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Half-Life 2: Episode One - Half-Life 2: Episode One
And the plotline? Well, it's unfortunate that there's little of it to be had. Eager fans were awaiting more unravelling of the Breen/Alien mystery, some answers as to the G-Man's motivations, perhaps even some concrete 'interaction' between Gordon and Alyx. These fans will be disappointed (well, unless you count hugs). There are hints, bits and pieces - and crucially, a trailer for Episode Two at the end of the game. Ultimately, though, the game lacks a plotline revelation to inspire and propel forward, which is hard to bear after more than a year of waiting.
Graphically, the game is rarely short of stunning. Valve has used new high-resolution textures, meaning that buildings and headcrabs alike look better than ever. There's a higher polygon count and a larger feeling of scale to things. The storm brewing around the top of the Citadel is a constant focal point for your attentions, and boy, it looks pretty neat.
The High Dynamic Range lighting that we first saw in Lost Coast, last year's tech-demo-come-expansion, makes another appearance here. It has been managed very well, with some sections of the game looking truly spectacular. You'll want to make use of the screen capture hotkey just to grab yourself some nice new desktop wallpapers.
At the other end, Valve has implemented many of the performance optimisations that it made to the engine to get it to work on the Xbox, meaning that those without the latest and greatest in graphics technology don't have to miss out on good visuals.
Audio is also a major part of the game. The sound effects have been beefed up, with guns sounding meatier than ever, and the ambient sounds of the city around you adding a great deal to the atmosphere. When scrapping around in the dark, audio cues are often all you have, so it's a good job that they're done well.
The first Episode in the upcoming trilogy-sequel delivers on some counts but not others. The promise of more plot revelations keeps you eager to play, but ultimately fails to deliver. However, the stand-out moments in the game, and the promise of more to come in Episode Two, is enough to coax most into getting down to business, and those that do stump up the twenty bucks will enjoy what's there and then go back to salivating over the prospect of the Half-Life yet to come.