Episode 1 picks up almost precisely where the dramatic conclusion of Half Life 2 ended. Protagonist Gordon Freeman, alongside accomplice Alyx Vance, have evaded the destruction of the citadel, and are caught in a race to escape as the volatile citadel core threatens to devastate the battle-ravished skeleton of City 17.
Episode 1 embraces all that made Half Life 2 one of the greatest first person shooters of the century. Returning are the incredible physics, hand in hand with the gravity gun, the wide selection of weapons, the fantastic Half Life narrative, the same enemies, improved graphics, and of course at least one seesaw puzzle. Though that’s likely enough to make those who reveled in the intense Half Life 2 experience eager for more, it fails to add anything new to the formula in the way Opposing Force did for the original Half Life.
This is a notion strengthened by the distinct familiarity of locations present throughout the extremely short campaign. The battle continues to be fought amidst the decadence of City 17, and the story commences as Alex and Gordon, with the aid of Dog, fight through the vigor of the Combine to once more revisit the Citadel. The resistance then commutes to the streets, much like in the latter portions of Half Life 2, with the aid of the scarce remnants of breathing citizens. As such the first episode falls short of advancing the story in any decisive direction, instead paving the way for Episode 2 to install a new chapter outside the proverbial walls of City 17.
Despite not adding anything particularly unique to the narrative, the game does herald the first opportunity gamers have had to play through an entire narrative with the support of another character. This creates some interesting set pieces; perhaps most memorably one in which Alyx assumes the role of sniper, as Gordon maneuvers his way through a street in which each and every former citizen of City 17 is now a zombie. Another particularly intense expanse is witnessed through the darkened, destitute tunnels under the city. With only a flashlight to illuminate the potentially shuffling shadows, the duo have to navigate their way to the surface. Of course a scourge of screaming zombies aren’t ones for consenting to the passing of the living.
Episode 1 doesn’t interfere with the blueprints established in Half Life 2. Nor does it add a wealth of original weapons, enemies, and locations or evolve the Half Life legend. It does however bestow fans an additional escapade into City 17, whilst constructing the foundations for Episode 2 to be built upon. Whilst in harmony with all that made Half Life 2 so astute and superior to the menagerie of other first person shooters surrounding it, Episode 1 is a necessity to anyone romanced by the first game, and the Orange Box an obligation to anyone who has ever appreciated an incredibly well made first person shooter.