(the mind-bending first-person puzzle game included in "The Orange Box"
) suffers from the sin of being very clever and too short, "Half-Life 2: Episode 2" is a problem because it's exactly the right length but not clever enough. For those new to the party, Episode 2 continues the story of Gordon Freeman, scientist-turned-savior, and his battle against the sinister forces of the Combine, a powerful group of extradimensional aliens. Earth has been completely overrun, and the whole Half-Life 2 series has had a wonderful post-apocalyptic feel.
Unfortunately, you soon get tasked with by-the-numbers FPS objectives to complete. Defend a point from invading insects? Check. Blow up incoming alien walkers before they reach a central base? Check. Survive an ambush from the dreaded new "Hunter" enemies? Check. The gameplay in Episode 2 is unerringly more of the same that we got in both the original "Half-Life 2" and "Episode 1."
Fortunately, that underlying gameplay is still entertaining. There are still numerous action setpieces, including spectacular building destructions that are modeled in real-time. The characters, particularly Eli Vance and Magnusson, are still the strongest part of the series, and the final sequence is appropriately heart-tugging (though predictable). I just hope Valve Software can bring in something truly new for Episode 3.