Valve has released a new Steam update recently announcing that the long-awaited and much delayed Half-Life: Episode 2 is nearing completion.

No, really.

Valve has stated that each episode of the continuing series will have a new focus. For the first episode this focus was on NPC interaction, with the player being constantly accompanied by Gordon's sexy sidekick, Alyx Vance. Episode 2 will focus more on large, open environments - something the Source engine has not previously been known for.

Half-Life: Episode 2 will be shipping with two other Valve titles. The massively addictive team game, Team Fortress 2, which has been rendered in a special cartoony style will make up one part of the package. Portal, a stunningly imaginative puzzle adventure set within the Half-Life universe, will make up the second part.

Team Fortress 2 is the massively delayed sequel to Team Fortress that lets players battle it out in a light-hearted class-based team game. With special classes like Medic, Spy and Engineer available, the original was a classic LAN party favourite that is finally getting a revamp.

Portal will expand the Half-Life story from a different perspective, just as the Opposing Force and Blue Shift expansion packs did for the first game. Rumours that Adrian Shephard, the militant protaganist of Opposing Force, would be reappearing in Portal have been proven false however and it was recently revealed that the game would have female player character.

Portal is a radical departure for the series however and is more of a puzzle game, forcing players to use their portal gun to navigate difficult traps. The weapon is capable of firing two connected portals that teleport items from one to the other.

Fans can investigate some of the sinister backstory to Portal by playing Valve's new online teaser game, or can experiment with the gameplay by playing the similar Narbacular Drop, which was made by the same team before Valve bought them, or using mods for the popular Garry's Mod.

Episode 2 will come in two types of packaging: Orange Box and Black Box variants aimed at console and PC gamers. We don't yet know which way round they might be but we will know soon enough - the game is set for release this autumn.

In the meantime, Valve has given the baying hordes of drooling gamers something to whet their appetites on in the form of some concept art.

If you're tired of waiting for the next installment, or just can't wait for the next slice of the action, then why not let us know? We can't promise the forums aren't being watched by the G-men though.

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