Half Life Episode One: Ending

By Shamus
on Oct 16, 2007
Filed under:
Game Reviews

I’ve been through Episode One, and then went through again with commentary. It was short. The second trip through – where I instantly knew the answers to the puzzles – was preposterously short. Still, better a spoonful of awesome than a heaping bowl of mediocrity.

I’ve said in the past that the constant re-writing of graphics engines is bad for games, because your artists have to spend so much time re-learning how to do their job and use the new tools that nobody ever has time to polish anything.

A good example of this is how the Playstation games grew to look better and more sophisticated on the same technology. For the most part “early” Playstation games look crude compared to games made near the end of the console’s lifespan, even though the games use the same hardware. This is true on PC side as well, although usually developers are so busy chasing the latest rendering buzzwords that they don’t take the time to let their engine and tools mature.

I think Episode One is a good example of the step up in quality you can get if you’re willing to stick with one engine for a few years. They did manage to sneak a few rendering improvements in there (none of which are available on my hardware, so they don’t affect me) but the step up in quality is obvious. It looks like the same game as Half-Life 2, but it plays better. If you listen to the commentary, you’ll note that their initial design for most of the set pieces sounded annoying, confusing, or unrewarding. The game reached its final state of smooth, rewarding gameplay only after numerous iterations. Iterations they wouldn’t have time for if their artists and content developers weren’t so proficient at their tools and able to turn out assets at a steady rate. To put it another way: Those earlier, less fun versions of levels are what we’re usually stuck with in PC games.

I was right about the plot. It went almost nowhere in Episode One. Instead, we got what I predicted: More mystery (the new mind-blasting aliens) without resolving any old mysteries. This is not a bad thing, but I would really love it if they threw us a bone every now and again and revealed a bit more about the G-Man, the Vortigaunts or the combine.

The ending was yet another cliffhanger. And another explosion, at that. I see a pattern developing here. I’m more forgiving of that sort of behavior here than I was with Dreamfall, but only because the gameplay here is so tremendously fun. (In an adventure game, all you have is story. If your story doesn’t work, you got nothin’.)

I’ll probably get Episode Two once it goes down to $20. People complain about the length of these episodes, and they are indeed short. Five hours is a very brief game. I know it doesn’t make sense, but I’ll buy a 5 hour game for $20 without giving it a second thought, but I’ll agonize over spending $40 on a 15 hour game. The $20 price point is just irresistible to me.

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17Just 17 comments.

From the Archives:

  1. Daemian_Lucifer says:

    Indeed episode one does run way better then the original,which is a big plus.Oh,and though the story is vague,its very good.And I prefer a good vague story over the midichlorian type one any day.

    Btw,first post.

  2. lightpagoda says:

    Im still only partway through episode one and enjoying it so far. My cousin has made it partway through episode two and says it is much longer than episode one.

  3. Martin Lindberg says:

    Glad you enjoyed it, even though it was a bit short. Rest assured that Episode 2 is a fair bit longer, even more well-crafted and actually resolves a few story-points…

  4. Schmidt says:

    Quality over quantity, who knew? It made Half-Life great, and it’s making the episodes great. Pity EA will never learn that trick…

  5. mos says:

    I went through Portal in 2.6 hours and Episode Two in just under 6 (according to my Steam profile), and if I had paid $40-50 for either of them, I’d be right ticked off. Bundled together, I’d probably have bought them since they add a good amount to the HL2 world, but when such a fantastic game as Team Fortress 2 is *also* included, I considered the Orange Box to be a steal at $(whatever I paid).

    I’m just waiting for a buddy to create his Steam account so I can gift him my new copy of HL2 and Episode One.

  6. mark says:

    the orange box is completely worth it, just for portal, and episode 2 is longer and better than episode 1 by a huge margin. (at least to me. it took me to run out of ammo before i worked out the car-on-antlion-pit thing)

  7. Rob says:

    EP2’s ending is much better (IMO). Still lots of things for episodes 3 through 100 to resolve but you learn some new stuff, travel through new areas, fight some new enemies and see some pretty cool stuff. There are more improvements to the graphics and they’re really getting a handle on the type of gameplay people enjoy. I didn’t get bored and I didn’t feel like it was too hard. I hope you can get it soon!

  8. Tim says:

    I found Episode One much more satisfying than even the first part of Half Life 2. It was much more refined and working alongside Alex was extremely enjoyable.

    I’ll never forget the part where I turned off my flashlight in a dark place and she started imitating the zombie sounds. I quickly turned on my light expecting one to be there and she laughed and asked “Did I scare you?” Brilliant.

  9. Ozy says:

    An important note in regards to the episodic system: the very first commentary node in Episode 2 includes Gabe Newell mentioning that the Half-Life 2 episodes will end at episode 3, so either Half-Life will end there or it will be followed by Half-Life 3.

  10. Althanis says:

    I loved Episode One (I haven’t played Ep Two yet). I found portions of it MUCH harder than HL2. When I go back and play through with Commentary I’m going to go ahead and cheat a little and set up hotkeys so I can get ammo and armor reloads.

  11. Fieari says:

    May I highly recommend the Orange Box? I know you just want Ep2, but Portal is a REALLY REALLY good game, and has a story (which I hadn’t really expected), which happens to be both hysterically funny and has a tie in to Ep2. And as mentioned, Ep2 is longer than Ep1, and throws you those tidbits you wanted. It’s even more polished.

    It helped for me that I got it at the reduced price, and also got to play Ep1 for the first time, but still, I’d have bought it for Portal and Ep2 alone. And then I played TF2, and found it more fun than I expected.

  12. Poet says:

    You can actually buy Episode 2 through Steam for 29.95. Portal is for sale by itself as well, but their combined price is the same as the Orange Box, and it doesn’t come with Team Fortress 2.

  13. Phlux says:

    The episode 2 ending is more of a plot hook than a cliffhanger, though I’ve seen it described as such.

    The Orange Box is a great deal, especially if you pre-ordered. 45 bucks, AND you got into the TF2 “beta”. I put that in quotes, because that was easily the most finished beta I’ve ever played. I think all they did was some play-balancing, and I didn’t even notice it.

  14. Davesnot says:

    Yup.. things have to mature… like NWN1.. if you only tried it the first 3 years it was out.. go back.. try again with the community content… play with a DM.. download some new tilesets, new monsters, new scripts.. new AI.. new mods.. and have fun with a matured game.

  15. Amstrad says:

    Comparing the static hardware of a console gaming system to the code of gaming engine is a bit like comparing apples to oranges. In fact the argument that games got better over the life of the Playstation is possible as developers learned how to improve the code of existing or new game engines to work with the limitations and quirks of that specific hardware.

    If anything the continued updating of Valve’s Source engine should be praised as a commendable effort by the developers to keep their engine relevant and competitive in the face of newer and more graphically impressive engines like Unreal Engine 3/4 and CryENGINE2, and the improvement of game graphics over the life of a console should be seen as a positive effect of a static hardware environment.

  16. Miral says:

    Ok, you really didn’t need to post that. Even with spoiler tags it’s just gratuitous, especially when you know that Shamus hasn’t played Ep2.

    But anyway (and I know I’ve said this in my last five or so comments here): get Portal. Seriously. Ok, so it’s 2-3 hours at $20 (or 10-15 hours at $50 if you get it with Ep2 in the Orange Box), but it’s definitely worth it, even if you’re not into HL (or shooters at all, for that matter).

  17. Steve C says:

    You can use the Portal gun in Half Life 2. Since Shamus said that he devoured Portal and is also done with Half Life too, I thought this might generate some replay value.

    Watch it in action:
    http://www.g4tv.com/thefeed/blog/post/680141/Portal_Gun_in_HL2__Wow.html

    Directions on how to pull it off:
    http://www.g4tv.com/cheat/codes/812574/PC/HalfLife_2_Episode_Two.html

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