Road To White For­est

EpisodeTwo’s ridi ng shotgu n chap­ter is Half-Life at its best.

PC GAMER (US) - - FEATURES - By Sam Greer

Af­ter hours of tun­nels, caves, and cor­ri­dors, I now stand on a rick­ety bridge with the prom­ise of some­thing en­tirely dif­fer­ent. It might be welded to­gether from a dozen dif­fer­ent things, but this car in front of me has got style and, more im­por­tantly, it’s my ticket to free­dom. Episode Two feels like it has been very care­fully build­ing to this. Putting you through the fa­mil­iar mo­tions all so it can make ob­tain­ing this car feel like the big deal it is. Half-Life 2 had its ve­hi­cle sec­tions but they felt stilted, bogged down in end­less ob­sta­cles. This? This is the start of an epic road trip. Wounded at the start of the game, it’s great to see a re­cov­ered Alyx ex­cited about the car. Gor­don might be silent but I share her en­thu­si­asm. Head­ing off means leav­ing our lovely Vor­ti­gaunt com­pan­ion be­hind, though. Alyx gives him a peck on the cheek as a show of grat­i­tude and hon­estly, it’s hard to re­mem­ber th­ese were once the villains of Half-Life. How times change. I put my foot down on that pedal (or press firmly on the W key) and we speed off down the tun­nel onto the road be­yond. The deep val­leys, snow­capped moun­tains and ver­dant for­est is a breath of fresh air af­ter dozens of hours spent in the streets of City 17.

Alyx spies a ra­dio tower and sug­gests we use it to send a warn­ing ahead to the re­sis­tance base at White For­est, our des­ti­na­tion. We take five to get the ra­dio up and run­ning but it’s too quiet. Then we’re am­bushed by the Hunters. Th­ese foes took me by sur­prise at the start of Episode Two, wound­ing Alyx and leav­ing Gor­don help­less. They’re meaner than any­thing Valve’s used be­fore. Like that guard right back in City 17, who demands you throw that can in the trash, th­ese Hunters hu­mil­i­ated you. Now it’s time for re­venge.

Un­like so many foes in Half-Life 2, you’re not coached on how to de­feat the Hunters. This is the deep end you’re thrown in. What mat­ters, though, is Valve has given you an ar­ray of tools and weapons to de­cide how to tackle it. This mo­ment, like those that fol­low, is a mini-sand­box. Hunters might be an un­known, but they’re sub­ject to the same rules as ev­ery­thing else and by this point in Half-Life, we know the rules well. Over­com­ing them feels like an achieve­ment that’s more our own than de­feat­ing any en­emy I’ve tack­led in the se­ries be­fore. That’s how you make re­venge feel good; you make it feel like it’s my idea.

Of course, Episode Two isn’t just de­fined by wrath. The times when you have to hop back in the car and flee, in­stead of hav­ing to get bogged down in some sort of siege, are a re­lief. Episode Two is about mo­tion, mov­ing for­ward, no mat­ter what.

Nu­mer­ous am­bushes fol­low, and they leave me itch­ing for the road. Each am­bush is more se­vere than the last, each one keep­ing me fur­ther and fur­ther from my car. I’ve never hated the Com­bine more. If Half-Life 2 started you with no free­dom or power then asked you to find it, Episode Two takes it away and gives you the means to take it back by force. There’s a con­stant ebb and flow of cathar­sis, in­ter­spersed with the joy of sim­ply be­ing on the move.

We’re al­most at our des­ti­na­tion. A gate bars the way, and it looks like we might have to leave the car be­hind. From the wreck­age of a crashed drop­ship one of the Com­bine’s tripods emerges but be­fore it can tear us up, Alyx’ faith­ful ro­bot com­pan­ion Dog leaps from the trees and saves us. A re­union more than worth the

I’ve never hated the Com­bine more

long drive. He helps open the gate for us so we can bring the car through. Alyx ex­cit­edly sug­gests a race against Dog to the re­sis­tance base.

I don’t know what lies ahead. This might be the end of the road and there may be no more ad­ven­tures for us. Dog charges ahead, Alyx laughs, and I hit the gas. Not to worry. It’s been one hell of a ride.

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