Half-Life 2: Episode Two
|Half-Life 2: Episode Two|
Promotional artwork featuring (from left): Gordon Freeman, the Combine Hunters, and Alyx Vance
|Distributor(s)||Electronic Arts (retail)
|Distribution||Optical disc, download|
Half-Life 2: Episode Two is a first-person shooter video game, the second episode in a series of sequels to the 2004 Half-Life 2. It was developed by Valve Corporation in tandem with Episode One, the first game in the series, and released in 2007 via Valve's Steam content distribution platform. The episode was released both separately and as a part of a bundled package, The Orange Box.
Episode Two gameplay consists of expansive environments, travel and reduced linear play, continuing Valve's policy of orienting each episode around a particular theme or set of technologies. Following the closing events of Episode One, it sees Gordon Freeman and the series' other major characters moving away from City 17 to the surrounding countryside.
The retail version was released on October 10, 2007 in North America and Russia for Windows and Microsoft's Xbox 360 after repeated delays. The version for the PlayStation 3 was to be released "around two or three weeks later," as it was produced separately at the Electronic Arts UK studio, according to Valve marketing director Doug Lombardi. This version was further delayed. For the rest of the world, the release date was October 18. The Steam version was released on October 10, 2007 worldwide.
As with its predecessors, the game is played in the first person as series protagonist Gordon Freeman against transhuman troops, known as the Combine, and other hostile alien creatures. Levels are linear but add a more open environment, consisting of puzzles and first-person shooter game-play. Sequences involving vehicles are interspersed throughout the game, breaking up moments of combat.
One of the focal points of Episode Two was meant to be increased use of vehicles in open areas. However, the game retains its original linear style until the final battle. Episode Two has more puzzles than Episode One, including the biggest physical puzzle yet in the series—a damaged unstable bridge. The game features numerous "achievements" (similar to PlayStation 3's Trophies and Xbox Live's Achievements) for carrying out certain tasks. Some are essential to game progress, such as helping fight off an antlion invasion, or defeating the first Hunters. Others are optional tricks or feats the player can perform, such as killing a Combine soldier with their own grenade or running down a certain number of enemies with the car.
Episode Two featured a new Hunter enemy, which had just been seen briefly in a recorded message in Episode One. The Hunter serves as one of the most dangerous enemies within the game and as means of emotional development for Alyx Vance. The Hunter is a powerful and resilient enemy which players must often run from while seeking a means to fight back; Episode Two's environments are designed with this in mind.
An interview in the August 2006 issue of PC Gamer magazine revealed that the Hunter stands 8 feet (2.4 m) tall. Erik Johnson, the game's project lead, states that the Hunters are "big and impressive, but they can go anywhere the player can go," as the player can encounter them both indoors and outdoors. Ted Backman, senior artist for Valve, talks about how the Hunter can express emotions, being a somewhat non-human character. "We want the Hunter to be able to express nervousness or aggression, [to show you] whether it's aggressive, hurt, or mad." Hunters are very aggressive and they tend to operate in packs, but can also be found supporting other Combine troops. Late in the game, they can be found escorting Striders, using their flechette guns to protect the Striders that the player is trying to attack.
Hunters primarily attack the player by bracing themselves and firing bursts from their flechette cannon. Four flechettes can vaporize an ordinary human soldier. If they do not strike a living target, the flechette charge up for several seconds and then explode, dealing minor damage to everything nearby. Hunters may also conduct a charging attack or strike with their legs if the player gets too close. Hunters are vulnerable to all weapons, but to compensate, are still quite resilient, making explosives and the pulse rifle's charged energy ball the most attractive options. Objects thrown with the gravity gun are also effective, especially if the player catches some of their flechettes with the object before hurling it (one of the in-game Achievements). In outdoor environments, they can be run over with a vehicle.
Two new forms of antlion appear in the game. The first is the glow-in-the-dark antlion grub, a harmless, worm-like creature which functions as a minor health pickup and a light source. Killing all 333 of these earns an Achievement. The second is the worker antlion (or 'acidlion') whose body produces a powerful and poisonous acid. In addition to a ranged acid spit attack, they also explode when killed, launching acid around them in a short radius, making them dangerous close-combat opponents. Although they are thematically similar to the bullsquids of the original Half-Life, they are functionally closer to the poison headcrab— as an enemy that the player will instinctively prioritize as a target. A new antlion guardian, which has glow-in-the-dark features, was also added. This "Guardian" hunts and attacks Gordon Freeman as the player endeavors to take the larval extract the Guardian protects. The vortigaunt that accompanies the player forbids him from harming the guardian, fearing the extract will be ruined if he does. The player must therefore accomplish his goal while being harried by a creature he cannot eliminate, though the player is eventually given the chance to kill it.
Episode Two features no new additions to Gordon Freeman's inventory, but introduces a new form of Gravity Gun 'ammunition', the 'Magnusson Device', named after the egotistical head of the White Forest base rocket project, Dr. Magnusson. Prior to the game's release, this weapon had been referred to as the 'Strider Buster'. The item is useless on its own—it must be deployed via the gravity gun. Level designer Dario Casali describes it as a 'sticky bomb that you fire at a Strider's underbelly that will draw power from the Strider's internal power source.' In-game, the device will stick so long as it contacts the Strider's body, and will instantly destroy it when fired upon with any other of the player's weapons. However, Hunter escorts will prioritize them as targets, either destroying them in the player's grasp or shooting already-attached ones off.
Valve's developers said new weapons were not a priority. The gravity gun was the direction of innovation they were most interested in, and objects like saw blades and flares were more interesting additions to the game. This policy was implemented with the Magnusson Device and more varied Gravity Gun 'ammunition' such as logs and half-height butane tanks, which are easier to aim than full-size fuel drums.
Large sections of the game feature a car which resembles a gutted-and-rebuilt 1969 Dodge Charger. It appears to have been tuned for performance. A radar system is installed later in the game, allowing the player to locate Rebel supply caches. In the final battle, a rear-mounted storage rack for Magnusson Devices is added and the radar is adjusted to track enemies and Magnusson Device dispensers. A homing unit is also installed so the player can quickly locate the car in the chaos of the final battle via a readout in the Hazardous Environment suit.
In contrast to Episode One's entirely urban setting, Episode Two sets the action in rural areas, villages, forests, as well as mining facilities and mountain caves. The exact location remains vague, with signs in Russian still hinting at a generic Eastern European setting, although gas pumps with the prices displayed in Swedish have added to the confusion. The gameplay is in parts, and, to an extent less geographically linear than in the previous games, with the climactic fight in particular taking place across an entire map rather than in an enclosed arena.
Continuing the plot of Half-Life 2 and Episode One, Episode Two consists of seven chapters telling the story of Gordon Freeman and Alyx Vance's journey to a large Lambda Resistance base called White Forest. The Combine's Earth occupation forces have used the destruction of the Citadel to begin opening a massive super portal which, if allowed to reach critical size, would allow the Combine to call in reinforcements from their homeworld and destroy the Resistance. However, as explained by Dr. Kleiner's broadcast in Episode One, it has also caused a communications blackout, leaving the Combine isolated and disorganized in the meantime. In addition, Combine Advisors, some of them still unhatched from their pods, are scattered about the region after evacuating the Citadel. A crucial part of the plot is the Combine's message home, which was copied by Alyx and Gordon before making their escape, that the Combine sacrificed the Citadel to send. It contains data on the Combine portal code, which the Resistance can use to collapse the portal before it forms completely.
After Gordon and Alyx climb out of the wreckage of the train they used to escape City 17, they proceed away from the former city on foot. At an old transmission station, the duo temporarily establish communication with Dr. Kleiner and Eli Vance, who are currently at White Forest. After an update of events at the now-destroyed Citadel, as well discovering the importance of the transmission packet copy that Alyx had made, they are cut off as Combine sweep the area, forcing them to move. At an abandoned mine, Alyx is critically wounded by a Hunter. A vortigaunt discovers them, and leads them to an underground Resistance shelter. The vortigaunts there have the power to heal Alyx; however, Gordon must first venture into the nearby antlion colony to recover the larval extract necessary for the healing procedure.
Gordon retrieves the extract and the vortigaunts begin to heal Alyx. While they are distracted, the G-Man is able to contact Gordon for the first time since the start of Episode One. He hints at Alyx's importance to his own long-term plans, revealing that he saved Alyx's life at Black Mesa despite objections from an unspecified third party. The G-Man then instructs an unconscious Alyx to tell her father to "prepare for unforeseen consequences."
After Alyx has recovered, she and Gordon proceed to White Forest. They arrive before a convoy of Combine troops, despite being slowed by multiple ambushes, road blocks, and a near-death encounter with an Advisor. There, Alyx and Gordon are reunited with D0g, Dr. Kleiner, and Eli Vance. The player is also formally introduced to Dr. Arne Magnusson, another former Black Mesa scientist who is egotistical, verbose, and authoritarian. The team of scientists are preparing a rocket, which they plan to use in conjunction with the Combine portal code and the satellite array launched by Gordon in Half-Life, to close the Combine superportal.
After Gordon fends off an initial Combine attack on the base, Alyx gives Dr. Kleiner the message from Judith Mossman which she recovered at the Citadel in Episode One. It contains footage and the current coordinates of the Borealis, an Aperture Science research vessel which, as Kleiner explains, one day suddenly vanished into thin air along with part of the surrounding drydock. Although it is not explained what technology the ship contains, Kleiner insists that it should be used to aid the Resistance effort, while Eli counters that it is impossible to control and must be destroyed. Regardless, they agree that Alyx and Gordon will travel to the Borealis and attempt to find Mossman. Alyx then unconsciously delivers the G-Man's message to her father, who is physically shaken. After having Alyx leave temporarily, Eli reveals to Gordon that it was the G-Man, whom he refers to as "our mutual friend," who provided Black Mesa with the test sample that caused the "resonance cascade" (the Black Mesa incident) in Half-Life, and whispered that same strange warning to him just as Gordon entered the test chamber. He promises to further discuss this with Gordon after the superportal is closed.
While the rocket is being prepared, White Forest comes under attack by a dozen Striders escorted by Hunters. Gordon engages and destroys them using experimental explosive charges created by Magnusson. The rocket is successfully launched and the super portal is closed, isolating Combine forces on Earth from their homeworld. Alyx and Gordon then prepare to leave for the Borealis, at which point Eli again warns Gordon about the ship's "cargo". The three of them head into a hangar, intending to board an old helicopter which Alyx has restored. However, a pair of Advisors burst into the hangar and restrain them. Alyx and Gordon watch helplessly as Eli is killed by one of the Advisors, but as the second Advisor prepares to kill Alyx, D0g bursts in through the roof and attacks it, causing both Advisors to flee. The game fades out slowly as Alyx, sobbing, clutches her father's body.
Episode Two was developed simultaneously with Episode One by a development team led by David Speyrer. This schedule of simultaneous development aided them in streamlining the story between the two games to create an immersive storyline. The technology used was the same for both games, allowing the development teams to quickly fix any technical problems that might arise from either game; this happened often because of the multi-platform release.
An announcement was made on July 13, 2006 stating that Episode Two would be released on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in addition to the PC, where previous iterations of the series separated. It was originally rumored that Episode Two would be delayed until 2008. On June 14, 2007, however, Valve confirmed the release date for Episode Two to be October 9, 2007 for all announced platforms. Valve handled the development of the game for the PC and Xbox 360, while Electronic Arts British office in Chertsey worked on the PlayStation 3 version of the game. It was announced on September 7, 2007 that the PlayStation 3 version of the game would be delayed because the development studio behind the game was in the United Kingdom, away from Valve's development team, and therefore lagged behind in its schedule. Valve's marketing director, Doug Lombardi, gave assurance that the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC versions of the game would be identical in functionality and performance.
Episode Two's soundtrack was composed by Kelly Bailey, who also composed the music for the Half-Life series' other installments. The music is used sparingly throughout, played primarily during scenes of major plot development or particularly important action sequences, such as an early fight with a massive wave of Antlions or speeding down train tracks while being fired on by a helicopter. The soundtrack is included in the Russian edition of The Orange Box and is also sold separately. An audio commentary is also featured, as in Episode One and Lost Coast.
A notable change to the vocal cast is the inclusion of actor Tony Todd as the voice of the Vortigaunts. He replaces Louis Gossett, Jr. in the role. Actor Adam Baldwin voices several of the civilian and rebel NPCs, most notably the character who informs the player of the Striders' locations in the penultimate chapter.
Half-Life 2: Episode 2 received critical acclaim. The game had an average score of 90.68% based on 22 reviews on the review aggregator GameRankings. On Metacritic, the game had an average score of 90 out of 100, based on 21 reviews.
Dan Adams of IGN rated the game 9.4 out of 10 and praised its improved visuals and expansive environments, but cited the short six-hour length as a drawback. He said: "Any way you look at it, Episode Two stands out, even among the Half-Life series, as something special ... a burly experience packed into roughly six hours or so that offers up all the diversity, level design, and thoughtful gameplay we've known while making sure to propel the story forward and leave us wanting more." Bit-tech.net awarded the game a 10 out of 10 score, citing approval of how the story turns and the introduction of side stories and new characters. 1UP.com praised the game, noting that the game's "entire five-hour experience" was "vivid, emotionally engaging, and virtually unsurpassed." PC Gamer UK also applauded Episode Two, noting it "is the most sumptuous chapter of the Half-Life saga, and by a country mile." The New York Times enjoyed the gameplay, saying, "The battles in Episode 2 of Half-Life 2 often require as much ingenuity as they do fast reflexes."
Computer and Video Games commented on the game's graphics, saying that although the game's engine was "starting to look its age," its "wonderful art design and the odd bit of technical spit-shine ensure that Episode Two [...] doesn't lose any of its wow factor." They also noticed that the game "goes about fixing a lot of the niggling complaints we had about Episode One," especially applauding the open forests and rocky hills from Episode Two.
Several reviewers noted shortcomings. The New York Times commented on the story for Episode Two, noting, "While it sows a few seeds for the final episode of the trilogy, the game lacks the driving force of the previous episode." GameSpy criticized the game, saying it is "a little more inconsistent than its predecessors," and that the opening segments of the game were "arguably the weakest" parts.
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