Half Life 2: Episode Two Review ★★★★

Half Life 2: Episode Two is a significant improvement over Episode One, particularly as a shooter. Episode Two is a lot more fun to play, with intense firefights and memorable battles. Early in the game is a terrific sequence where you'll need to defend Alyx from waves of antlions as they attack from various tunnels. The frenzied action builds until help finally arrives, and you are treated to a display of Vortigaunt shooter prowess that would even impress John Woo.

At game's end, an epic Stryder battle on a large, open map will have you speeding in your car to stop a nearly-overwhelming onslaught as the Combine try to prevent humanity's only chance at closing their portal entrance to earth. It's the kind of epic firefight that Episode One was sorely lacking.

One very odd, and optional, addition to gameplay involves lugging around a garden gnome throughout most of the game. While I'm not much of a fan of contrived Xbox Live! achievements, the Little Rocket Man achievement was too goofy to pass up. Those looking to earn this achievement will find detailed instructions on when to bring the gnome along and when he can be set down for later retrieval.

The story is advanced slightly, though there are many unanswered questions that remain. A speech from G-Man briefly touches on the vital assistance of the Vortigaunts but it is still unclear as to why exactly they are now allies with humans. Other questions such as the status of Judith Mossman and the significance of the mysterious Borealis are raised towards the end, seemingly as setup for Episode Three.

Given the unexpectedly long development time for Half Life 2's episodic content, the game is short, although somewhat longer than the previous episode. With so many questions still unanswered, and with Valve seeming to have hit their stride again with Episode Two, the wait for Episode Three will be a difficult one.

- Last Update 01/18/10