I think this is all we’ll get.
Half-Life 2: Episode 2 is the third chapter of the Half-Life 2 saga, and as such it plays the same as the other Half-Life 2 games. Like Episode One, Episode Two is shorter than the main game (hence, episode) and follows on the plot, building on the narrative from the original Half-Life 2.
Where Episode One focussed on the horror aspects of the series a little more based in an urban area and enclosed spaces, Episode 2 opens the world up a little more – particularly in the latter part of the game – with its setting found in the outside world. However, it is not the setting which improves a game; it is what the developers do with the setting. Episode One used its spaces very well in its constrained length of three hours whereas Episode 2 has a much more diverse setting, with different things to do in each area. Episode 2 is longer than its predecessor, weighing in at around six hours, but this length is made slightly artificial through the game’s use of repetition and set pieces that can last a little too long.
For example, part of the game sees you holding off Antlions while the Vortigaunts heal Alyx who has been gravely wounded by a Hunter. This section plays as a tower defence in which Antlion hordes charge through several paths, you are given mines and turrets to play with to stop the Antlions as well as your own arsenal. While this does sound interesting, it is interesting enough, it lasts that little bit too long and by the end you are just wishing for it to end – not because of difficulty – because it just becomes tedious by the end. The end game plays out a little like this, but not to the same extent.
Episode 2 plays out like a little Half-Life 2, one that never quite realises its full potential due to its shorter length. But what Valve did cram into the game is impressive. You will be running, terrified, from a huge Antlion through its tunnels, fighting off hordes of the regular Antlions by means of tower defence, driving around big, open areas at break-neck speeds, fending off combines, Hunters and Striders. Variety is the name of the game here and Valve did an impressive job with including the amount they did with such a short length.
However, this variety and amount of differing gameplay styles are also the game’s downfall. Certain aspects of the game never fully realise or develop, such as the artificially lengthened tower defence section.
Episode 2 does carry on the series’ history of great storytelling, good voice acting and high production values. This is a nice looking game with a great eye for art direction and style. The trouble is it has been far too long since this game (over five years), and it seems we will never get the conclusion to this series Episode 2 clearly wants us to have.
Half-Life 2: Episode 2 is great follow up and extra dimension to a fantastic set of games. While it adds nothing new to the series beyond the Magnusson Device (an item used for the quick dispatching of Striders), it does follow on the narrative nicely. The game does not last long however and at six hours, a couple of the ideas on display feel slightly half-baked or artificially lengthened.
Not a step forward for the franchise, merely a continuation of it.