Achievement Life 2: Episode 2

Posted by telcus (12 posts) -

 A trip down memory lane raises one important question: Why hasn't Valve finished off these episodes yet?

Half Life 2: Episode 2 was, as the name implies, is the second foray for Valve into episodic content for their widely acclaimed Half Life series. Episodic content was seen as the new way to produce games but clearly something that did not gel well with the way Valve developed games. The first episode was released in the middle of 2006 and it then took the developer a year and half to complete the second. Perhaps to quell any displeasure at this long wait, Valve bundled Episode 2 with the innovative Portal and long awaited Team Fortress 2. The original Half Life 2 and Episode 1 was also included in this "Orange Box", which means I now have two copies of these older games. If a year and half was a long time to wait for the second episode, consider that it is now going on two and a half years since the release of Episode 2 and there is still no sign of the final chapter. This is despite Valve releasing Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 in the intervening time (not that I'm complaining about those games!). Having just replayed Episode 2, it is especially troubling to consider the possibility that Episode 3 may never see the light of day.

Complaints about Valves failed Episodic release schedule aside, this game oozes the style and attention to detail that the developer is famed for. Perhaps the reason they could not finish these games in an episodic time frame is the sheer amount of game they insist on shoving in. During Episode 2 I fought off antlions, crawled through zombie infested buildings, smooshed combine soldiers in my sweet ride and defended a missile silo against rampaging robot/monsters (robonsters?). That amounts to a plethora of action packed into roughly 4 to 5 hours. There is enough new ideas peppered through the classic Half Life experience to keep things fresh and the constant scenery changes makes the whole experience feel vaster.

Graphically, Episode 2 is an nice improvement on the Half Life 2 games that precede it, which demonstrates the effort Valve put in to making the Source Engine so extensible. The game is not shy about showing off the advances they had made to the venerable engine, with gratuitous particle effects and high dynamic range shots. Still, with a modern eye you can see how long in the tooth Source is getting compared to more modern engines. It will be interesting to see if Valve continues to use and improve on Source in its future games or if they move on to a new codebase that would not be held back by legacy content. That is not to say that the newer Source games look bad, just that these games are often more defined by their artistic styles rather then their ability to pump out the shiniest of new graphical techniques.

But gameplay and graphics is not why I picked up Episode 2 for another spin. Finishing off achievements and getting another S-Rank is the name of the game! 
 
Episode 2 was the first in the series to be integrated with Steam achievements. That doesn't mean that they are of the groan inducing kind that was often seen in other early achievement sporting games. Do I have to mention the tediousness that is Assassins Creed 1 and its mind numbing flag hunt? The 22 achievements include a healthy mix of story, skill and just-plain-amusing achievements. Stand outs include "Little Rocket Man" which involves carrying a gnome (of the garden variety) through almost the entire game only to then launch him into space. There is also "Payback", awarded for killing a Hunter with its own weaponry and "Hit and Run" which requires you to road kill 20 enemies in your car. One of the nice things about the achievements is that they all seem quite gettable. This is more than I can say for the achievements in the other Orange Box games. Gold medalling the challenges in Portal seems to require such technical skill and timing and the sheer amount of Team Fortress achievements means that I cannot see myself even attempting to S-Rank either.

I had actually already performed an achievement run for Episode 2 some time ago to complete some of the more difficult challenges. I can still remember replaying the Antlion section many many many times trying to find every one of those grubs. Here's a tip if you ever try it: Make sure to remember there is a least one grub hidden after you take the elevator out of that level. Another achievement which took several tries was the "Neighborhood Watch" achievement. This is located at the very end of the game and tasks you to save every building during a "protect the base" style mission. I must have got pretty adept at that section at the time because when I replayed it this time I barely managed to complete the mission let alone save all the buildings.

Before replaying Episode 2 this time, I only had one achievement to nab to S-Rank it. "Hot Potat0wned" rewards you for killing a Combine soldier with their own grenade. Not a particularly difficult task when you find yourself in the right situation, but throwing grenades is not how I usually deal with Combine so it had sat on the figurative shelf for quite some time. It must be noted that it takes about half the game for Combine soldiers show up. This was not bad in my case because I was planning on replaying through the entire game anyways.

Unfortunately this meant that I had to endure that dang ending that promises so much for the final chapter. So I'll just say it again. Why hasn't Valve finished off these episodes yet?!

#1 Posted by telcus (12 posts) -

 A trip down memory lane raises one important question: Why hasn't Valve finished off these episodes yet?

Half Life 2: Episode 2 was, as the name implies, is the second foray for Valve into episodic content for their widely acclaimed Half Life series. Episodic content was seen as the new way to produce games but clearly something that did not gel well with the way Valve developed games. The first episode was released in the middle of 2006 and it then took the developer a year and half to complete the second. Perhaps to quell any displeasure at this long wait, Valve bundled Episode 2 with the innovative Portal and long awaited Team Fortress 2. The original Half Life 2 and Episode 1 was also included in this "Orange Box", which means I now have two copies of these older games. If a year and half was a long time to wait for the second episode, consider that it is now going on two and a half years since the release of Episode 2 and there is still no sign of the final chapter. This is despite Valve releasing Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 in the intervening time (not that I'm complaining about those games!). Having just replayed Episode 2, it is especially troubling to consider the possibility that Episode 3 may never see the light of day.

Complaints about Valves failed Episodic release schedule aside, this game oozes the style and attention to detail that the developer is famed for. Perhaps the reason they could not finish these games in an episodic time frame is the sheer amount of game they insist on shoving in. During Episode 2 I fought off antlions, crawled through zombie infested buildings, smooshed combine soldiers in my sweet ride and defended a missile silo against rampaging robot/monsters (robonsters?). That amounts to a plethora of action packed into roughly 4 to 5 hours. There is enough new ideas peppered through the classic Half Life experience to keep things fresh and the constant scenery changes makes the whole experience feel vaster.

Graphically, Episode 2 is an nice improvement on the Half Life 2 games that precede it, which demonstrates the effort Valve put in to making the Source Engine so extensible. The game is not shy about showing off the advances they had made to the venerable engine, with gratuitous particle effects and high dynamic range shots. Still, with a modern eye you can see how long in the tooth Source is getting compared to more modern engines. It will be interesting to see if Valve continues to use and improve on Source in its future games or if they move on to a new codebase that would not be held back by legacy content. That is not to say that the newer Source games look bad, just that these games are often more defined by their artistic styles rather then their ability to pump out the shiniest of new graphical techniques.

But gameplay and graphics is not why I picked up Episode 2 for another spin. Finishing off achievements and getting another S-Rank is the name of the game! 
 
Episode 2 was the first in the series to be integrated with Steam achievements. That doesn't mean that they are of the groan inducing kind that was often seen in other early achievement sporting games. Do I have to mention the tediousness that is Assassins Creed 1 and its mind numbing flag hunt? The 22 achievements include a healthy mix of story, skill and just-plain-amusing achievements. Stand outs include "Little Rocket Man" which involves carrying a gnome (of the garden variety) through almost the entire game only to then launch him into space. There is also "Payback", awarded for killing a Hunter with its own weaponry and "Hit and Run" which requires you to road kill 20 enemies in your car. One of the nice things about the achievements is that they all seem quite gettable. This is more than I can say for the achievements in the other Orange Box games. Gold medalling the challenges in Portal seems to require such technical skill and timing and the sheer amount of Team Fortress achievements means that I cannot see myself even attempting to S-Rank either.

I had actually already performed an achievement run for Episode 2 some time ago to complete some of the more difficult challenges. I can still remember replaying the Antlion section many many many times trying to find every one of those grubs. Here's a tip if you ever try it: Make sure to remember there is a least one grub hidden after you take the elevator out of that level. Another achievement which took several tries was the "Neighborhood Watch" achievement. This is located at the very end of the game and tasks you to save every building during a "protect the base" style mission. I must have got pretty adept at that section at the time because when I replayed it this time I barely managed to complete the mission let alone save all the buildings.

Before replaying Episode 2 this time, I only had one achievement to nab to S-Rank it. "Hot Potat0wned" rewards you for killing a Combine soldier with their own grenade. Not a particularly difficult task when you find yourself in the right situation, but throwing grenades is not how I usually deal with Combine so it had sat on the figurative shelf for quite some time. It must be noted that it takes about half the game for Combine soldiers show up. This was not bad in my case because I was planning on replaying through the entire game anyways.

Unfortunately this meant that I had to endure that dang ending that promises so much for the final chapter. So I'll just say it again. Why hasn't Valve finished off these episodes yet?!

#2 Edited by xyzygy (9936 posts) -

I haven't S-Ranked the Orange Box because of the harder Portal achievments (I get too frustrated with the Portal ones for least steps) and Team Fortress 2. I have them all in HL2 and it's episodes though. Wasn't the "Little Rocket Man" Achievement a bitch?! He always fell out of my car!  
 
I thought the payback achievement was interesting though. The Hunter's needles get embedded in an object and since they detonate shortly after, just fling it back at them and it's super effective!

#3 Posted by Castro (951 posts) -

I'm not concerned with achievements at all, but I'm sure that they're working on Episode III. I don't know if you remember or not, but there was a video released about a year ago or so with Gabe Newell "talking" with a room full of deaf people to figure out the nuances of sign language. The idea was that Alyx would have a friend that spoke in sign language and they wanted it all to look super-realistic. Episode III is coming, it's just going to come whenever they feel like it's ready. If it's taking them a long time to figure out the finger-physics, it just gives the other developers time to finish up the rest of the game that doesn't involve that stuff at all.
 
I don't remember where I read this, but there was an article that came out around six months ago. It was an interview with someone from Valve where they said that they weren't sure that Episode III would even come out. The idea being that it would just end up being Half Life 3. This was probably just supposed to get fans all riled up for the purpose of getting fans riled up, but whatever.
 
Also, remember when these episodes were supposed to be released as Half Life 2: Aftermath?

#4 Posted by telcus (12 posts) -
@Castro: 
I hadn't seen that video but that sure is good news. I guess finger physics are a tough nut to crack!
#5 Posted by august (3833 posts) -

Well let's think about what Valve has set up in Episode 3 - Combing Portal gameplay with Half-Life 2 gameplay somehow. Finally getting some plot resolution on the gman or at least the current story arc, which all by itself demands some mind-bending set pieces. Then there's the fact that they have to know how old Source tech is getting - the whole point of Episode 2 was to push the outdoor areas, and those were pretty damn unimpressive by modern standards. Also someone over there has to know that it's kinda nuts we've gone two episodes with no new weapons and two new enemy types. Oh and like Castro said the whole sign language character thing - who the hell even knows what they're doing with that shit.
 
Combine all these pressures for Episode 3 to be amazing with Valve's insane Blizzard-level iteration development process and you have a recipe for things to slip, and to keep slipping, sort of a-la DNF except this time with talented people. 
 
Basically I expect to hear something about it this year, and there will be something so ambitious and awesome in it we will understand why we had to wait. At least I hope so.

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