Last week, we took in the horrific glory of Half-Life 2: Episode One. Now it’s the turn of what stands as the final installment of this legendary series. Valve let Episode Two loose in 2007 to yet more critical acclaim – it’s astonishingly good. As a first-person shooter (FPS) experience it’s, once again, an unmatchable experience.
Half-Life 2: Episode Two
Following on immediately after Episode Two, things get mental from the start. Having made it through a spectacular train crash, physicist Gordon Freeman and Alyx Vance must now voyage further on to challenge the might of the dystopian Combine state.
First off, the game being from 2007, it’s graphically the most impressive title. And whilst Episode One is a surprisingly short mini-sequel, Episode Two is much longer and features some impressive concepts and set-pieces. It’s also as insane as ever – your heart will be in your mouth for most of the adventure (not literally, fool).
Half-Life 2‘s formula is to ramp up the intensity, building to an almighty conclusion. And Episode Two offers the most spectacular realisation of that approach yet. First off (spoiler alert), you have an eerie trudge through an ant lion hive.
This involves a tense battle with a horde of the ant lion buggers (above) in a scene reminiscent of the heroic efforts of the marines in Aliens as they do battle with the xenomorphs. All rather intense, but it doesn’t let up for a moment from there.
At the conclusion of the experience, there’s an almighty free-for-all in a giant facility. This is immediately followed by the need to battle of a horde of stalkers using bombs, grit, determination, and nerves of steel. It’s riveting stuff – exactly why the Half-Life 2 have this recognition of the best FPS series in history.
And that’s all just a brief summary of the madness you will enjoy. Episode Two is brilliant. But it’s also a peculiar coda in the game’s history. Why? It’s the last bloody one.
The expectation after Episode Two was for a third installment shortly afterwards… but the game has gone AWOL. Despite efforts by Valve’s dev team to create something, all projects eventually fell by the wayside.
Thusly, we seemingly have the conclusion to the series with the 2007 release. But fans, and the media, certainly haven’t stopped plaguing Valve with questions about the possibility.
Valve, however, seems too busy with its other projects. This includes managing its biggest hit – Steam. On that platform, it encourages big (and indie) devs to create new and exciting games. The indie scene is particularly vibrant right now and Valve has a big part in ensuring much radical creativity is taking place.
That’s befitting for a business with games as astonishing as Half-Life 2 and Portal 2. But it’s not what most fans want. 11 years after the last installment, there’s lingering hope Half-Life 3 will one day hit the gaming scene. It would be the biggest news in gaming history!
But Valve sure doesn’t need the money. It also doesn’t need any further critical acclaim – or awards. But there is a metric tonne of pressure to deliver something astonishing – unseen of before in the industry. Perhaps, and this is only conjecture, Valve thinks there’s nothing left to do with the series. Or an impossible task is ahead.
Valve still delivers fun games, but nothing to Half-Life 2 levels. Other developers can, though. Nintendo’s run of genius, and this isn’t intended as a sycophantic fanboy moment, is beyond belief. Nintendo has relentlessly delivered genius over a 30+ year period.
Nintendo’s unrelenting brilliance led to a rare outing in FPS world with the Metroid Prime trilogy (with the help of Retro Studios).
But even this isn’t to Half-Life 2’s level. The latter is astonishing, meteoric genius. And Valve’s decision to distance itself from the game that made it is somewhat understandable given its Steam commitments. But also frustrating.
The result is fans are left without a complete story to one of the industry’s most celebrated games. There is no closure. There is no answer. There are no clues. And that’s a very Valve thing to do.