Half Life 2: Episode One Review ★★★★★

Half Life 2: Episode One continues the scripted excellence of its predecessor, Half Life 2. This AAA production features top-notch voice acting, with well-knowns Robert Guillaume, Robert Culp, Louis Gossett Jr., and the always-popular Michelle Forbes headlining the stellar cast. This action FPS will feed those hungry for more Gravity Gun shoot-em-up game play, yet enough physics puzzles are sprinkled throughout to keep the cerebral gamers satiated as well. Your constant companion, Alyx, never becomes annoying and you never get the sense of babysitting or of being on a contrived escort mission. That's pretty impressive itself, as Alyx is a constant presence throughout the episode's five missions.

What you won't get is much originality, epic set pieces or much of anything memorable. It's too bad, and makes the experience feel like a school assignment finished in homeroom the day it was due. Finished by a smart student, yes, but still an effort lacking in freshness or creativity. Much of the experience has been done before: battling zombies in an underground freeway; tossing Overwatch around with your supercharged Gravity Gun; jumping puzzles in and around the Citadel. Speaking of jumping puzzles, Episode One is my first attempt at playing Half Life with a console controller, and the jumping puzzles make me feel like I'm rollerblading on an oil slick at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Many accidental deaths do not enhance game play.

Performance on the 360 is quite good and the sound is impressive. Load screens are frequent but relatively quick, especially after installing the game disk to the hard drive. Artistically, the visuals are identical to Half Life 2, which is to say beautiful but bleak.

The episodic intent is to reduce time spent between releases, but that shouldn't mean that the episodes can be a retread of battles fought in the main title. Episode One unfortunately feels like five filler levels that could have been left on the editing room floor. For a more compelling Half Life 2 experience (though even shorter), view the Purchase Brothers' Escape from City 17.

- Last Update 07/03/09