Episode 2 feels a lot fresher and more fun than Episode 1, probably largely due to mostly taking place outdoors again and in a greater variety of settings that aren't directly recycled from the first game. The addition of Hunters, a new robo-spider enemy that have the mobility and group intelligence of Combine soldiers but soak up way more damage, by itself makes the game's firefight set-pieces a lot more interesting. The story is also much more developed in this one, making it feel more like a genuine follow-up than extra level filler, even though the overall length is roughly the same as that of Ep. 1.

The first two chapters of the game mostly have you navigating through claustrophobic antlion tunnels. Not everyone seems to like this part but I thought it was the most genuinely creepy and tense bit of the series yet - leaps better than the tedious "survival horror" bits in the previous episode (there's also a couple of new enemy types introduced here, but I won't spoil the surprise.) Just about all of the rest of the game takes place in overworld as you make your way by buggy to a distant resistance base where Eli, Kleiner and the rest of the main crew are all holed up. There's some great firefights along the way, and the obnoxious "jumping puzzles" and Zombine appearances are kept to a tasteful minimum.

Only two things really rubbed me the wrong way about this one. One is Valve's seeming penchant for "deus ex machina", first by penciling in a new character whom we've somehow never heard about before who is key to the whole episode out of absolutely nowhere, then ending with references to a "mystery object" that was seemingly pulled out of nowhere just to set up Episode 3. At this point I'm fairly certain that the huge delays between episodes of this game are due to the fact that Valve had no real idea where they were going with the story when they started out and are literally just making it all up as they go along.

The game also ends with a final battle that a lot of people seem to regard as epic, but I just found obnoxious and repetitive. It's not really all that hard to win, just tedious and time-wasting. You have to protect the base at the south end of the map from a wave of Striders coming in from the north end, by shooting mines at them with the gravity gun. But the mines can only be had from several spawn points around the map, and the Striders (and their obnoxious waves of respawning Hunters protecting them) can easily shoot them out of your hand and destroy them while you try to line up the iffy gravity gun aim. If that happens you get to jankily drive over rough terrain back to a spawn point to get another one, then back to the Strider to try again. You eventually get through it more with persistence than anything else, but I found it a major pain in the ass and just not fun at all. Gravity gun aiming and driving are two of the weaker points of the engine, so to center the final battle around these two mechanics is a head-scratcher, and the game ends on something of a sour note. Fortunately it also ends with a pretty good cliffhanger ending, although it's the usual "WAIT ANXIOUSLY FOR EPISODE 3!!!" dickteaser thing Valve has become infamous for.

Even though it's not all sunshine and there's some recycled bits, it's a strong add-on and worth playing since the majority of it is quite involving and fun.

Links :

* Visual Walkthrough

Videos :

* Gameplay Video