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Review of Episodic Content, Half-Life 2 Episode One 330

Half-Life 2 was worth the wait. Great story, beautiful graphics, and inventive gameplay made the game a worthy successor to Valve's 1998 classic. Last week gamers were finally allowed access to the next part of the story. Half-Life 2: Episode One is a fast-paced and entirely worthwhile continuation of Gordon Freeman's tale. It also raises some really good questions about the very idea of charging for small chunks of content. Read on for my review of this $20 experience, and a few comments on the episodic content debate.

  • Title: Half-Life 2: Episode One
  • Developer/Publisher: Valve
  • System: PC

The climactic finale to Half-Life 2 (HL2) left most players with mixed emotions. Elation at the completion of a fantastic shooter, and frustration at the sudden ending to the game's engaging story. Episode One picks up immediately after HL2 leaves off, and quickly reacquaints you with Alyx Vance and her robotic comrade. Within minutes, you're back in the thick of things, hard at work playing liberator to the human race. Episode One's story centers on the escape from City 17, the aftermath of the events of the original game, and the relationships between the resistance movement members. There are a few answers, some disappointing cop-outs, and a lot of new questions raised. The fate of Doctor Mossman, in particular, is a nagging question; her exploits are a briefly mentioned plot thread that is never readdressed or resolved. Like HL2 proper, the end of the episode is a major cliffhanger. If I had as many 'fade to white' moments in my life as Gordon has, I'd be awfully confused. These are hallmarks of Valve's storytelling at this point, though, and I don't begrudge them the need to keep us begging for more.

In fact, in almost every way possible Episode One is a success for Valve. This game is the first in a trilogy planned to end next year, and Valve has done a fantastic job in capturing interest with this initial effort. Unlike SiN Episodes , which amused but failed to engage, Episode One was so gripping I almost immediately restarted the game with 'commentary mode' enabled just to see if I could glean any more from a second go-round.

As entertaining as the story is, this title truly shines in its gameplay. Creating Half-Life 2's gameplay was a long process of trial and error. For the player, a degree of handholding was required to teach the skill required to play. Episode One, in contrast, relies on your knowledge of FPS controls and experience with the original title, packing the relatively short game with eyebrow-popping moments. New uses for the gravity gun, clever physics puzzles, the near-constant presence of Alyx Vance, and some very challenging gunplay all add to the title's brisk pace. Of particular note are the moments where Valve tweaks the player expectations. A quick crawl through the ducts becomes a drawn-out odyssey through heavily trapped rooms; you know you're having fun when death provokes a laugh instead of a sigh of frustration.

While I certainly wouldn't classify HL2 as 'easy' on normal mode, the difficulty of firefights in Episode One takes things up a notch or two from combat in that game. Several action set pieces move beyond the more straightforward boss battles; they pit you and Alyx against waves of different enemies, or put you in close quarters with some vastly unpleasant creatures. The addition of a new zombie (the 'zombine') and smarter combine soldiers contributes to this challenge. The zombine in particular (a headcrab-infested combine soldier) is a tough opponent. It takes quite a few more hits than the normal zombie to dispatch. It also displays limited tactical ability, waiting for a small knot of its kind to form before rushing you, or using a grenade to act as a walking bomb. The smarter human footsoldiers are often a frustrating surprise; they take cover and shoot straighter than their cousins in the original game.

Episode One looks great, of course. Some additional shiny has been added to the title, but for the most part you're going to be seeing the same textures and environments as in HL2 proper. It would have been nice to see some dramatically new areas, but the urban jungle you traverse on your way out of the city is as engaging as it is familiar. Sound effects are also reused, but the musical stings to accompany important moments are new and seemed more carefully composed than some of the previous offerings.

In a nutshell, Episode One is Half-Life 2 all over again. Perhaps because of its short duration (only about five hours or so), it actually manages to be even better than the original title in almost every way. The puzzles are inventive, the combat is more intense, and the story grabs you within minutes of game start; the moment, early on, where Dog and Alyx have a great moment of simple character interaction made the price of entry well worth it (for me). I've played a lot of games since Half-Life 2 came out, but this is still a franchise that impresses; Valve delivers on everything it promises. If you like story with your shooter, play this game.

The fact that Valve has released a great product should come as no surprise. What strikes me most about this title is its place in a larger debate. Episodic content has provoked a number of earnest conversations this year; how much to charge, how much content is enough, and how often content is released all seem to be sticking points in the gaming community. When Bethesda began releasing commercial mods for Oblivion earlier this year, there were a number of people that felt three dollars for horse armor was a tad much. Subsequent releases for that game have been weightier, and their low price (just $1.98 for a pirate ship) seems to have allayed criticism of those offerings.

In comparison, last month's SiN Episodes was 5-6 hours of gaming for twenty bucks. About it, I wrote "If Emergence was $15, this would be a sure thing; at $20 I'm not sure this particular ride is worth the price of admission." Now that I've seen what my $20 can get me, I know it's not worth the price of admission. If we can expect Valve's success is a high-water mark for episodic content there's going to have to be a serious reexamination of pricing and release for future, lesser offerings. I'm willing to wait for Episode Two at this point; as far as I'm concerned Valve already has my money. At the same time, I'm unlikely to purchase the next episode of SiN. The story just didn't grab me, but the amount of time we're going to be waiting is what really frustrates. With no word yet on a release for the next episode in SiN's season, we're looking at a three months wait (or more) for another length of lackluster writing and time-worn gameplay.

Valve has proven they can deliver, and four dollars an hour should be a premium price for their premium product. In contrast, SiN is just not worth it. I want faster, cheaper, or more. Two of those three will make the next developer to try for the episodic market a success. Perhaps a SiN-quality game that lasts eleven hours for $15? Or the same length for $10 every other month? I would even be interested in true micro-installments. Two or three hours of content for five bucks every month would be a good standard to set. At that rate, the television season comparison SiN is reaching for becomes a reality.

What I enjoy most about the concept of episodic content is the potential. Can developer schedules achieve a brisk enough turnaround? Will enough gamers purchase the second episodes of SiN and Half-Life 2 to ensure there will be a third? With the popularity of Xbox Live, will more developers jump on the episodic bandwagon? I, for one, certainly hope so.
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Review of Episodic Content, Half-Life 2 Episode One

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  • by loraksus ( 171574 ) on Monday June 05, 2006 @01:21PM (#15473567) Homepage
    Anyone have the .torrent?
  • not doing that (Score:5, Insightful)

    by joe 155 ( 937621 ) on Monday June 05, 2006 @01:21PM (#15473568) Journal
    In a nutshell, Episode One is Half-Life 2 all over again. Perhaps because of its short duration (only about five hours or so)

    Five hours of gaming for $20... I must admit my reaction has been tempered now I think that $20 is like £14... but that is still a lot for 5 hours. If I buy a game for that much I would want a lot more than 5 hours of play; maybe I'm just tight. I've bought games in the past for less than this (infact I actually got a copy of Metriod Prime 2 free from nintendo) and they have given me easily over 20 hours and counting.
    • Re:not doing that (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ahsile ( 187881 )
      I'm more than a little peeved that I paid $20 for this amount of content. I expected the game to take me at least a few nights to beat, but instead I was finished by early Thursday evening. The gameplay was a little tougher than the original HL2, but I'm still not convinced it makes up for the price.

      I may play the game again in commentary mode, which was enjoyable in HL2:Lost Coast. But, in contrast, I have devoted countless hours (read:many many days of life and *cough*work*cough*) to CS:Source, and it jus
    • well (Score:2, Funny)

      by xusr ( 947781 )

      You've got to admit that even 5 hours is more entertainment value than that other thing called "episode one" offered.


      • You've got to admit that even 5 hours is more entertainment value than that other thing called "episode one" offered.

        What Xenosaga? Hell no, I'm approaching 20h on it, have no clue what's going on, there's a feeling of anticipation every time I go around a corner and I picked it up for around $25. I have Episode 2 waiting and picked it up for about the same.

        I would look at $20 for 5 hours to be a ripoff. A game at $20 for 5h or less is selling you 1/10th the game for only 1/3 the price.

        • *zooom!* That's the post going over your head.

          Episode One... think about it... here's a hint: "weesa gonna die?"
    • Re:not doing that (Score:5, Insightful)

      by athakur999 ( 44340 ) on Monday June 05, 2006 @01:35PM (#15473692) Journal
      Is $20 for 5 hours really that bad? A movie ticket to see a two hour movie costs $8-$10 (or more). $20 isn't going to get you 5 hours worth of games a place like Gameworks or Dave and Busters. A hardcover book costs around $15-$20 and maybe only last around 5 hours if you're a fast reader.

      • A MMO will run you $20-$50 for the base package and $15 a month, and will provide you with an unlimited number of hours of entertainment. It amortizes much nicer. I'll admit I don't purchase many games - but my brother does, and most of his games last him more than 20-40 hours, and at a top sticker price of what, $30-$50, that is a lot cheaper. ($2.50 down to less than $1 an hour, if even, depending on the price breakdown). Myself I am a MMO fan, you can't beat the price... I've been playing the same MMO fo
        • A MMO will run you ... $15 a month, and will provide you with an unlimited number of hours of entertainment.
          Wait, wait... How many hours are in a month?
          • Unlimited in the sense that there is no "end" to the game... no final level, etc. Enough content to keep you busy for years. You can play as much or as little as you want, whereas with an episode, once you play it... there isn't much fun in playing it again.
      • You're comparing apple to oranges. Compare it to other games.

        Or if you're going to compare it to random things- my guitar has given me hundreds of hours of enjoyment. Playing poker actually makes me money per hour. My internet connection gives me dozens of hours for just $50. And so on.
      • It didn't take me close to five hours to finish Episode one. More like three. I'm not bragging, but if you actually played HL2 from start to end you'll find Episode 1 very easy.

        ps, I don't buy hardcovers =)
      • Re:not doing that (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ChaosDiscord ( 4913 ) * on Monday June 05, 2006 @06:07PM (#15475873) Homepage Journal

        Hell, I just saw a Cirque du Soliel show in Vegas and spent $125 [] for two hours of entertainment. So clearly entertainment should be priced at $60 an hour. So clearly HL2:E1 should have been about $240 and the original HL2 is worth more than $600. My copy of Freakonomics, which I got for $18 [] and took me about 3 hours to read is grossly underpriced; why wasn't I charged ten-fold more?

        Perhaps on the other hand, why are video games so expensive? Why does anyone buy them at all? Instead of dropping $50 on the newest video game (about 15 hours of entertainment), you could buy 6 paperback novels (about 24 hours)!

        Different forms of entertainment isn't directly exchangible. You need to compare games to games. Market forces have set games at roughly $50 for 15 hours of play. That's what other games roughly charge. The competition for HL2:E1 isn't a few movies: it's Far Cry Preditor.

        (And keep in mind that for both examples you gave, there are cheaper and quite popular options. I rent far more movies (about $3/movie; watched by 2 people) than I see in theatres. I purchase far more books in paperback than hardcover. I even sometimes use the library or borrow books from friends.)

    • I think its quite reasonable, with the price of drink in Dublin now its easy to blow $20 an hour on a night out
    • (infact I actually got a copy of Metriod Prime 2 free from nintendo) and they have given me easily over 20 hours and counting.

      As somebody said in the Sin thread, you can also play solitaire for 50 (or even 500) hours for the price of the cards.

      As Zonk said, the commentary mode adds a lot to the replayability, making 10 hours of fun as opposed to 5 hours of fun and 5 hours of filler you'd have with some other games. I didn't find the comments as interesting as the ones in Riddick, but they revealed a lot ab

    • how much entertainment would you get in a pub, or a cinema, or in a restaurant for that £14? As a one-off event.
      We used to pay 10p a game for space invaders, and it was well worth the money. Now we expect 400 hours of amazing 3D entertainment for less than the price of a medium pizza...
    • Quantity is probably not the best way to look at it. Everyone puts a value for diffrent content. While I would never pay to see a film like the Break Up, I think $20 for HL2:Episode one is a good price to pay reguardless of length.

      So is it worth $20, yes to some people it will be. But not for everyone.
    • If I go see a movie in the theater, I'm going to be paying 11 - 14 bucks for 1.5 - 2 hours of entertainment. CDs with 45 minutes worth of content go for 9 - 15 bucks, and DVDs go for $15 - $20 as well. $20 bucks for 5 hours of gameplay sounds very reasonable to me, and pretty cheap considering the alternatives.
    • Well, five hours of fun, plus you get to resell it for maybe $10-15. That's not bad at all, but of course value is in the eye of the beholder.
    • Episode One is perhaps the best $20 I've ever spent. I spent the first hour of this game positively beaming and laughing and going WOW, the next hour or two rather horrified, and the last two hours gritting my teeth and squinting through blazes of unending gunfire. This game packs a serious punch and is a very fair price.

      I was so enthusiastic while playing that I actually alt-tabbed out to write a description of an incredible experience I had while playing. I spent over an hour writing about a single
  • by Ford Prefect ( 8777 ) on Monday June 05, 2006 @01:22PM (#15473580) Homepage
    Hope nobody minds, but here's a link to my own MINERVA [] - more single-player Half-Life 2, but entirely unofficial and apocryphal. And with more than a passing nod to a certain Marathon...

    Valve likes it [], anyhow. And yes, I'm a complete fanboy!
  • But upon the release of the PS3, my new PC is going in the garbage.
  • Does anyone else have download problems? I purchased it, and it started 58%, but when it gets to 81 or 82%, it stops downloading. After I restart Steam, the download is back at 58% again... :-( I haven't got a response from Valve yet, but it is really annoying to spend money on a game that you can't use directly. It's like Civ IV all over again.
    • Does anyone else have download problems?
      yeah, my torrent also got stuck about halfway through, when all the seeds suddenly disappeared. Thankfully though, everything went back to normal an hour or so later. Oh, you mean downloading it from Steam...
    • Try pausing and resuming the preload if it stops. Also, note the steam tray icon. If it has the dotted line thingies, it's downloading, if not, it's not (and I would pause/resume the preload to try and force it to resume, although it will resume itself if you wait).

      Basically I would advise patience. Try letting it run overnight, you'll probably find it done in the morning.
    • I preloaded the game and it worked for me in the end. They proloaded in 3 separate chunks, about a week apart. I got nervous on release day because it knocked my 100% preloaded status back down to 60% or so, but it scooted right up in about 60 seconds. Then it decompressed for a minute or two, and I was in!
  • Fantastic (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FortKnox ( 169099 ) * on Monday June 05, 2006 @01:27PM (#15473618) Homepage Journal
    Granted, it is short (but if you consider it 33% of a game, its about right), but, unlike even halflife 2, itself, its the most immersive game I've played. Because they concentrated on such a (relatively) small amount of game, they were able to completely and utterly finish it. Alyx reacts to most major situations, jokes during 'down time', and everything. Once all three are finished (assuming the other two are just as good as the first), and you play them in order, you'll agree that it's the best game, yet, that valve has released, and you have to play an additional $10 to get them in pieces instead of waiting over a year to get it all...
  • Movie? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by phorm ( 591458 ) on Monday June 05, 2006 @01:29PM (#15473630) Journal
    If you read through the original (linked from this article) review of Half Life, and then look at what is to be in "Episode 1", it seems that HL2 paints a rather dramatic and almostly cinematically interactive picture. While I'm sure that a good start with episode one will promote the HL2 franchise, with all the other VG movies in the works, I do wonder if Valve would be considering something of a movie-proper related to the Half Life storyline. Certainly, if followed, the plotline could probably be drummed into something decent... especially with the expected content to be added through the continuing episode.

    Has anyone heard any rumours/press in regards to this? Maybe I'm just hopeful (and overly optimistic that if it happened, it wouldn't be a massacre), but a movie involving post-war apocalypse, a savior scientist, the comedic relief (Barnie), a hot sidekick, a nuttie scientist, cruel otherworldly footsoldiers, government conspiracy, and aliens that attach to one's head for happy zombification sound like a good combination to me. Hell, headcrabs and headcrab-zombies are probably in itself one of the cooler things... like an upgrade to the freakiness of chest-bursting nasties from the Alien movie series.
    • Pros and Cons... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Cybrex ( 156654 )
      The idea of an HL movie kept running through my head as I was playing HL2. The story is certainly interesting and deep enough to make a very good movie, but there are some aspects that might not translate well to a movie:

      * HL1 is a little too straightforward to be a movie in its own right, but the events in that game are critical backstory to explain WTF is happening in HL2. Movies that open with a long expository narration can cover a lot of ground quickly, but typically make for horrible movies. Opening t
  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Monday June 05, 2006 @01:29PM (#15473634) Homepage Journal
    Can someone publish the recorded, noninteractive machinima of a thrilling victory in the game? Maybe a 3-part series, about 90 minutes each, pausing at meaningful points in the plot? Get a champion player as the "actor", record the stream of game events, play them back in the engine. Is that technically possible with Half-Life2, or any video RPG? Maybe an open source engine...
  • by Some_Llama ( 763766 ) on Monday June 05, 2006 @01:31PM (#15473656) Homepage Journal
    buy it in the box and save your self 7 bucks, I am willing to actually buy this at 12.99, this was seen at Fry's electronics (if you have one near you).
  • The problem (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lord_Dweomer ( 648696 ) on Monday June 05, 2006 @01:34PM (#15473679) Homepage
    The problem with episodic gaming is that once companies get a taste of the cash that episodes generate, they (and their shareholders) will look for any way to generate more revenue from it. Often times, this means raising the price every year or so. This happened to MMORPGs where the prices suddenly jumped from $10/mo to $15/mo. And once one company does it and gets away with it, the rest follow suit. I understand you need to adjust for things like inflation, but inflation does not justify a 50% price hike.

    What all of you suckers who buy into episodic gaming can expect in the future is increased prices, more frequent releases of episodes with less and less content, and purchasing the initial version of the game that has had features that SHOULD have been included scraped to provide "must-buy" content for the inevitable episodes. Unfortunately that last one affects EVERYBODY who might buy a game, not just the idiots who buy the episodes as we all saw with Oblivion's horse mod.

    All episodic gaming is is an attempt at prepping consumers to be nickle and dimed for every game element the companies can think of. Think ringtones, wallpapers and games on cellphones, only more expensive.

    • Think ringtones, wallpapers and games on cellphones, only more expensive.

      This is exactly what I fear in regards to episodic content, and why I have been so adamantly against it since I first heard about it. Back when I got my first cell phone, it came with dozens of ring tones (including many recognizable songs), and 3 (full) games built right into it. Did I mention that I got the phone for free?

      The last phone I purchased, for $400, came with almost no ring tones, and only DEMOS of a couple games, of wh

    • I think TES:Oblivion is another good example.

      Lots of addons have come out for that, and many seem to be either junk or very small chunks of content that are fairly useless.
    • Re:The problem (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dR.fuZZo ( 187666 )
      Welcome to capitalism. You are, as always, free to have contempt for people who want a product more than you do, or are better able to pay for it. Have fun with that.
      • I don't have anything personally against the people who want the product or have more money that I do. What I DO have something against is the companies who will shift their businesses to cater solely to those people at the expense of the rest of us. And once one big company like Valve does it, the rest will follow suit. Fortunately thanks again to capitalism it should eventually even out as companies begin to cater to the rest of us to fill the market gap there. Unfortunately that means I miss out on m
    • On the plus side, it's better to spend $20, $25, or even $30 on a crappy episode than to lose $60 on a crappy full-length game.
  • Motion Sickness (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TerenceRSN ( 938882 ) on Monday June 05, 2006 @01:35PM (#15473695)
    Has Valve solved the issue that some users (including me and my brother on a different computer) were having with motion sicknes when playing Half-Life 2? I've played a lot of computer and video games my whole life and I'd never gotten motion sickness until I played HL2. On my old laptop I could play for a while without any trouble but after updating to a newer one - and nothing state-of-the-art - I couldn't play at all without feeling sick. I know there were some possible work arounds but I couldn't make it work.

    Anybody else have these problems? Or know if it's better in episode 1?
    • It's not really Valve fault, it's a physical condition that has nothing to do with their software. Try increasing the distance between your monitor and your face. Play with other lights on. Take a break every now and then.

      In regards to the sibling posts here, vsync is off by default but can be enabled in Options | Video | Advanced.
    • by MagerValp ( 246718 ) on Monday June 05, 2006 @03:02PM (#15474389) Homepage
      I was hoping that they would have added a config options for it by now, but apparently not. The fix is the same as before:

          1. In the game list, right click on Half-Life 2: Episode One, and select "Properties".
          2. Click on "Set Launch Options..."
          3. Add "+sv_cheats 1 +fov 90 +default_fov 90".
          4. Click OK, Close, and launch the game.
          5. Headache-b-gone!

      If HL2 gives you headaches, while other FPS games do not, this fix is for you. It sets the field of view to 90 degrees, instead of HL2's default 75.
  • basicaly, if you liked hl2 buy it. now. also, the guy failed to mension the sin episodes comes with the original sin game. and the "zombines" are the coolest enemies ever. shoot, switch to grav gun, grab nade, throw nade, lotsa dead zombies.
  • by Cheapy ( 809643 ) on Monday June 05, 2006 @01:38PM (#15473712)
    Am I the only one who thought that Half-Life 2's story was very bad?
  • If you play and you do not feel you got your money's worth, complain. Call billing support and ask for a refund.

    If that fails, charge the fuckers back.

    These guys set their prices based on your willingness to pay. Talk with your wallet.

    Think about this: most people won't bat an eye when they are asked to pay 20 bucks to buy a new book. That's five hours of content, considerably cheaper to produce than a video game
    • Only hardcovers cost $25, you can always wait for paperback. Any decent book will take significantly longer than 5 hours. Not if you're reading the latest Tom Clancy or Danielle Steel crap-fest, granted, but REAL books can take 12-15 hours to finish, even if you're a fast reader (see: anything by Vernor Vinge). And finally, while they cost less to produce, you're paying for a commodity that's much less popular. Video games sell orders of magnitude more than most books, so you're paying to be part of a prett
  • Ive played HL2 EP1 - and I agree with the majority of the review comments. However I do not believe that this episode was worth $20.

    "Once youve brought all three youll have a complete game and you wont have to wait an extra year for it"
    No, no I wont have a comeplete game. The reason being is that these episodes are reusing textures, prefabs, characters, sounds, AI and the graphics engine from HL2.When I spend $60 on a new game I want it to be just that "A new game!". I dont want to spend $60 on a game t
    • Likewise, The Empire Strikes Back had mostly the same actors and same ships and same weapons as Star Wars. What a rip-off! I can't believe I paid full price for what was essentially just a remake with a new story.
  • Missing (Score:3, Informative)

    by gmerideth ( 107286 ) <gmerideth@uclnj.cDEBIANom minus distro> on Monday June 05, 2006 @01:52PM (#15473821) Homepage
    I guess I missed something in this expansion. The first 15 minutes of the game are watching a purely scripted environment. You have absolutely no control over the outcome nor can you make any decisions (other than to jump off of a cliff). This game is *way* to scripted to be enjoyable and combined with the inability to shoot friendlies to me has less flair than the original.
  • by XaXXon ( 202882 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [noxxax]> on Monday June 05, 2006 @01:53PM (#15473844) Homepage
    First of all, I was disappointed that for the first day I tried to buy/download episode 1, I kept getting "server is too busy, try again in a few hours" errors.

    When I was finally able to purchase the game, I downloaded at about 400KB/s, which is pretty respectable for my connection (though it can do ~1MB/s to the right server).

    The production value of the game is very good. The character interactions are very good and the constant interaction with Alyx is very good. She does neat little things like covering her face when there's an explosion hear her.

    The story is "ok". I'm pretty picky about plot in general, so "ok" from me probably means "pretty good" for most other people.

    My beef with the game has to be Alyx's health/ammo levels. She has infinite ammo, so there's bits where in order to conserve ammo, you have to pretty much just wait around for her to kill baddies (and point them out with the flashlight.. which while being cool at first gets old). The second bit is that she can die, but there's absolutely no indication of how much health she has. There's no number anywhere and it's not depicted on her character, either. She's fine, she's fine, she's dead. If she starts saying "Oww!" a lot, then you probably need to get her away.

    Anyways, they've got my $20 for episode 2.
  • ... when Gordon Freeman finally gets his tea? Hasn't he been wandering around with "no tea" for long enough?
  • Well worth $20 (Score:5, Informative)

    by The MAZZTer ( 911996 ) <<megazzt> <at> <>> on Monday June 05, 2006 @01:58PM (#15473888) Homepage
    I found Episode 1 has more entertainment value per square inch than the original Half-Life 2, which more than makes up for it being shorter. It most certantly makes the $20 price seem low now that I've played it.

    There were new "gimmicks" introduced (new enemies, new puzzle components) and variants thereof used very well. They were fairly easy to figure out but that didn't make it any less satisfying when the way forward would open to more cool stuff. You seriously can't go more than a few meters without something cool happening.

    The commentary is a bonus. I was disappointed that there were only a couple that took control of you or tweaked the rendering engine temporarily to show you something, more of that sort of thing would have been real neat. But the commentary itself was still very good, you learn a bit about the behind the scenes stuff (sort of like a mini "Making Of" while in the game. However, sometimes it's hard to hear commentary if in-game characters are talking at the same time. Fortunately you can always move away to more easily listen to the commentary.

    The only qualms I have is that I had a weird hanging problem (maybe something with my drivers, who knows) but on a second play through it disappeared.

    Also, I missed vehicles. The episode 2 teaser reveals large outdoor areas, hopefully you'll get a vehicle for part of the episode.

    In short: I am quite looking forward to episodes 2 and 3 and will preorder as soon as the option becomes available on Steam.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Its sad how valve built this amazing story universe and refuses to cash in on it even a little bit. HL1 built the world and gave it meaning. Most of HL2 was 'get from point A to point B', and ALL of EP 1 is 'get from point A to point B'. Nothing is revealed, there are no story points, just get from here to there and - OH SNAP! - another obstacle just popped up so you'll have to take the more dangerous route, Dr. Freeman!

    They're so afraid to reveal anything that they reveal nothing. They're so afraid to
  • That is one glowing review. Myself, although I enjoyed Episode 1 a lot, didn't think it was *that* great.

    For one, it was relatively easy. I played it through on Normal skill, and died very few times. None of the puzzles were difficult enough to delay me more than a minute, and I found that the new zombine enemies just blew themselves up.

    I found the music annoying, to say the least. I considered turning the music off, but quickly realized that the start of dramatic music always foreshadowed an unexpected
    • I was disappointed that there were no "Wow" moments as far as graphics were concerned.

      Didn't you play it with HDR? I thought Valve used HDR to exceptionally clever effect in that reactor thing near the beginning. You walk into the reactor and are absolutely overwhelmed with brightness. You have to sit still for a minute to let your eyes adjust and slowly get your bearnings. You piddle around for a while and solve the puzzles, slowly getting used to the light adjustments, when all of a sudden you get
      • I did play with HDR, but I don't recall being completely overwhelmed by brightness more than once. Yeah the reactor was cool looking, but not something that I would hang around and look at.

        In the reactor I found that it was rather obvious where and when you would be attacked, so dealing with the bad guys was not a problem. The only surprise was when they sent manhacks after me as well, but you can hear those coming before they get to you.

        My favourite part of the game (with respect to game play) was battli
  • Elation at the completion of a fantastic shooter, and frustration at the sudden ending to the game's engaging story.

    I often wonder if people are playing the same game I am... Seriously, the story for Half-Life 2 can be accurately summed up as: "You're in a dystopian future, and the dictator in charge cooperates with aliens. Get to him, blowing up everything on the way!"

    For that matter, the original half-life didn't fare much better, as it had a plot that was basically equivalent to the plot of DOOM: "Sci
  • For most other games, what you are purchasing is a complete story. While many of the games may leave the door open for a continuation of the story for a sequel if the demand for the first title warrants it, the primary story line has a conclusion. In episodic entertainment, this is not true. Both SIN episodes and HL2 Episode One are designed to provide more questions than answers. In SIN episodes, the most recent bad guy may be dead, but the root cause of the problem (Alexis Sinclair) still exists. You
    • Similarly, episodic games cannot wait long between releases. At most, I would think that 6 months would be the limit before my interest between episodes would begin to fade.

      If the game were made by anyone other than Valve I'd agree with you. However, as maddening as it is when this studio delays a game indefinitely, you KNOW it's for the better. I may curse them under my breath for taking so long, but I holler praise for the world to hear when I inevitably appreciate the painstaking care they've taken
  • Breencasts (Score:3, Interesting)

    by transmetal ( 904896 ) on Monday June 05, 2006 @03:52PM (#15474783)
    Did anyone else catch the two soldiers (In Barney's hideout) with the comment about Dr.Breen's telecasts and the jugglers? Sounds like someone's been reading [] ...
  • > Half-Life 2 was worth the wait. Great story, beautiful graphics,
    > and inventive gameplay made the game a worthy successor to
    > Valve's 1998 classic.

    You are bloody kidding me.

    HL2 was to HL what Episode 1 was to Star Wars.

    Valve made an unbeliveably basic mistake; having a non-speaking Gordon only works if there are no burning questions he would absolutely have asked - and he would have asked where the hell he's been and what and how do the resistance know about it.

    HL2 was really good - graphics, gam
  • by i_ate_god ( 899684 ) on Monday June 05, 2006 @04:10PM (#15474943)
    A lot of people are complaining that HL2 EP1 wasn't "new enough", but I'm not quite sure what they expected from a game that continues from the last point they played. What, in the 15 minutes between part 0 and part 1, brand new tech is invented?

    HL2 EP1 contains the same scenery and same graphics because it takes place in the exact same timeframe in the story. They are still at City 17, they are still at the citadel, and they are still fighting the combine, who are still using the same technology they did 15 minutes ago.

    And this is what you should expect from episodic content. They are chapters in a story, not seperate different stories.

    Is $20 too much? Depends on the game.

    I wouldn't pay $20 for salmon, but if its wrapped up in wine soaked rice and seaweed with cucumber and avacado, thats a different story.
  • I think I paid $50 for HL2. HL2's single-player game was good - it was long, the gameplay varied (some running in buildings, some driving a buggy, some boat stuff, etc.) It was interesting from beginning to end.

    Episode 1 was $20. I was expecting maybe half of the length of HL2's game, since it's just about half the price. Well, it's very short. Extremely short. The size of the game is about 1/8th of HL2. It was definately fun, and they really do put a lot of work into Alex's facial expressions an
  • HL2:EO (Score:4, Insightful)

    by zerosix ( 962914 ) on Monday June 05, 2006 @04:53PM (#15475335)
    Well, I must say I'm a little disappointed at all the negative comments about Episode One. Most of these cynical comments aren't even justified. There are several key points about Episode one that needs to be understood. One of which is that this was in no fashion meant to be a "new game." Yet, the valve team released it knowing there may be people playing this title that didn't play Half-Life 2. Therefore, a background needed to be built to understand what was going on, yet not too much for those who had already played the game. This is an extremely difficult balance to reach.

    One of the cool features that were added was the ability to play through with the commentary engaged. After I finished the Episode, I played through with the commentary which answered a lot of the 'concerns' I had as to why things were a certain way. Had some of the pessimists actually participated in the commentary they wouldn't be so quick to oust Valve on some of the decisions they made regarding Episode One.

    Now, I'm not saying Episode One is a perfect game. All I'm saying is that a lot of the griping about the content is not necessary.

    Here are some things (my short list) I found good about the episode:

    New content - Stalkers, Combine Zombies, and helpful roller mines to name a few.

    Puzzles - While many of the puzzles weren't overly difficult I thought they offered a fresh change from 'same old, same old' puzzles set. Plus, the core puzzle took be back to the good old Half-Life 1 days with some of the puzzles encountered there.

    Good Intro - Some of individuals didn't like scripted scene at the beginning. I thought it a very well introduction for veteran and new players alike. Now if you didn't like it because you just prefer run and gun, it's your purgative, but say that next time. I thought it did a good job of setting up the story of the episode and what your 'goal' was for the content.

    Different from HL2 - While I thought they did a good job of extending the story line, I thought it was cool that they didn't follow the same example 100%. The game play all though similar had a different feel to it, to me it seemed there was more sense of urgency and I thought they did a good job of conveying that to the player. You can actually trap yourself! :P

    Intriguing, Good Story line - Now, I started playing Episode one not really expecting any questions to be answered. The thing I have really enjoyed about the Half-Life series is how entwined you become in the story line and want to know more. It makes you think; guess some people don't like that!

    And the bad(short list) things:

    Linear - The one thing that I have never really liked about the half-life series is how linear the levels are throughout the game. Of course this is not why you play Half-Life but it's always in the back of my mind.

    Drawn out - Some of the sections/ideas were a little too drawn out in my opinion for the content. For example, the ball sockets got a little old after a while. Also, I thought there were too many areas that were pitch black

    Dexterity required or bugs? - Some areas I thought required a little too much finger dexterity, such as were you had to knock the falling debris out of the way with the gravity gun, for some reason I had a hard time with my timing, it seemed sometimes the Ggun wouldn't even shoot sometimes, but I couldn't tell if it was me or what.

    Unfair insertion - Also I didn't really like the fact that I was pushed into fighting the Antlion Guard without knowing it was there.

    Well, with that, I thought the Episode was good in general and I can't wait for the next!

  • by cecom ( 698048 ) on Monday June 05, 2006 @05:18PM (#15475503) Homepage Journal
    No Steam spyware on my machine, thank you. I don't need a service (esp. written by a game company) connecting to the Internet in the background and downloading software.

    Also I don't think I should need an Internet connection to play a single-player game. It may seem like a worthwhile trade off for now - it is convenient, the game is not bad and most of all do have Internet connections after all. However we are giving up our freedoms one by one and I won't be surprised when the next version of Steam charges 25c each time you start the game.

    So yes, I would gladly pay full price for a hacked version of the game - one that doesn't require a Steam account, social security number, zip code and good credit rating.

  • by pandrijeczko ( 588093 ) on Monday June 05, 2006 @05:50PM (#15475758)
    The original Half-Life was unquestionably one of the best PC games ever made - and with the number of fan-made mods, Counterstrike, etc. it also represents just about the best value for money that can be bought in any game also. I've sat down and replayed the original game & the two expansions several times now.

    Half-Life 2 may well have exceeded the original but I have yet to find out as I've never been near it, not even a hacked copy. Why? Because of Steam.

    If Google want to offer me a free Search Bar that gives me the option of running in a basic mode or advanced mode where my surfing habits are tracked, that's fine - they've given me something for nothing and the choice to be tracked or not. If another software company wants to offer me some free software on condition I look at some advertisements, that's fine also - I won't install the software but they've been good enough to warn me first, which I appreciate.

    Steam, in my experience, is different. Maybe it's changed now but when I tried it a few years ago against Half-Life (1) and Counterstrike as (what I then thought was) a piece of software for getting easy updates to both games, I found it far too intrusive - plus I heard lots of stories about what that piece of software was sending back about my machine to Valve. In the end, I got rid of it and stuck with manual updates.

    Sorry, I don't care how good a game is - if I don't trust what that game producer is doing "behind my back", I won't buy it, it's that simple; in just the same way as I won't buy any DRMed CD by even my favourite music artists and I won't rent movies that "self destruct" after a single play.

    Unfortunately, it all gets back to the "mindless cattle" consumers amongst us who get totally lost in the hype and marketing around products that make it bad for the rest of us - it's those same people who hand over their rights, and mine, to companies who want nothing more than to crowbar more money from us while treating us all as criminals.

    I don't mind going into a shop and paying for a game - whether it's on the day of it's release or on a budget label later on.

    I'd prefer NOT to have to insert that CD into my PC every time I play that game but then I can probably find a "No CD" crack on the Internet and keep that CD nice, shiny and unscratched in a dark case somewhere so I put up with that.

    I'll endure having to have a registration code for a game because if that game's producers have spent some additional money on hosting some game servers for me to play on, that seems a reasonable way of giving the true customers value for money away from those who decided to copy the game.

    But I definitely WILL NOT allow any piece of spyware like Steam to do it's dirty little job of ratting it's way through the contents of my PC & pay for the privelige.

    As far as I am concerned, Valve can produce the most stunningly inventive game ever invented and offer to pay me to play it - but if it's got Steam as a back-end, I still won't touch it.

    If Microsoft are the OS mafia & Sony are the music thugs, then in third place are the Valve triads....

  • by zuki ( 845560 ) on Monday June 05, 2006 @09:02PM (#15476886) Journal
    Obviously, the setting for this somehow has to first mention the way in which Steam (Valve?...) is dealing with content protection and distribution, a fact that many will possibly find intrusive; not sure how much I care, after all it is gaming we are talking about, and in order to protect their IP and assets, the company obviously has to take measures that foil the ever-expanding consequences of today's creative 'online-sharing', torrents and the likes, which should really saved be another debate. Suffice to say that in my personal case, I do not have any issues with this and happily paid $19.95 for the pre-load a week before the game came out.

    Everyone obviously has likes and dislikes in the gaming world as much as in everything else, and while I simply do not have much interest in most of the other games this company or most others have to offer, (save for a couple of Counterstrike matches on a LAN) I do not remember ever being drawn into one as much as I did when I belatedly got into Half-Life 2 a year and a half ago. An avid Sci-Fi buff and Cyberpunk enthusiast, the original premise of the game struck a deeply resonating chord in me, one that no other game so far has managed to, as I have found most of them to be far too awkwardly simplistic, or just hard to get into.

    The keyword here is immersive and what really got me was just how easy the game's developers had made it to fit yourself into Gordon Freeman's character. Again, not being a gaming maven who spends at least 6 hours a day in front of a console, it was a bit of a shock how HL2 got me hooked, like no other game ever did before. The attention paid to atmosphere and details makes for a very eerie experience, the 'Physics Engine' they use is really darn good, and without trying to start a flame war, I would in some levels tend to feel the same way about this particular franchise as I felt about George Lucas and Star Wars in the late 70's, which is to say pretty darn excited.

    The gaming experience on this Episode One is nothing short of breathtaking. As others have mentioned, there are plenty of cute puzzles and new tricks to keep one guessing, the introduction of some new and welcome characters like those lovely grenade-wiedling Zombines, and after spending a leisurely two sessions playing through this in 'Normal' setting, must report that I feel just as elated as before with HL2, as I reached the climactic ending. Obviously, I cannot give the game a newcomer's look as HL's key-commands are tatooed in my synapses, but the flow was very natural, and it definitely felt like we all picked up where it left off the last time around....

    There were no bugs that came to halt the otherwise smooth experience. Wish I had the necessary resources to experience the HDR effects, but it would appear that my laptop's graphic card is not capable of rendering it. Oh, well...

    On the down side, I did find some of Alyx's scripted answers and come-ons a bit irritating after a while, as they tended to detract from an otherwise solid storyline, bt that's something I am willing to live with. The commentary is a pretty fine way to acquaint yourself with the finer points of game design if you so desire, and very unobtrusive.

    But as in good wine, what matters most to me in the end is the aftertaste, and I must report that I - for one - cannot wait for the upcoming release of Episode Two later this year. I find that the episodic format suits this game pretty well, and as long as we know what to expect, do not find it offensive or bothersome.

    So there you have it. A solid 8.5 at least, with a big grin on my face and plenty of other-worldly and futuristic inspiration. Fantastic game, well worth my or anyone's time.


    Disclaimer: No, I do not work for Valve or any associated companies... after a game like this, I almost wish I did!! (LOL!)

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