Valve Software is the master of the modern day first person shooter. No doubt about it.
With jaw dropping titles like the original Half Life and the still awe inducing Half Life 2 in their collective lockers, they deserve all the success they can get.
Released way way back in 1998 - the year that Geri Helliwell cut all ties with the Spice Girls and Saving Private Ryan caused even the toughest of macho males to wail into their popcorn - Half Life was released to instant acclaim.
It's FPS action topped the seemingly unbeatable Quake series and the puzzle-based undercurrent challenged even the most experienced of gamers.
With the release of Half Life 2, Valve pushed the genre further by combining incredible aesthetics with the kind of addictive gameplay that hadn't been seen since Pong or Space Invaders years before.
The one problem with Half Life 2 was its slightly ambiguous end. Which is where Episode 1 comes in. Valve intend to release three more episodes on disc and also via "Steam", its downloads website.
Forgive me if I gush over this game. It's hard not to.
Trying not to give too much of the story away, after escaping the citadel Gordon Freeman and Alyx find themselves placed directly below the crumbling ruins above.
After a brief dialogue with Alyx’s father, both are set the task of venturing back inside to stop the ultimate destruction of the still ridiculously 1984-esque City 17 and all it’s fleeing inhabitants. That lovable hulking robotic monster Dog also makes a very welcome appearance.
Using the same impressive game engine that made Half Life 2 such a dazzling proposition, Episode 1 keeps the high graphical standards ramped right up to CPU melting point.
The introduction of HDR lighting effects means all those with meaty graphics cards will soon be treated to some gorgeously realistic sunsets.
But even those lacking that pixel pushing might will still be dazzled by fantastically realistic facial expressions of the in-game characters. If only every developer had Valve's know how, zombie like non-player characters staring through you would be a thing of the past.
For your £19.99 (or closer to £11.99 if you purchase the downloaded version via Valve’s Steam website) you’re looking at close to 6 hours of game content. It might not seem a vast chunk of time, but we guarantee those 6 hours will be amongst the best gaming experiences you've ever had.
The pacing, the puzzles, the combat, it’s all just so damn perfect! One minute you’re blasting away at Combine troops with your shotgun, the next you’re using your gravity gun to pick up a beaten-down door to use as a handy shield against a forthcoming onslaught. It’s all so damn enthralling.
In short, best game of the year so far. Absolutely essential for any self-respecting gamer.
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