Have You Played... Half-Life 2: Episode 2?
The best of Half-Life
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.