In one early section you're forced to use sentry guns to defend the entrances of an underground mine. It's no way near as challenging as the similar prison scene from Half-Life 2, but at the same time it's no way near as tedious either thanks to your hugely entertaining comrades.
This is where you first get to see the Vortigaunt in action; together they wrestle ant lions to the ground before unleashing devastating electricity attacks. They're a force to be reckoned with and feel far more alive than your average grunt thanks to a plethora of plucky dialogue. "I think you will be very glad you saved those crates, Freeman."
With Crysis et all currently dominating the PC space, Half-Life desperately needs to ditch the linear battles and embrace the world of open combat and thankfully that's exactly what Episode Two's mammoth forests introduce.
The environment is Valve's new play thing; driving sections are no longer empty roads with the occasional zombie on them, they're hard, off-road and your motor's not the only thing on the road flattening stuff anymore. These free-roaming forests are the scene for the most intense strider battles yet. Whole teams of the 30ft tripods descend on rebel camps, and with the assistance of tricky Hunters dancing between their spiky feet, it's a more challenging game than ever.
The Hunters themselves single-handedly knock the firefights up a notch. They're relentless, wield Needler-esque exploding ammo and provide way more challenge than the Combine's 'stand around and get shot' grunts - who now look too much like Killzone's Helgast. Hold up in a house and Hunters will smash through the windows. Try and take them up close and they'll simply charge your arse down. After the relatively disappointing gun fights of the last episode, the Hunters are a very welcome addition to the Half-Life universe.
The Combine meanwhile is not quite as thick as before, but it could still do with a bit of extra maths tuition. They seem to work together as a team more than before, taking up positions on rooftops and barely straying too far from the pack - but at other times you'll find them standing around getting shot in the face.
Been here before?
But Episode Two's biggest problem isn't some huge, glaring fault in its design, it's the fact that we've replayed, obsessed over and caned Half-Life 2 and it's subsequent episode so much that the formula has become all too predictable.
The first half of Episode Two definitely borders on tired ground; one minute you're in an exploration section, then you're fighting ant lions. Oh, here's where we have to solve a physics puzzle - and now we're fighting zombies. It's still fun to play but the boys behind Half-Life desperately need to shake things up a bit for the next Episode - and we reckon Portal's excellent gravity gun might be the trick.
Thankfully Two's length rests an hour or so beyond Episode One's four or five hours (for an experienced FPS fan)- which most people managed to clear in a single sitting. We could argue that most of the re-treading of the first few hours would've done better on the cutting room floor, but who's going to turn down more Half-Life? You're always going to want more.
Its cast of characters still beats out anything competing titles offer (though that might be a different story once Mass Effect is out), and fire fights and the AI in general have seen long overdue improvements since the last episode.
So what if it's a continuation of the Half-Life story, with familiar gameplay and a few surprises? We still dare you not to put it in your top ten games of the year.
More great story blended with improved AI and better firefights. It's starting to retread old ground though...
- Open environments are a blast
- Best Half-Life gun fights yet
- Characters are still impressive
- Rather predictable to start off with