Get in the box!
Writing a review for The Orange Box will always be hard. After all, it is 5 games in one. For me, in particular this is hard considering that, due to lack-of-broadband issues I could only play 4 of the 5 games in the Box, neglecting probably the main reason for people to initially buy the Box. It also means I am treading on the toes of Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, who recently reviewed the game as part of his review column for the Escapist called ‘Zero Punctuation’, of which I am somewhat of a fan. But, then again he had the PC version and I have the 360 version, so what the heck.
Well, that’s enough back-story. Onto the actual reviewing!
The Orange Box by Valve Software is a compilation of both old and new products packaged together. The compilation itself contains 5 titles: Halflife 2, Halflife 2: Episode 1, Halflife 2: Episode 2, Portal and Team Fortress 2. For those of you who already own Halflife 2 and Episode 1 on PC, then the pack has already lost much of its appeal, seeing as how the 3 other titles were recently released outside the Box and thus would save you money. Personally, however, seeing as how the PC versions of Halflife 2 and Episode 1 come with Steam which, due to my slow Internet connection, would simultaneously stab, strangle and kick-me-in-the-figurative-balls to death, then commit unspeakable acts with my fresh corpse, I relish the thought of being able to forego the constant downloads of Steam and get straight into the games themselves.
Halflife 2 is still the GOTY it was all those years ago. You play as Dr. Gordon Freeman, as he saves the inhabitants of City 17 as he leads them into battle against the evil alien forces known as the Combine, in a storyline about as far off from the first game as I am from caring about politics (which is quite far). It still handles rather well, which isn’t surprising considering that there was a port of this game for the original Xbox, and from the Xbox to the 360 the controller hasn’t changed much. Episode 1 follows Freeman as he escapes the city he helped bring to ruins. It’s short in comparison to Halflife 2, but that’s forgivable. After all, it is a single episode of a trilogy.
Now we get to the new stuff. Halflife 2: Episode 2 follows Gordon and his companion Alyx as they travel through the wilderness outside City 17 in order to get to a missile silo where Dr. Kleiner and newcomer Dr. Magnusson, whom apparently everyone knows but for unknown reasons has not been seen in any of the previous Halflife titles aside from the original, where you blew up his microwave casserole. The game is rather sound, not taking overly long to complete. Generally, if you’re interested in the Box as a whole, you’ll like Episode 2 as it’s not remarkably different to the rest of the Halflife franchise, aside from the almost exclusively outdoors environment.
However, Portal is. Although it is only a few hours long (longer if you get stuck like I did) you’ll enjoy every damn moment of it, considering that it features ingenious puzzle solving and has some of the best game humour ever heard. The entire game is based around the Portal Gun, and how it can fire portals that you can walk through. By that I mean you walk in the blue one and out the orange one, or vice versa. Momentum is conserved between two portals, and it’s really fun to both watch and play it, messing around with the portals and seeing what you can do with ‘em.
The final game in the package is Team Fortress 2, and I will say nothing about the gameplay as I don’t have the capability to play online with the game, due to aforementioned lack-of-broadband. From what I’ve seen though the graphics are ingenious and the levels are good looking, which is pretty good considering how few maps there are. Still, if you get the PC version you’ll get to download new ones, and I’m sure there’s maps on Xbox Live someplace too.
Graphics-wise, the 4 parts of the Box that I got to play were great-looking, even for an old game such as HL2. Episode 2 shows that the Source engine is capable of rendering great wilderness environments and the other games show that cityscapes and indoors isn’t a problem either. Player models are well done and facial expressions are fan-bloody-tastic. Weapons look awesome and the game just shines with all the polishing work Valve put into these titles.
Sound-wise, it’s the same old Valve affair, that being you get little music, but great sound effects and although speech with NPCs tends to stray too close to the repetitive, the one-off spiels from characters really fit the game well. Take care though, as since none of these titles have specifically coded cutscenes you’ll be needing to turn the Xbox 360 music player on and off everytime you get some important dialogue.
One main gripe I had with the Box is that for the Halflife titles there were certain segments that showed up just a little too often. By that I mean the slow elevators, stepping stones and see-saws. God, how I am sick of those see-saw puzzles. If you found this to be a gripe ‘borrowed’ from Yahtzee, it’s because he had a point. Enough of the see-saws already!
As for achievements, well this game has plenty for you, just don’t expect 1000/1000 GPs without a broadband connection with which you can thrash Team Fortress 2. They take the entire range that achievements should, with achievements for the nearly-impossible (Such as take the garden gnome from the beginning of Episode 2 to the end of it and stick it in the rocket) and you-have-to-do-it-anyway (such as getting the Gravity Gun from Alyx in the original Halflife 2). There’s also a few fun ones here, but I would spoil it for you if I told you what they were.I doubt the PC version differs much from the 360 one in terms of stock gameplay, but if you’re the kind of person who loves to expand their game experience with mods and the like, or if you like making said mods, then the PC version is the way to go. If you don’t have the ‘net speed for it, then go ahead and play it on 360 or PS3, depending on which you have.