Half-Life 2: Episode 2 - hands-on

We’ve all been horribly misled about Episode Two. We ended Episode One steaming out of City 17 on a train as the Citadel exploded, but it crashed and we heard Alyx cry out. The next thing we saw was her dangling from a smashed bridge in the Episode Two trailer, then her limp body being carried by a Vortigaunt. And OK, the savvy among us probably realized she wasn’t dead, but it was pretty clear she’d been badly hurt in the crash and would be out of action for most of the episode.

Utterly untrue. First, we should just say that if you don’t want to know anything about what’s in Episode Two, you shouldn’t be reading a preview of Episode Two. Still reading? Good. Alyx’s jeans are a little scuffed at the knees after the crash, but that’s about the extent of the damage. She helps you out of the train wreck (using the gravity gun! Brilliant!), and you spend almost the entire episode with her at your side. In fact, she sticks with you more than ever, hopping in and out of your vehicle and fighting alongside you in the kind of climactic battles she used to sit out of.

The lion’s share of Episode Two - which at seven hours is what Valve calls the “meat” of the trilogy - is an epic road-trip to a rebel safe haven called White Forest. You and Alyx are driving and scrambling across mountainous, forested terrain, away from the spectacular smoldering ruins of City 17, but it’s not easy going. A convoy of heavy Combine forces is racing you to White Forest, you’re deep in Antlion country, and the Portal Storms that ravaged Earth in the first place have started up again. These green rifts let in Xen’s monsters - headcrabs and the like - to soften up the Resistance, in preparation for a larger portal to the Combine dimension to bring their real forces through.

Last time, these storms decimated the world’s combined military. This time, we don’t have a military. In Eli’s words, “It’s the Seven Hour War all over again, only this time we won’t last seven minutes.” The only way to stop them is to get the data packet Alyx stole in Episode One to the Rebellion’s best minds at White Forest. It’s not clear what Drs Vance, Kleiner and pompous new guy Magnusson are planning, except that it involves building a rocket. But that packet contains the data the Combine used to open these portals, so it’s your only hope of closing them.

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