As for Antlion country... you know how they burst up from the ground, having burrowed towards you via a network of underground tunnels? That’s where you’ll be going. These tunnels are rather pretty thanks to new flashlight shadows (think Doom 3) and a special shader-effect Valve has devised specifically for bio-luminescence (you have to love them for that). But in and around them, you’ll be hounded by the hideous new Worker Antlions. When we tell you these spit poison, you’ll probably imagine the half-hearted hocking of the Bullsquids in the original Half-Life. This is more like a Howitzer. Their venom is so corrosive and spat with such force that it actually smashes through almost anything between you and it. If it hits you - and it usually does - the liquid blinds you and the venom burns through your health. And in case that doesn’t make them hard enough to fight, they hop around like hyperactive locusts.
But the real star of Episode Two is our cover girl: the Hunter, a three-legged Combine killing machine smaller than a Strider and agile enough to chase you into buildings. How agile? One chased us into the building we were hiding in by jumping through the upstairs window. The rather uninspired pulse-rifle type attack you saw them use in the trailer was another red herring; you’ll be pleased to hear. They now fire a three-round-burst of phosphorescent charges, which thud into the scenery and fizzle there ominously. After a few seconds, they detonate in a sparkling blue blast that burns you and knocks you back. And if they hit you directly, you’re in for a lot worse.
The genius of this attack is that it means nowhere is safe. Your instinct is to duck behind cover and peek out to take potshots, and Alyx’s new AI means she does the same. It doesn’t work. When those flares come thwacking in on railgun-like spirals of cyan vapor, you’ve got three seconds to vacate the premises or die.
Eventually you realize that it’s actually safer to charge recklessly out into the open and jump around the Hunter like a lunatic; if you keep moving, you can avoid almost all of their time-delayed explosions. The trouble is that they’re also terrifyingly fast, and can ram you like an Antlion Guard if you don’t keep sidestepping. They’re also tough, and ammo is scarce, so pretty soon you’re using the gravity gun to suck up anything hard from the log cabins and barns around you and pelt your angry tripod assailant with it. The violent whirlwind you end up dancing is fantastic fun, and the feel of these fights becomes a lot like the most frenetic clashes of Half-Life 2: Deathmatch. They’re the best fights since the original Half-Life’s devious marines.