What's not hot about an expansion to the best game in years? More action, more ally teamwork, more enemies, and quite possibly some answers to anyone who finished Half-Life 2's burning questions. At least a few of the characters from Half-Life 2 will be returning, which is surprising considering the cliffhanger of an ending fans were left with nearly a year ago. Valve also promises new ways to interact, both with allies and with the environment. With all of this crammed in there, it's more Half-Life 2 to love.
When Half-Life 2 released last year, it hit with a shockwave that we are still feeling the vibrations of. The gaming industry has not been the same since, and probably won't ever be. A similar thing happened when Valve release the first Half-Life, and judging by that pattern, now's about when they license off the rights to make expansions to several outside companies. However, Valve decided they wanted the fun of making new storylines and alternate views on the events at the time of the uprising against the Combine in City 17. With this new take by Valve comes the first expansion to Half-Life 2, developed by all of the same people who did such amazing work on the original title.
Aptly titled Aftermath, the expansion will deal with the events directly after the end of Half-Life 2. The entirety of Aftermath takes place in City 17, and from what Valve has stated, it sounds like a race against time. The Combine are giving up the ghost, but not without a fight. Apparently the entire city will be left devoid of inhabitants after their final attack, so a game of running from the city is high on the possibilities list. Regardless of what will be happening with the Combine, Gordon Freeman is going to have his hands full. He's got Alyx by his side through a much larger portion of this game, and Dog will be returning as well. The only other confirmed returning character is Dr. Kleiner, most likely with his pet headcrab, Lamarr, in tow.
As beautiful as Half-Life 2 was, Aftermath promises to be even more awe-inspiring. It will make use of High Dynamic Range Lighting, just as Lost Coast will. This is a new technique that allows for not only the combination of all the other great new techniques, but also displays light differently, to appear much more similarly to the way humans perceive light. The result is something that can't really be put into words, other than "wow". The sound team is back, too, including voice actors. Anywhere a character from Half-Life 2: Aftermath speaks, it will be the same voice as the original game.
Not only are fans getting more visuals and more audibles, but the story will continue. Questions will be answered, but knowing Valve, more will be put forth than answered. With the entirety of the game taking place within City 17, a great number of the battles will resemble those infamous street warfare scenes of Half-Life 2. And while Aftermath won't rival the length of the original title, it should have a good amount of playtime and some great new features.
The AI is being enhanced, allowing for Alyx to perform unscripted actions without being far over- or underpowered. Since Gordon will be spending a great deal more time with her in this chapter, Valve wants to make her a more interesting character, with more interesting ways to interact with her. There is no statement as to whether this includes some romance, but after the couple awkard moments in Half-Life 2 and a few statements from developers, it's a good bet there will at least be some close calls.
There is still some discussion over how it will be released, but as of now it is expected to be a Steam-only exclusive. So, when will fans see this beacon of light in the gloom of mediocre FPS titles? Valve has no exact date, but they have said it will be "before the end of the year". The holidays cannot come soon enough.