Dec 17, 2007
[Editor's Note: Some of you may notice that our PS3 and 360 reviews of this game are the same, but the PS3 version has scored lower. This is not a typo. The two versions have identical content and both are fantastic. However, the PS3 version sometimes moves at a chuggy, stuttery pace, and has notably longer loading times. These faults have earned it a lower score.]
It's surreal that Valve are still churning out more Half-Life 2, three years on. As beautifully crafted as Episode One was, it did tread on a lot of its parent's toes. Episode Two certainly doesn't do that. It turbos away from them at 90 miles an hour in a customised Dodge Charger, with Alyx riding shotgun.
We won't spoil any details, but Ep2 is what happens after you and Alyx break free of City 17 once and for all. The setting for most of your previous adventures is nothing more than a smouldering scar on Episode Two's skyline and the Citadel looks like a long-finished game of girder-Jenga. Because of that, and because you spend a lot of time driving a car that could have swerved straight off the set of a post-apocalyptic Dukes of Hazzard, Ep2 feels wild, dangerous and cool.
Your time - a little under five hours - is diced into refreshingly different sections. Valve still do pacing better than anyone. They break fights with puzzles, driving with combat, solitude with friendly faces and claustrophobic tunnel-running with epic, sweeping vistas of naturalistic landscape.
Towering conifers bristle gently in the breeze, casting soft shadows across winding mountain paths. Each toothy vortigaunt's big peering eye glints glassily, a perfect ruby sunk into finely wrinkled brown skin. Even the shotgun is newly beautiful, gleaming ominously in the sun with a convincingly weighty gunmetal sheen. We get to see the pine-covered rocky land of this nameless nation, and it conforms to no established game-environment stereotype. It resembles only the real world - some proud, cold country we feel sure we've been to - and it has that authentic real-world grubbiness that only Valve have figured out how to recreate.