Have You Played… Half-Life 2: Episode 2?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

By far the best Half-Life has ever been.

I was an early-noughties Half-Life fanboy, but by the time Episode 2 was approaching release, I was getting tired of the formula. I’d fought striders, I’d listened to grumbling vortigaunts, I’d launched radiators at zombie scientists, and by re-treading through the streets of City 17, Episode 1 had exhausted me.

Valve recognised this. Episode 2 refreshed the series remarkably well while keeping so many of the same elements. Your one-sided relationship with Alyx is refreshed by having her as a constant companion in a road trip through the small towns and forests outside of City 17; the moment-to-moment combat is refreshed by the introduction of new mini-Striders, and the larger setpieces against large Striders are made fun for the first time by the introduction of a new weapon, the Magnusson device or Strider Buster.

What’s also easy to forget is how funny it was. Half-Life 1 had a morbid sense of humour, in its repeated killings of the same security guard and scientist models, and Half-Life 2 had brief moments of #bantz between Barney, Dr. Kleiner and Alyx, but Episode 2 had jokes packed into dialogue all over, particularly at the resistance base before the final fight against the Striders in a large, open terrain area where you have to choose which areas to defend first. That whole fight is the best Half-Life has ever been, and it takes place in the best overall Half-Life game.

I’m not sure if I care much about Half-Life 3 all these years later, at least from story standpoint, but it is a shame that Valve seemed to abandon the series as it hit its high point.

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80 Comments

  1. UnholySmoke says:

    That final open area fight is the only bit of the whole series I found really, really tough. Took a good few goes.

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      distantlurker says:

      Aye, that was super tough. Seem to recall finishing it by driving the buggy into the last 2 hunters after taking down the final walker just as it got to the base.

      Was shaking like a leaf after that fight, no joke.

      • ThePuzzler says:

        I think I read that the last fight was rigged to some extent to ensure that no matter how well you did early on, the last minute would bring you to the brink of defeat.

        • Zekiel says:

          Not-quite-the-same-but-related – I seem to recall reading that (in the last fight) Striders would only blow up buildings when you had line of sight to them (i.e. if you weren’t in the area, they’d wait until you got near to the building before blowing it up).

          Valve are awesome that way.

        • CMaster says:

          I think it’s flat out impossible to save one of the buildings – the sawmill I think. And I believe they do try to make it feel like you almost lose without actually doing so. BUt I think I have done it with only losing the one building

          • LTK says:

            Nope, there is an achievement for not losing a single building. The sawmill is always the first to go so you need to be psychic to know where that strider is coming from once you take out the first one and magnusson it before it gets its cannon charged and fired. I remember busting it a split second before it cut loose, it was amazing.

            Getting that achievement was a proud moment, it took total focus and lightning decision making to pull it off. Definitely the highlight of the episode, probably even the series.

          • mllory says:

            As the person above me noted, it is certainly possible to keep everything intact and here’s video of it:
            link to youtube.com
            I urge you to keep watching until the end, as the speedrunner demonstrates an alternate, though sadly non-canon, ending.

      • Nintyuk says:

        The last fight is scripted. Their will be certain fast strider’s that spawn that bee line to buildings while the rest plod along protected by their hunters.
        You only need to kill the fast striders to protect the outer buildings as the slow ones will ignore them to a degree.

        Find a good old FAQ that will tell you their spawn order and locations and you will find it doable but not easy.

        Even knowing exactly what’s going to happen doesn’t stop the panicked adrenaline that fight provides.

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      Oakreef says:

      I was overly familiar with the basic gameplay from having played Half-Life 2 so many times so I was glad of the higher difficulty of that fight, but I wish it was harder again. According to the dev commentary it was originally tougher with more normal combine soldiers with the hunters and striders but it was cut down because most people couldn’t beat it in a reasonable number of goes. That’s fair enough but I do wish they’d kept the harder version for the higher difficulty setting.

    • Michael Fogg says:

      One of the other toughest moments in the series was the bit in Nova Prospect in HL2 where you were trapped in an H-shaped corridor and had some turrets to defend against a few waves of Combines. I managed to beat it after a few tries by holing up in the short corridor and securing both ends with two turrets each.

      • varangian says:

        The lazy boy work around for that fight is to use the various crates to build yourself steps up to a dead-end corridor on the floor up. Then use the gravity gun to throw the turrets up to the balcony – the Combine obligingly won’t arrive until after you pick up the last one – then leg it up the ladder, set up the turrets and sit back to watch them take out the Combine.

      • Chemix says:

        I dragged every turret along with me to the arena, plus all the office furniture I could carry. It was still tough, as I never figured out I could use my pile of junk to ascend to the second floor, but damn was it fun with six turrets instead of three.

        • Nintyuk says:

          I loved doing that, Every time I play that bit I always take all turrets as far as I can.

          Final fight with 10 turrets is fun. Watching the elites get mown down by backup turrets when porting out is always funny.

  2. leeder krenon says:

    I hated that final fight, never beat it :(

    • gwop_the_derailer says:

      Swallow your pride and lower the difficulty. That’s what I did.

      • Kirudub says:

        Yeah, I did the same. I got tired of the last minute fails, and the level started getting boring and grindy. Taking it down a level in difficulty got me through it! And then I was like, “Great, EP3’s just around the corner, can’t wait!”

        “Mime is money”, and as I get older I really do ask myself “…is that worth my time?”.

        Boss fights, IMO, are NOT worth my time.

        For example, that’s why, while I liked the art direction of Ori and the Blind Forest, I stopped after the first water eruption scene.

        I will NOT punish myself to the point of finger joint ache and mental anguish when I can be doing things I find enjoyable.

        I passed that stage when I used to play Sinistar in the arcade in the 80’s.

    • fatherjack says:

      I think they patched it to make it easier, reducing the number of Striders. I went back, years later and beat it, but it was still tough. It was the worst part of the game.

  3. gwop_the_derailer says:

    Valve, make some games (that aren’t just VR curiosities or massively popular multi-player games) or release the developers under your spell.

  4. Alfius says:

    Wasn’t there supposed to be an Episode Three?

    *spoiler alert* I’m sure the end of Two hinted at a potential cross over with Portal in the third and final episode, I’m also sure that Valve announced Episode One as the first of three. Did they ever state it was abandoned or did they just do what Valve usually do and just say nothing until everyone forgets it ever existed?

    • BobbyDylan says:

      I’m reasonable sure that there will never be a HL3 or Episode 3.

      No matter how good it would be it would not be good enough to live up to the hype.

      • DrollRemark says:

        Yeah, if modern popular culture has taught me anything, it’s that companies are great at letting popular series die off even when there’s a chance of extracting a bit more money off the back of it.

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        basilisk says:

        Also, it’s really difficult to find a way to put hats in. Gambling crates are easy, but the hats are the hard part.

        • wallybreen says:

          I believe the next iteration of the Source engine has specialized hat-rendering technology, capable of depicting an almost endless array of materials, brims and labels, so I wouldn’t worry. Leaked screenshots show literally every character in HL3 wearing a hat of some kind- the Combine’s tams are especially dapper

      • KindredPhantom says:

        Telltale presents Half Life Episode 3.

    • Dr. Raven Darktalon Blood says:

      There’s this girl you were with years ago, you were crazy about her but it didn’t work out.
      You still think of her often even though other girls have come and gone, you’ve had fun but it was never the same as with that one.
      Sometimes you wonder if she still thinks of you like you think of her, but she doesn’t, she’s forgotten about you years ago.

      The girl’s HL3.

    • Vandelay says:

      There was actually going to be four episodes, with the fourth being made by another developer and unconnected to ongoing arc. The connection with Portal is probably the ship Borealis. The ending of ep 2 sees you heading off to find the ship in the Arctic. The ship is also referenced (or actually findable?) in Portal 2, connecting the two universes.

      I don’t believe ive Valve have ever said there would not be an Episode 3, but it is safe to assume that they would not be making a Half Life 2: Episode 3 now after all this time. Any continuation will be Half Life 3 or unnumbered.

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        phuzz says:

        In Portal 2 you can find the dock where the Borealis used to be. IIRC it was originally going to be part of Half Life 2, near the end, and as such it appears in the HL2 leak (and the Missing Information mod).

        I think there was going to be some reason that Gordon needed to be there, as the Aperture portal technology was different to the Black Mesa version or some such.

    • Nibblet says:

      Well, surely they would not bring up Half life again if there was not something in the works?
      That would be pointlessly cruel, therefore i am taking this as a sure sign that episode 3 is confirmed.

  5. JakeOfRavenclaw says:

    Best G-Man appearance in the whole series too. “Doctor Freeeeeeman…”

    The moment I’ll always remember most from episode 2 was when I was fighting the striders at the end, and I ran into a building to take a breather. The strider proceeded to blow up the building. I remember sitting there, gaping at the screen–I hadn’t even imagined such a thing was possible. Those moments have gotten fewer and farther between over the years (the ending of Portal 2 was another one for me), but I’ll always think back on that one fondly.

  6. Zekiel says:

    I sure have, and it was glorious. I’m still a bit mystified why Valve did such a relatively poor job on Episode 1 (which wasn’t really bad, just felt rather boring since it repeated so much from main game) and did such an amazing job with Episode 2.

  7. Freud says:

    Many games, especially shooters, don’t age well. I replayed HL2 (including Episode 2) a couple of years ago and it was still excellent.

    I can understand why Valve are taking their time with HL3. These days it’s hard to impress gamers with scripting since every shooter has it. I guess these days when we have DLCs everywhere and games are designed as services where the goal is to get the consumers to continue paying through the life time of a title, something as old fashioned as a single player shooter might not sound viable.

    • reitrop says:

      I can understand why Valve are taking their time with HL3.

      Are they really developing Half-Life 2: Episode 3 (or just 3)? I’m not sure about that, actually.

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        basilisk says:

        For many years, people worked with the assumption that they are. Today, I’m afraid the only realistic assumption is that they are not.

        The official position never wavered from complete and utter silence.

        • A Wanderer says:

          They are not. I even think they completely abandonned the idea.
          Just imagine what would happen if Valve annonces HL3 tomorrow. Hype. Hype. Hype. Hype all over the place, most of it from people who never play Half-Life, and just know it by name. Hype for months, and when the actual game comes out, huge disappointment. Even if it’s good, even if it’s amazing, people would complain, because it would not be the game of their fantasies. Result : you have a new Watch Dogs, or a new NMS for that matter.
          Valve has seen this process at work, and they sure don’t want to be another victim of it.

          • Kamalen says:

            Thats certain. Hype pitfal there is. Plus, its not like they are going to run out of cash and need a big game launch soon.

            However, I am to believe the game will appear one day. Quite sure the whole storyline is already written. When there would be a real gaming revolution it can bring that will make it really stand way above others in the genre, it will be announced and released.

          • Alfius says:

            They’ll make it in secret and release it quietly as a physical DVD exclusive in Tesco just to troll people.

          • Karyogon says:

            [obligatory comment on the phenomenology of hype in current videogaming]
            I don’t care. I’d buy it blindly even if every review site gives it sub-70 scores, it gets 10% on rottentomatoes, metacritic users universally hate it, and the combined staff of RPS tells us to give it a miss for fear of spoiling those fond memories. No.

          • TheAngriestHobo says:

            It’s the flagship series of one of the world’s biggest developers. They can afford to not announce the game until it’s like a week out from shipping.

            That’s what I’d do, anyways. Develop the game quietly, release it with almost no warning, and sidestep the hype altogether. It’s not like HL3 wouldn’t sell.

          • dkfgo says:

            I like to think that one day Half-Life 3 will pop up in the Steam Store main page, without any announcements, no flashy presentation at conferences, no suspiciously timely “leaks”, no copies sent to reviewers, nothing at all. Right beside a CSGO or Rocket League seasonal sale, just another game.

      • Vandelay says:

        I can only imagine two scenarios. Either they are not making it and never will be or it will just turn up one day out of the blue on Steam. I can imagine Valve having the balls to do such a thing and it would still sell a shed load without the hype train tugging it along.

        In all likelihood though, they aren’t making it now. It does beg the question of what many of the staff at Valve actually are doing. There is obviously always improvements being made to Steam, Dota will need a few people helping it along (even if IceFrog is doing most of the work on the actual game,) TF2 still receive updates too that a handful of people work on, but everyone else? They can’t all just be making weird little experiments!

        • A Wanderer says:

          How many people do actually work at Valve these days ? I suppose it’s not that much.

          • Vandelay says:

            According to Wikipedia, around 330 in 2013. The page also mentions that they have signed a lease this year that doubles their office space. This may or may not be for more employees (alternatives are huge virtual reality spaces or money swimming pools.)

        • Sizeable Dirk says:

          They’re busy with the never-ending desk jousting tournament to decide who will work on the weekly top-secret experiment projects that will never see the light of day, who will handle design of the next monetised livery batch and the losers who has to man the customer service desks (wheels disabled) and process refund requests.

  8. kud13 says:

    I actually finished it for the first time a few weeks ago. Before that I got stuck in the antlions’ den and dropped the game for a while. Picked it up again in September and got through it. The last setpiece fight with multiple striders was a lot of fun.

    Not sure if it’s the best HL2 though. I thoroughly enjoed my time with the original HL2.

  9. Zaxwerks says:

    Half Life 2 was the game that got me addicted to FPS games, it created such a tangible world that it completely drew me in. The Ravenholm section scared the sh*t out of me the first time I played it.

  10. yogibbear says:

    Possible the best Half Life experience, but hard to say it’s the best Half-Life due to it’s limited-ness. Still absolutely fantastic.

  11. shaydeeadi says:

    Episode 2 was good. The finale was pretty intense if I remember right

  12. ROMhack2 says:

    I have but I honestly prefer the sequel.

  13. CMaster says:

    IT’s the most fun HL has even been.

    It’s also the most conventional and least Half-Life HL has ever been.

    Yeah, it was a blast. But it was also really, really tropey and Storytelling moved backwards to every-other-game’s cutscene-and-named-characters story, as opposed to earlier Half-Life’s environmental-and-vignettes storytelling.

    What do I mean?
    – In HL2, you learn about what’s lifes like in City 17 by seeing it happen to people. Some of them even tell you, or each other, their names. You see “Lorenzo, greatest mind of his generation” die on the beach. When you fight a gunship on the highway, your rebel compatriots, while glad you won, are deflated. They’re exhausted by the stress of combat, and some of them died.

    – In Ep2, Alyx has a chapter of damsel in distress. Most major plot points happen in Camera-locked cutscenes. People get really mopey when a named character dies, however, when you earlier let many rebels die while trying to hit a helicopter with gravity-gun thrown bombs, everyone celebrates at the end, whooping like nothing happened. Hell, they whoop even if you deliberately murder 10s of them.

    So yeah, it’s good fun, unlike the mostly tedious ep1. But it’s also perhaps good that they stopped there – HL2:Ep2 was just another bombastic corridor shooter, it had lost most things that make HL any different – and there were now many games coming out that had learnt those lessons from HL2.

    • AlianAnt says:

      Oh man I couldn’t disagree more strongly. First of all, some of what you say is invalid because we’ve already been to this world before and we know how it’s been for the people in it. It’s difficult to rediscover the same thing but, I contend that valve still managed to do this several times. Take the rebel base at the end: when you arrive, you see how these rebels maintain the facility and how they live. We also get to see the levels of survival that the Combine are willing to reach to survive, even more: we get to finally meet their leaders in their terrifying horrible glory.

      Second, Alex’s damsel in distress moment comes after numerous times she’s saved your bacon. You and Alex have been through a lot together and it’s also, clearly, a major issue in the plot because several story developments go down because of her injury. It’s not like Gordon comes in and lifts a car and then they kiss. The main story arc comes into play at the end of the short save-Alex arc.

      Next, outside the antlion den, I have a very difficult time recalling any corridors at all. Even the climatic final fight is entirely devoid of corridors. In fact, in HL1, I distinctly remember an insane amount of shooting aliens in corridors.

      The only one I might give is that during major plot points, the player’s control is removed. However, the gravity of these major reveals is so intense, their weight and affect on the story demonstrably outweighs the loss of control. Also, that had already happened on at least one occasion in the HL2 games.

      Finally, if we’re talking about the reaction of the rebels during certain situations, this is the first time in these people’s lives they’ve had a one-up on the Combine. It’s the first time there’s been hope. Uprising are happening all over the earth and the Combine is finally on the run. No more being beaten in the streets. No more disappearing loved ones. Even the ones that die die fighting a no-longer hopeless battle. And if you wanna say they still woop even if you deliberately kill them, that’s kind of going our of your way to break the narrative.

      I just think HL2:Ep2 is the best the series has ever been, with HL1 far, far in last place.

  14. int says:

    I just wish they’d make a 3rd some day soon before Gordon Freeman’s voice actor dies of old age.

  15. GallonOfAlan says:

    I have, twice. Never finished it due to the stupid endgame.

  16. jj2112 says:

    Half Life? Never heard of it.

  17. Kefren says:

    The game that put me off anything episodic. I like a proper ending. HL1 had that, but HL2s’ ending was weak, and not even rounded up by Ep 1 and 2. An entree and main course but NO CHOCOLATE PUDDING. WHERE’S MY F&^*%^*G CHOCOLATE PUDDING. I PAID FOR CHOC- It’s really bad for a dev to just abandon a story. They sold us a building with a few rooms, but when you step through the red door you find yourself in a car park. No pudding in sight.
    .
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    And they added online DRM.

  18. CobraA1 says:

    I just don’t like how they left Alyx an emotional wreck at the end – there is no closure. It was a cliffhanger. It seems as if the writers were certain there would be another episode, but somehow that never happened. :(

    • Flopdong says:

      I feel like Valve doesn’t really care about making games anymore. The last game they made worth noting was Portal 2 in 2011. Since then most of their releases have been developed by other companies. Its a shame, because they used to be my favorite developer.

      • Dinges says:

        Why would they? Their time is better spent on maintaining the Steam platform, which is probably making them more money than a single game could ever hope to match.

  19. Distec says:

    I’d agree that Episode 2 offered the best blend of Half-Life’y gameplay out of Valve’s entire second run of the series (leaving out the first game since it plays fairly differently IMO).

    But god if I didn’t hate that last strider fight. I get that some people appreciated its challenge, but I loathed the abrupt change in focus and resented everything about it. It’s kind of painful to think back and realize that this was the last section of Half-Life gameplay the world will ever see, and it it serked.

  20. tslog says:

    HL2 Ep 2 has is the best gameplay, set pieces, appearances by the G man, and Easilyy the best pacing.
    Sure it’s a bit short for total game length, but the pacing, balance, tuning and constantly interesting drive forward with barely a dull moment…. One of the best games ever made. And Best HL game.

    Sure it’s not as epic and original as half life 2, but it’s superior in overall quality, and doesn’t have as much traversal down time which plagues HL 2. You can see valve keep learning a lot from their previous games, and to be honest, they still have more to learn for the next half life.

    I know it’s obvious to say but I’m still desperate for half life 3 and I have no desperation that it’ll be impossible to match with insane expectations. I just want another good HL game. Then another….

  21. ThricebornPhoenix says:

    I’ve never played any Half-Life. I’m waiting for them to finish the series first.

    • inspiredhandle says:

      Such patience… *looks at watch* nearly 20 years 😐

      • ThricebornPhoenix says:

        What can I say? I really don’t like getting into an unfinished story and then waiting years for the next entry. (Dead writers are the best; they so rarely spring a surprise sequel on you.)

  22. Rinox says:

    Alyx’ sobbing as the screen fades to black still gives me goosebumps to this day. Shame there was never a follow-up.

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    dnelson says:

    The antlion fight in the tunnel, with Griggs and Sheckley as comic relief, was the part I liked best.


    Sheckley: Hey, if you see a bug on me, how about you try and get it off next time.
    Griggs: I didn't see it.
    Sheckley: Yeah. No. Sure. They're only like five feet tall.

  24. kament says:

    Aaand I’m replaying it. All of it, of course. Great job, Graham. I hope you’re happy. … Seriously now: it still holds up. Just never ceases to amaze me how well the game aged.

  25. Craig Lea Gordon says:

    Have You Played… Half-Life 2: Episode 2?

    Yeah, of course I have. I love Half Life 2. So, yeah, definitely.
    Actually, have I played it?
    Yep. Well, pretty sure.
    Episode 2 though? Am I positive?
    Hmmm.
    I’ve played HL2, and absolutely finished Episode 1. So I must have finished Episode 2.
    Didn’t I?
    Actually, hang on.
    Maybe… maybe I didn’t.
    Why? Why wouldn’t I have finished it?
    I was waiting for something wasn’t I? Yes, that’s it. I was waiting for…
    Ah, Jesus. I was waiting for Episode 3 to come out before I played Episode 2.
    FFS!

  26. invitro says:

    What people don’t get is that Valve has made far more money on the promise of HL3 than they would have on an actual HL3.

  27. Vermintide says:

    Episode 1 wasn’t bad by any means in my opinion. It just had severe pacing issues- It spent far too long on those tragically repetitive chapters at the start (collapsing citadel, underground tunnels) before it got to the FUN parts. And then it all ended just as you thought it had really got going.

    The tragedy is that they left it on a cliffhanger. Bastards. Neither of the main HL games had a great ending- Just G-Man whisking you away to your cupboard. But at least that provides a form of closure. They’ve painted themselves into a corner here because they can’t just directly continue it without screwing up the consistency.

    Oh well. I just want them to get around to finishing the Xen levels for Black Mesa, so I can finally do that weekend long real-time Half Life marathon I’ve dreamt of for so long. I want to feel what Gordon feels. I bet he really needs a piss.

  28. Sizeable Dirk says:

    The Legend of the Half-Life That Never Was is larger than the released games ever were and it’s definitely greater than what the unreleased episode can ever be.

  29. Jeroen D Stout says:

    I never know why but this one just didn’t work for me at all. Everything felt so much flatter than previous Half Life, it’s dialogue too overlaboured, its action too set-up… the car ride with its ‘look its a jump you get achievement for doing it’ moment. I think I liked the hunters but the rest of the action felt so dull and the whole idea of resurrecting Alyx was just the story jumping the shark for me.

    I say this as someone who still feels Half Life² is unmatched in its genre of shooter.

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