Half-Life 2: Episode Two
Released: October 10 2007
Episode Two follows up Episode One (obviously). Gordon and Alyx have escaped from City 17 with the stolen data and travel to the resistance outpost at White Forest. But the Combine are hot on their heels, and the resistance hopes to launch a satellite in time to prevent a massive new portal event that would make Black Mesa seem tiny in comparison.
Episode Two was rated a little higher than its predecessor, ending up with a 90% average. Critics loved the new elements and the technical improvements over its predecessor, particularly the graphics and environments. There were still complaints of the shortness of the episode.
Like the other Half-Life games, there have been a lot of minor technical fixes and updates. Nothing too big.
After the relative sameness of Episode One, we finally get some new environments: forested mountains and an ant lion hive. Episode Two has received some pretty big graphical upgrades, and they really show — the new areas look great. The wet cavern walls glisten and shine so you can see every tiny texture variance. Water reflections seem to have been improved. The backdrops look much nicer too, which works especially well with the very long sightlines and looming mountains.
In Episode Two we meet a few new baddies. The first is the acid lion, a pale and rounder ant lion that tosses poisonous acid at you from a distance. They add a new threat in the ant lion burrows but are kind of meh.
Much more noteworthy are the Hunters and the Advisors, new Combine forces. Hunters are three-legged, fast, and agile scout units, that also happen to be extremely powerful. They travel in small packs and fire explosive flechettes. They're pretty nasty.
Advisors are oversized psychic grubs that seem to be highly intelligent. They're regrouping the Combine forces under their command, re-establishing communications and leading an attack on White Forest. You don't actually get to fight any of them, but I hope I get to kill a few in the next game.
New Plot Developments
This is the best part. Episode One was light on plot, but Episode Two is jam-packed with it. You learn more about the Combine and the Vortigaunts, get a few revelations about the G-Man, witness some character development, and discover what appears to be the core plot element for the next game, which also happens to be a crossover that puts Half-Life and... something else which I won't spoil... in the same game universe. There's some genuinely poignant and exciting stuff that goes on here.
Some critics argued that the plot felt weaker because there was more stuff going on, and not as pressing a driving force. I love the complexity and prefer it to Episode One.
Ant Lion Attack
At one point, deep underground, you have to defend a room against swarms of ant lions. There are four tunnels leading into the room, and all you have are two resistance members, two turrets, and a lot of ammo. Each tunnel has a traffic light set up next to it, and the number of lights that turn on show how many ant lions will be coming down that tunnel. Pretty simple.
It starts out easy with one light at one tunnel, but then things get more challenging as ant lions come from multiple tunnels at once and in greater numbers. For the final wave, all three lights on all four tunnels go off, and the music starts blasting. Feels good man.
Just as the resistance is preparing to launch the rocket, a massive group of Striders (and Hunter escorts) storms in. You have to prevent the Striders from reaching the launch facility and destroying the rocket, armed only with a car and some sticky bombs (“Magnusson Devices”). The Hunters will shoot down the bombs, so you have to deal with them before you can take out the Striders. Fortunately, your car is pretty good at running them over.
There's an achievement for protecting every single building in the complex. It's extremely difficult unless you either look up or learn which Striders will actually target and destroy the side buildings, because only three of them will — but they move more quickly than the others.
There's a very exciting segment where you're being pursued by a hunter-chopper with tons of firepower, and you're stuck in a defenceless, hoodless muscle car. All you can do is drive hard and hope you don't get hit, and it's pretty crazy.
It's especially crazy if you're going for the gnome achievement, where you have to carry a garden gnome with you throughout the whole game. There's not really a good place to put the gnome, so it falls out of the car if you drive or corner too fast. On the other hand, if you drive too slow, you get torn to pieces by the chopper. It can get pretty frustrating, but very satisfying to complete.
Out of nowhere you're introduced to another former Black Mesa employee who was never actually in any of the previous games. That might only have been a little weird, but he turns out to be a bit of a caricature: a typical blustering egocentric. Nothing about him really stands out and he seems kind of unnecessary.
This isn't really a bad point, but it's more bad than neutral.
Recommendation: Play it.
Like Episode One, you should absolutely play this game if you're enjoying the franchise. I'd rate this game significantly better than Episode One due to the greater plot focus and some cool new elements and environments. Playing it again really makes me sad that Episode Three isn't out yet.