the outside levels more. The final boss fight with the strider was excellent.
It’s also worth mentioning the audio commentary, ala Lost Coast. It was fascinating to see the amount of thought and work that had gone into it. Play-testing seems to figure heavily in the design process.
I can’t wait for more and the teaser trailer for Episode Two looks errr… good (understatement)!