Half Life 2 Episode 2: Review

Mikey 7 comments
Half Life 2 Episode 2: Review

Half Life 2: Episode 2 picks up where Episode One finished, after the destruction and massive explosion of the Citadel, which appeared unsurvivable. But as we all knew Episode 2 was imminent so it was just a matter of how Gordon and Alyx would survive, not if.

Warning: This point onwards will certainly contain spoilers in one form or another.

Alyx tags along once again but this time for a significantly smaller portion of the game due to a life threatening injury sustained early on. This leads Gordon on his first quest, to aid (protect) the Vortigaunt while searching for the nectar that will save Alyx. This side quest seems a little out of place in the grand scheme of Half Life, and has the feel on par with a less-than-average episode of your favourite TV show. It's still a good ride though.

The G-Man makes his most memorable appearance and gives another of his cryptic speeches, and just like the previous Half Life games will have you asking more questions than him answering. The G-Man is one the most compelling and interesting characters in the Half Life universe and it just wouldn't be the same without him, even if as mentioned it is often hard to make sense of his intentions.

Game Play

Like its predecessors, HL2 EP2 keeps you busy. There is always something to do be it in battle or solving puzzles. Two new enemies add to the already daunting challenge, the albino arachnids and the combine hunters, the latter being the most challenging.

A single new weapon is also introduced, the Magnusson bomb, specifically for attacking Striders. As the Striders were insanely difficult and time consuming to destroy in the previous HL2 games, Valve probably introduced this new weapon to make getting through the game climax (which has you attacking more Striders than ever before) less tedious.

The Magnusson bomb is difficult to use as it involves handling and launching it with the gravity gun, landing it on the body of the moving strider, and then switching to another weapon (pistol for example) and shooting it which detonates the bomb and kills the Strider. But it is among the most satisfying of accomplishments when you see the strider blow in a gazillion pieces.

The entire episode can easily be completed in a couple afternoons on Normal difficulty in around 4 to 6 hours depending on your skill. That might sound short but bear in mind these Half Life 2 episodes are part of Valve's episodic content distribution plan, whereby short episodes are delivered at shorter intervals (and at significantly cheaper cost), as opposed to waiting several years for a full single game. This way Valve keep their cash flow coming in and gamers get more Half Life gaming sooner.


It's time to get real. The Source engine, once the most glorious at its time, is now starting to look dated. Valve have added enhancement to the engine with each new episode, such as High Dynamic Range Lighting and now Motion Blur for example. But ultimately it doesn't cut it when compared to some of the current generation titles like Crysis.

As there is only a single episode left in the Half Life 2 series, Valve are best to get moving on it sooner than later.


If you have already played any Half Life game then you already know the sound design is top notch. In EP2 Valve has introduced some more rip-snorting tunes that break out during the most intense of battle sequences. If only I could put them on my MP3 player.


Just like EP1, EP2 has the developer commentary game play option. In this mode, markers are placed throughout the maps that activate voice commentary by various Valve developers. It really provides an interesting insight into level design fundamentals and issues encountered during development and play testing. It is truly mind boggling just how much effort went into the level design, and true testament to the quality of work that Valve has accomplished. I recommend only using this mode when playing the game through for the second time.


On several occasions I experienced an annoying jump bug where my character point of view would stutter up and down every few seconds - even on flat surfaces. The only remedy I could find was to load my previous save and play through that section again. This happened on 4 separate occasions. Also the game did crash when loading the same certain map several times, which I initially put down to my rig over heating, but was later disproved. Though this could be an isolated incident.

Another annoyance is the download size reported when acquiring the game through Valve's game distribution client, Steam. When I began downloading the game Steam said the disc usage would be 1,338 mb (1.33gb), but when it had finally completed I had consumed nearly 4,000mb (4gb), which put me over my monthly bandwidth allowance and now I am throttled to dial-up speeds until the end of the month. Upon examining the game directory it turns out there are only 403mb worth of files in there, and that includes about 70mb of my screen shots and 40 mb of game saves. So clearly Valve need to do some work on disc and bandwidth usage reporting within Steam.

Final thoughts

Valve have delivered yet another engaging challenging episode to the Half Life 2 series. The ending was deliberately quite unexpected and left me anxious to see what happens next, but that could be another year away.

If my arm was twisted and I had to compare it to Episode 1, I would say Episode 2 was far more enjoyable although a lot shorter. Ultimately both are great games.

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Friday 23rd November 2007 | 07:37 AM

short episodes are delivered at shorter intervals (and at significantly cheaper cost), as opposed to waiting several years for a full single game.

over a year apart for just an episode ... not cool

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Friday 23rd November 2007 | 08:50 AM

But better than waiting 5 or 6 years for the full game (like HL2).

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Tuesday 27th November 2007 | 04:03 AM

What pissed me off was they jacked up the cost for this Episode to $30, or you could get the Orange Box for $50, with a bunch of fluff crap.

" (and at significantly cheaper cost)," I remember this quote to, so, the price now for the 3 episodes, that should equal Half Life 3, is now at least $70 to $80(EP 1 + 2 = $50, EP 3 probably $30).

So now I'm paying $30 for a few hours of game play (less than 6 I think?) and in the end it will be about $70 to $80 for a game much shorter than HL 1or HL 2.

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Tuesday 27th November 2007 | 09:08 AM

I can see your point CT. At the same time I can see the benefits of the system Valve have in place. When you look at games that have extended development periods, they usually fall far short of expectations for one main reason: game play expectations change faster than game developers can change their game engine.

If I may point to Doom 3 as a perfect example, which was in development for more years than Half Life 2 if I remember correctly. I am not sure if you played it or not, but here it is in one easy sentence. Walk down drab corridor, blast zombie, switch between weapon and torch, repeat for 8 or so hours. Essentially it was Doom 1 with prettier graphics.

Valve on the other hand had an advantage. They kept HL2 secret for a long time while they developed the SOURCE engine they knew would ultimately require a long life span and the flexibility to upgrade it. And we have seen this already with some significant enhancements to the engine in EP1 and more in Ep2. This means they can concentrate on delivering content relatively quickly.

This also helps keep the Half-Life universe in peoples minds by means of anticipation. If the next Half-Life game wasn't due out for another 5 or 6 years, people would loose interest and Valve would have the additional challenge of trying to build a game while keeping up to date with ever-changing game player expectations. Duke Nukem is testament to this, with ever changing game engines and after a decade they still have not delivered a game - and probably wont. I know my expectations for what is delivered in a game engine far exceeds what it did a few years ago. Today I expect full interactiveity with the environment, realistic physics, super high quality textures, high dynamic range lighting, convincing AI and a compelling story line, and that's just for starters. Few game engines can deliver all of these successfully.

As it takes about a year for Valve to deploy an episode, I would not be surprised if they announce they have been working on a new engine - SOURCE II - which will power Half-Life 3. Oh and an additional announcement that they have already been working on Half-Life 3 for the passed few years. If Valve are to capitalise on the HL franchise effectively they need to be in this line of thinking. If these 2 predictions come true let it be known I called it :-)

But I agree the pricing is a little high. Ep1 was $25 if I remember correctly and EP2 was a little over $30, which is odd as EP1 was a longer game. Well it was longer for me.

I would expect Episode 3 to be a lot longer game (as it will be the final episode) and consequently probably more expensive. One thing you have to admit though is Half Life 2 and the Episodes allow for some quality gaming.

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Sunday 2nd December 2007 | 06:20 AM

Hi Michael!

And thx for the nice review... =)

I've encountered the similar "jump bug" that you describe, where the pow stutters briefly up and down. I was however not able to solve it by simply loading a savegame. It's always there whether I load or completely exit and fire the game up again.

Did u manage to figure out what's causing it? I'm not aware Valve currently addressing this issue anywhere...

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Sunday 2nd December 2007 | 08:52 AM

Hi Sebu.

No problem. Yes it turns out the jump bug solution was a fluke, because as I played the game through a 2nd time I was unable to solve the problem by reloading the previous save again. Playing it through a 3rd time (with developer commentary enabled) the bug did not appear.

I had a quick look around through Steam forums and didn't see any mention of the bug. And I didn't want it to get in the way of me playing it anyway :-)

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Friday 9th January 2009 | 10:41 AM

I hate this bug where gordon jumps wherever i move him. Any idea of how to solve it?

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