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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Half Life 2: Episode 1 (Valve for PC)

By Jim McHugh

Continuing where Half-Life 2 abruptly left off, Episode 1 takes PC gamers back into the eerie near-future world of Gordon Freeman and his Resistance Fighters as they battle the forces of an alien overlord. Has humanity finally broken free from the ruthless grasps of The Combine, or are the denizens of City 17 slated to face the ultimate oblivion? Or will you have to buy Episode 2 when it comes out (I think we already know this question). We might not have the spoilers for the games' end, but you can still check out the full review of this latest sequel to the Half-Life franchise right here at The Laser.

I'll do a favor to the vast majority of PC gaming players out in the reading world and not waste your time with any back story lauding the incredible game experience that made up Half-Life and Half-Life 2. By now, everyone has heard the praises of these two special FPS games over and over and over again, and it you're anywhere near as smart as I think you are, you've played them yourselves. They were great…we get it. And it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that played through HF2 that a sequel was inevitable (cliff-hanger endings tend to give that hint to most critical thinkers). So, the expected did indeed happen. The creators of the game have put out a sequel to the monstrous sequel. Yes, it's a good follow up to arguably one of the best FPS games of all time. And yes, it does answer at least a few lingering questions along the story arc that have kept true-believers wondering what exactly is going on with our hero Gordon Freeman and his cavalcade of Freedom Fighter.

We're not really talking about a lot of new material here with Episode 1, but rather an extension of HF2, giving players a few more levels to play out. Through roughly 6 hours of gameplay, PC gamers get the chance to flesh out a bit more of the storyline, following Gordon's escape from the now devastated Citadel and the now vacat City 13. Nothing is groundbreaking here, but a nice little diversion until Episode 2 comes out, which promises some new weapons, enemies, and gameplay (including new areas to explore). The really cool aspects of Episode 1 goes beyond the game itself, and instead lies in interesting way of how the game got to our precious space deprived hard drive in the first place. That is pretty much where the ingenious system known as Steam comes in to play.

For those of you unfamiliar with Steam, it is a Download/Verification application created by the fine folks at Valve designed to not only streamline the download distribution of their fine software products, but also to be used as an anti-pirating system. Its initial foray into the gaming realm was ushered hand-in-hand with the release of Half-Life 2. Gamers with high-speed internet access were able to download the game in its entirety the moment it became available to the general public, keeping them from the arduous task of shambling off to the local gaming store and waiting en masse with the other hordes of fans waiting for the next big PC game.

As with pretty much every new release in software, Steam had its fair share of problems, including ID glitches (which wouldn't let you register your paid-for game, keeping you from playing it), spontaneous crash susceptibility, and a myriad of other beta like issues. And of course there were those unlucky few who actually bought the boxed version of HF2 without an internet connection, finding out later that they still needed to have online accessibility in order to register the game via Steam.

After a couple of years, almost all of these issues have been addressed, making Steam a viable player in the video game consumer arena. With the release of Half-Life 2: Episode 1, I was able to get my full taste of the download experience for the PC gaming world, and I have to say I was rather impressed. The process was overall rather simple, giving me the ability to purchase the game with ye old major credit card (on a secure server, obviously) and an overnight download. I just wrapped up my gaming for the night, hit the 'OK' button on Steam for the game, and sauntered off to bed. The next morning, I found my game already installed and ready to go. One quick verification at the start-up of the game at my initial play, and I was back into the world of Gordon Freeman. No fighting with the internet connection, no problems with verification, no glitches in the download, and best of all, no waiting in line at the store.

Some gaming enthusiasts and journalists alike see this trend as the wave of the future. No more taking trips to the game store to find out that either the shelves were empty, or that they never ordered the game in the first place (opting to just order tons of console games instead). One simple download, and voila…you've got a nice new game sitting right there on your computer, with little hassle and almost no fuss. Of course, some of us still crave the feel of a shiny disc in our hands with the full game on it, not to mention having a quick reference guide in the form of a game manual is sometimes a good thing too. But with the change in retail to online, Steam's usefulness and simplicity is no doubt going to be an asset to PC gamers in the long run.

- Jim McHugh

Grade: B

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Half Life 2 (Xbox)

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