After about roughly four hours of game play, I've finished Half-Life 2: Episode One. I fully intend to go back through the game at least twice: once on a harder difficulty, and once with the commentary system turned on. The following points are those I think most worth talking about.
- Incredible Atmosphere: Throughout the entire game, you literally feel like a refugee fleeing City 17. You never have enough supplies, the Combine are always on your tail, and it's literally one narrow escape after another. I was literally on the edge of my seat the entire game.
- HDR: High dynamic range lighting in Half-Life 2 is simply awesome. This is the best use of the technology of any game I've seen, and it adds so much to the overall presentation.
- Excellent Level Design: This goes hand in hand with the atmospheric presentation. Each level, although shorter than the ones in Half-Life 2, is incredibly well designed. The locales feel quite realistic, and the attention to detail is astounding.
- Alyx: Nearly all of Episode One takes place alongside Alyx, and that simple fact adds so much to the action. Not only does she cover your butt a number of times, but you must look out for hers as well. And who could resist fighting to save a girl as sexy as her? Her AI is incredible; she never gets in the way during a firefight and she's a damn good marksman. Did I mention that she's really sexy?
- The G-Man: I won't spoil it, but the G-Man gets some much deserved comeuppance.
- Voice Acting: The voice acting is top notch. No other game that I've played in recent times comes close to the quality presented here; every actor is convincing to the last.
- Story Line Advancement: This goes without saying. Episode One answers a number of questions, asks a number of new ones (so exciting!), and advances the storyline considerably.
- Episode Two Trailer: A sneak peek at what's coming in Episode Two is included with the game (and it looks wickedly cool).
- Incredibly Short: I want more Half-Life! Four hours just isn't enough (although I do still have the commentary system to check out, and I'll definitely play it through again).
- Too Expensive?: This is a sore point with a number of gamers on various forums that I peruse every once in a while. $19.95 just seems a tad too expensive for this amount of gaming. Make it $14.95 and you've got yourself a deal. (Will I continue to pay $19.95 for future episodes? Absolutely. Half-Life is just that good.)
- Stuttering: Maybe it's just my system (I wouldn't be surprised), but the game seemed to stutter more than I would have liked. Most of the time it seemed to be related to loading sound effects.
- Episode Two Trailer: Once you beat the game, the trailer for episode two is launched. At first, I thought my game had crashed. I tried to exit Steam and got a warning that a Steam application was still in use. A little notice on what they were doing would have been helpful.
- Character Appearance: How is it that Barney looks like crap but Alyx is still as hot as ever? Doesn't everyone get a little dirty in this deal?
If you enjoyed Half-Life 2, I think you would really enjoy Episode One. If you thought Half-Life 2 was just a mediocre game, I would recommend avoiding this next chapter. Plenty of people will no doubt complain about the length, but I don't think anyone can argue about the level of execution. The action is tight, the levels are well designed, and the story gets pushed along nicely, leaving the player with a number of new questions. If you're looking for a fun little action romp, I highly recommend Half-Life 2: Episode One. I for one am eagerly awaiting Episode Two.