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Not provoking a sensation, Half-Life 2: Episode Two is still a worthy sequel to the series. Half-Life fans are sure to find in it everything that made the series so popular – quality visuals, unique level design, a realistic physical model with puzzles based on it, and, most importantly, a plot that continues the engaging story that was begun in 1998. There is only one flaw, actually. Completing Episode Two takes hardly more than 5-6 hours of continuous play. On the other hand, Episode Two in not a standalone game, but part of the Half-Life 3 project. Valve decided to issue the sequel to Half-Life 2 in separate installments to avoid the situation with the previous project that had taken 6 years of development. And even with this development method there was a 16-month pause between Episode One and Episode Two .

Episode Two doesn’t have modest system requirements, yet it is not a very resource-consuming application, either, just as the original Half-Life 2 was not. Graphics cards priced at $249 and higher provide a comfortable frame rate at least at 1280x1024 and, quite often, at 1600x1200.

The less expensive solutions based on special mainstream GPUs have proved hopeless again when it comes to modern games. Considering that products based on the new ATI RV670 and Nvidia G92 GPUs are about to enter the market, there is no sense in purchasing such cards for games. The ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT/Pro and the Nvidia GeForce 8600 GTS/GT, let alone the ATI Radeon HD 2400 and Nvidia GeForce 8500, present no interest for a serious gamer although suit well enough for decoding HD video.

The best buy for the fans of the Half-Life 2 series is the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB. Moderately priced, this graphics card delivers comfortable performance for every resolution if you play without antialiasing, and good performance with 4x MSAA, which improves the image quality considerably. The ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT/Pro currently have low performance when you use FSAA – this problem may be corrected with the next Catalyst update. When using anisotropic filtering only, the solutions from the former ATI Technologies are about as good as Nvidia’s ones, excepting the Radeon HD 2900 Pro. The latter has a low GPU frequency, but allows playing the game normally at 1280x1024 and 1600x1200.

The game is a success overall. We guess there are no other developers who have surpassed the Half-Life series in the depth and detailedness of the game world. Such good attempts as S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl and BioShock still lack something that makes Half-Life so appealing to millions of players worldwide. All the people who like sci-fi shooters are looking forward to play Half-Life 3: Episode Three now. Hopefully, the next episode will take less time to come out.

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