The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Half-Life 2 Episode One: A reflection

Released in June 2006, Half-Life 2 Episode One is set immediately after the events of Half-Life 2: Gordon Freeman and Alyx Vance return to the Citadel to stablise the reactor, before leaving via train. The train derails, and the two fight there way through the remains of City 17, eventually aiding other survivors in their evacuation. Recalling the friend who lent me the episodes back in the Spring of 2008, I was in several of his classes during my secondary education, and he expressed boredom that very few individuals at our school had actually played these instalments because of hardware limitations. At the time, the Dell XPS 420 had been in service for a year, replacing an eight-year-old IBM desktop (rocking the 600 MHz AMD Duron processor), and thus, I was now wielding one of the most powerful desktops of anyone at my high school. With the means to play the game, I installed his copies of the game and shot through them during the Spring Break. My initial impressions were positive: the episodes captured the spirits and atmosphere in as effectively as Half-Life 2, retaining all of the gameplay mechanics and more impressively, giving Alyx a far greater role as the player’s companion. After beating Episode One, I would, in subsequent years, remember it for the Citadel and long stretches of underground fighting.

  • Before I go ahead with this post, I’m going to mention that every screenshot (except one) features the Gravity gun because the play-through I took screenshots on was also the play-through I decided to go for the “One free bullet” challenge. I got it, of course, and I’ll immediately clarify that using the shotgun once to break the lock works only if one uses the primary fire. Using the crowbar, grenades and RPG rounds are perfectly acceptable.

  • The challenge isn’t so bad initially, when all one has is the Gravity gun (or the super-powered version of the Gravity gun). Armed with a gun that can perform what is essentially magic makes the first part of Episode One entertaining (and perhaps a little too easy). There is one thing I long to try with the super-powered Gravity gun: I’d love to see if I can kill barnacles with it.

  • One viable trick to surviving is to use the flashlight and direct Alyx’s fire towards hostiles. The gravity gun can also punt headcrabs and antlions, although here, the latter will spawn endlessly until a car is pushed on top of the spawn points to block them. Apparently, the term parkade is strictly a Canadian term: in the United States, they call them garages, and they’re known as car parks in the United Kingdom.

  • I included this image solely to illustrate just how dark it is at some places in the game. The darkness makes it difficult to figure out where enemies are, and armed with the Gravity gun and a crowbar, death from carelessness is always just around the corner.

  • I spent the entire time waiting for the lift bunny-hopping around the map with flares or explosives in hand, lighting up all zombies that were spawning. This is considered to be one of the toughest sections in the game for the low visibility and large number of enemies. Even when playing with firearms, ammunition is short, making accuracy and smart play important.

  • No matter how dystopian the outside world looks, I prefer to be above ground rather than underground with all the zombies.

  • According to Valve, this hospital was inspired by one in Chernobyl, from which the surgery lamps and the overall white and yellow color scheme were derived. The tile work, high archways and metallic bedsteads give the institutional an old European feeling, making it an unnerving place to be: in general, even though they are home to some of the world’s most cutting edge medical technologies, they are unsettling, and old hospitals are doubly so simply because they represent an era when medical science wasn’t as well-developed, leading patients to suffer in often degrading conditions.

  • The hospital basement is partially flooded and barnacles block critical passages. The crowbar is thankfully allowed by the “One free bullet” achievement, whereas the Gravity gun challenge in Ravenholm forbade use of anything other than the Gravity gun. Of course, the former is more challenging since it applies to the entire game rather than one mission.

  • I got a bunch of Facebook messages telling me that a gathering with some friends was cancelled owing to an impending storm in July. With the event cancelled, I decided to game and made it to the train station. For a moment, recalled that night in March 2008 when I beat Episode One for the first time. I had spent most of the Spring Break studying chemistry and physics, but nonetheless, high school was a period characterised by a lot of free time. The content isn’t particularly difficult by any stretch.

  • The portal explosion causes the train to derail. What happens next are the events in Episode Two. I’ve already beaten the game once using only the Gravity gun, and on my next play-through, I’ll allow myself the luxury of using firearms. This achievement just goes to show how versatile the Source Engine is, if players can finish the game by firing exactly one bullet. I know I’ve gone on a fair amount about this achievement, but that’s because I’m in the top 97.6 percentile of players who are pro enough to have the achievement unlocked, even if it means that around 33 600 of 1.4 million players (as of December 3, 2008) actually have the achievement.

When I caught wind of the fact that Episode One and Episode Two were on sale for 2.49 each during the summer, I sprang on the chance to purchase the episodes. The episodes are still as immersive as they were when I first played them (perhaps even more so, because I’m now experiencing it on a 24-inch 1080p display). It was July 13 when I had beaten Half-Life 2, and I recall recieving word that a gathering was to be rescheduled on account of a thunderstorm when I had reached the train station in the final mission. I decided to finish the game, since the event had been moved, and upon completion, I was granted the “One Free Bullet Achievement”. I had used the shotgun to blast open the lock and spent the entire remainder of the game using the Gravity Gun and crowbar, but wondered if the shotgun’s spread counted as more than one bullet; however, here, I confirmed that the shotgun or pistol could be used to unlock the achievement. This accounts for why every single image I have depicts me with the gravity gun, crowbar or RPG (explosives are allowed). The achievement may be difficult to unlock because some portions of the game feature hordes of zombies, but there’s a solution for that: Alyx will fire at zombies illuminated by the flashlight, illustrating the strengths of the behaviours of NPCs in the game. At the end of the day, this achievement is a worthy one and thanks to the game mechanics, isn’t that difficult to unlock, even though records suggest only 2.4% of all people who own Half-Life 2 Episode One actually have the achievement unlocked.

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