Even if you don’t like the new achievements and unlockables despite my insistence, don’t despair. A lot of Episode Two
is exactly the same as its genre-defining predecessors.
The overall feel of the game is the same for instance and, even though the Source Engine has been updated to allow wide-open spaces (we’ll get to that later, promise), a lot of the same twisty level design has been put into play.
One of the great things about both of the ‘main’ Half-Life
games was how the designers had disguised and harnessed the small levels by plotting paths which frequently forced players to trek through tunnels and air ducts. Getting from point A to B was never easy in any of the past Half-Life
games and Episode Two
is no exception.
Puzzles too are often in a similar vein to those in the older games, both in how they are realistically and often incorporated into the game world and in that they generally have a focus on manipulating the physics or environment of the level. Expect lots and lots of puzzles which involve balancing or stacking piles of things or using the physics gun to create or destroy obstacles.
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The game also has plenty of segments where you’ll be switching in and out of vehicles, just like in On A Rail
and Route Canal
1 and 2 respectively.
The car in Episode Two
is new – it's a stripped down and powered up sports car instead of the dune buggy from HL2
. The format of the game remains the same however and players will still find themselves hopping in and out of the vehicle to check out their surroundings, with Alyx riding shotgun for a lot of it.
A lot of old gameplay elements are re-introduced with some minor cosmetic tweaks. Hopper mines and sentries can be seen throughout one segment of the game but have been repainted and disguised by the Rebels who’ve salvaged them.
In fact, I’d go so far to say that Episode Two
is almost identical to Half-Life 2
in the types of levels it uses. The mix of arenas, puzzles and ‘oh God I mustn’t touch the floor’
or ‘stay close to the thumpers for the love of God’
is very similar to the mix of levels in Half-Life 2
, just in a different order and in different places.
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The best bit though is that this isn’t a bad thing. It makes playing Episode Two
feel like meeting an old girlfriend that you broke up with a while ago because she never turned up to dates on time (yes, I went there). Only now, instead of finding out that she’s the same girl, you find a girl who’s grown even more beautiful and graceful, with a new taste in clothes and bigger... level design.
The emphasis on digital actors, which was first introduced properly via Alyx in Episode One
, still plays a large part in the game and as the plot takes increasingly tragic and emotional turns, the characters take on an increasingly dramatic presence.