Loads of cool new stuffIt’s hard not to get excited about anything to do with Half Life 2, seeing as Half Life is the game that gave a much needed kick to the FPS genre and Half Life 2 took it even further with the first workable implementation of physics which had a decent effect on the gameplay... oh, and Alex is a babe too.
So sitting down to see what’s going on in the next episode of Half Life 2 was somewhat exciting... But it’d be wrong to go into the storyline of this episode as that part of Half Life 2’s appeal. But one thing I can tell you is that this episode neatly follows on from Episode 1 where we last saw Alex and Gordon making their escape from the exploding City 17... they almost make it before the train they’re on is overtaken by the shockwave from the explosion.
Episode 2 focuses on massive outdoor environments, so whereas Episode 1 was nearly entirely indoors with lots of rooms and corridors, Episode 2 sees us outside, exploring a vast open area as Gordon and Alex continue their escape from the City 17 and the pursuing Combine forces.
I asked about the reason for moving to episodic content and here Valve were happy to chat. In a nutshell, going with episodes gives Valve the chance to update the platforms Half Life 2 is on more frequently. So now there’s support for multi-core PCs and of course we’ll be seeing PS3 and Xbox 360 support too.
We got a quick glimpse at some of the new bad guys Gordon will be facing and it seems that the combine are less than happy with Gordon’s meddling on Earth as they send more of their own troops to deal with him. Sure, you get the Combine soldiers as before but now you’ll find yourself dealing with Advisors who we only briefly glimpsed at the end of Episode 1.
And on top of these rather nasty telekinetic bad guys, Gordon also has the face the Combine Hunter. This three legged nasty is roughly the size of Alex’s pet robot, Dog, but gallops around on three legs and fires exploding flechettes... and he’s a bugger to take down.
But there’s more to Half Life 2: Episode 2 than just extra baddies. The Source Engine has had a bit of an overhaul too and visually looks much better. There’s real time soft shadowing which, although it doesn’t sound much, actually adds huge amounts to the atmosphere and immersion in the game. Now I mentioned physics earlier on and this too has had an overhaul but unlike loads of games that are bunging in physics regardless of how the game world reacts, Half Life 2: Episode 2 is using what Valve call ‘cinematic physics’. It’s still a physics engine and stuff still behaves as you’d expect but it’s more of a gameplay physics than a pure literal physics engine... it’s more fun to muck around with for a start. So you can collapse whole buildings piece by piece or with one big explosion or even destroy bridges and other structures, if you have the hardware.
Anyway, you won’t have to wait long as the PC version of Half Life 2: Episode 2 is shipping as part of Valve’s The Orange Box on 10th October in the US and on Steam and 12th October for retail in Europe with console versions to follow shortly after.