Half-Life 2, as I’ve discussed, is a great game. But it leaves the player wanting more. Even people who aren’t playing it, who sit beside the player wrapped in their Snuggie watching the action unfold and occasionally laughing at player error or wincing at bad things that happen to Gordon, found themselves asking “That’s IT?!?” Well, happily, Valve chose to continue the story of the game in a series of smaller episodic installments, the first of which being Half-Life 2 Episode 1.

Courtesy Valve

We pick up right where Half-Life 2 left us, with silent uber-nerd protagonist Gordon Freeman separated from his would-be fixer, the G-Man, by a helpful and powerful group of vortigaunts. Gordon wakes up buried in rubble, and D0g helpfully digs him out. Alyx is very pleased to see you, but the happy reunion is short-lived. The reactor at the heart of the Citadel, which dominates City 17 and serves as the headquarters for the Combine, is on the cusp of going critical. Despite having just narrowly escaped the place just moments before, you and Alyx must venture back into the Citadel to stabilize the reactor and buy yourselves enough time to evacuate the people you can from City 17.

Much to my delight, the bulk of Half-Life 2 Episode 1 is spent traveling and fighting alongside Alyx. It never feels like an escort mission, though, as Alyx is more than capable of taking care of herself. She’ll often scout ahead of you, man gun emplacements and even snipes a bit at one point. Everything that made her a standout character in the original game is present here, and then some.

Courtesy Valve
Smart money says the antlion eats a lead salad.

Episode 1 is quite a bit shorter than the original game but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Packing the sort of action, survival horror, storytelling and humor that makes Half-Life 2 such a good gaming experience into just a few chapters is no small feat, but Episode 1 pulls it off. There’s a bit more emphasis on story and less on extended sequences of dealing with zombies, fighting off soldiers or solving physics puzzles.

Which is not to say that such things aren’t present. You definitely will be doing all of the above. It just happens in smaller chunks that make it a bit easier to play the game end to end in fewer sittings. The distance between the enigmatic opening and eye-widening cliffhanger ending is shortened, and with the amount of action, intelligent writing and humor they’ve managed to cram between the two ends, you’re all but guaranteed not to get bored.

Stuff I Liked: Everything from Half-Life 2 that worked. Great battle at the end.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: The only really negative thing I can think of is that we didn’t see more of D0g.
Stuff I Loved: Alyx. Definitely one of the best companions of all time in a video game. Some of her lines are solid gold.

Bottom Line: Increases the value of The Orange Box by an additional 50-75%. Worth getting, worth playing, worth all the praise.

Orange Box Reviews: 40% complete.