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