Review: Five games. One orange box. No BS!
Value for your money. That's what Valve's The Orange Box offers ? if we were to summarise the collection, it would read like this: This is the best deal in the history of video games. But if you want more that that, here's why The Orange Box is so great?
Half-Life 2: Episode One
There are only certain games that can claim legendary status. Halo, Grand Theft Auto and Half-Life are all perfect examples of this, games that are just? tremendous. The Orange Box contains the brand new Half-Life 2: Episode Two, as well as Half-Life 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode One, not only making it the most complete Half-Life 2 collection to date, but also keeping new players up-to-date with the series' history.
Half-Life 2 takes place shortly after the events of the original Half-Life. The lead character, Gordon Freeman, is taken out of stasis by the infamous "G-Man," and placed on a train making its way to City 17. Following the Seven Hour War that spurred from Half-Life's alien invasion, a small group of rebels are fighting to save the human race from complete destruction. If you didn't guess already, this is where you stand up to be counted.
Similarly, Half-Life 2: Episode One picks up where the previous game ends. Still set in City 17, this episode takes place after the explosion of the Citadel reactor core? in short, City 17 is about to turn into a cloud of smoke and fire, and Gordon and Alyx are still trying to escape.
The good thing about Half-Life 2 and Episode One on the Xbox 360 is they look a lot better now than they did when released on the PC. PC gaming is a strange creature if only because optimizing the graphics on a PC is more artform than science. So it goes without saying that getting such a great looking version of Half-Life 2 is a real treat for Xbox 360 owners. The same goes for Episode One, which looks equally as good.
Good is always mixed with bad, however. Half-Life 2 is an awesome experience until the ending with only minimal weak points. Episode One, on the other hand, isn't the best of the bunch. A weak story that doesn't really go anywhere bundled with a lack of features (where are the vehicle sections?) and numerous dull sections is just asking for trouble, not least when the game only lasts around four hours anyway.
Ahem. But anyway, the sound in the games is extremely good. It's like you're playing an interactive movie, but you're not. The music will build up when there's a lot of fast-paced action going on, and at other points such as cruising along, it will be relatively calm. Awesome.
Half-Life 2: Episode Two
Following the events of Episode One, Episode Two picks up right where you left off ? navigating your way to the end of the train wreck. You're finally out of City 17 ? and about time too, considering the place is? well, off the map ? but that's not to say your journey is over. Hell no, holding important information the Combine really want back, the chase is on? yet again. It's not long after starting the game before you're face to face with enemies, but the game is a really slow starter. Incredibly so, in fact. Without giving away any major plot details, let's just say something forces you to take a route through a long-winded cave section which, while quite enjoyable at first, becomes extremely tedious.
So, what's new? Well, not a lot if I'm being honest. There have been several minor changes made to the gameplay experience, but forgetting those, it's pretty much standard Half-Life 2 fare. One of the more noticeable points of Episode Two is how integral Alyx becomes to the story. There's a lot more of the game where Alyx isn't accompanying you, and it's hard not to notice how strange it is without (to quote Gaming Target's PC guru Jason C) the ?walking turret with a cute butt.? And it's true ? over the course of Half-Life 2 and Episode One, Alyx was as important a character as Gordon. Another important change, albeit one a little less major but still as important, is the comedy. You've got to love a developer like Valve for the twist to its games ? everything in this package has a less serious tone to it, from the references to previous games to the unrealism to certain parts of the story. For example, early on you have to help two men, Griggs and Sheckler, defend a mine from Antlions, and the conversations they have between each other are classic. Another important addition to the gameplay is the vehicle sections. They have returned having been absent in Episode One!
If you were wondering how long Episode Two is, it all comes down to how much you appreciate the game. If, like me, you enjoy glancing at the wonderfully crafted maps and seeing how much time and effort has gone into the game, it will probably last around six hours. If you just want to find out what happens at the end, however, then expect four to five hours maximum. It's longer than Episode One whichever way you look at it.
Whether you're looking at the wonderful graphics or enjoying the action packed scenes, Episode Two reminds us why we all fell in love with games in the first place. Really, it's simply fantastic, the type of thing reserved for blockbuster movies. Through a helicopter chase and Hunter ambush, it would be hard not to see the awesomeness of Episode Two before your very eyes. There's a section towards the end of the game where another battle between your forces and the Hunters and Striders takes place. They only serve one purpose ? to destroy the surrounding buildings. I can honestly say this is one of, if not the, most impressive moment in any video game of all time. You can't imagine this until you see it, so make sure you do. Right away. Now!
Like the other Half-Life instalments in The Orange Box, Episode Two excels in the same factors. It sounds and plays wonderfully, and hell, if the HUD wasn't being displayed, bystanders might well be forgiven for thinking they were
watching a movie. That speaks for itself, surely.
Aperture Science Laboratory, in the future. A woman named Chell wakes up in a square, glass room and notices a portal leading out of it. She walks through the portal and into another room, fittingly, where another portal is placed. This is what Portal, arguably The Orange Box's ?different' game, is set around. You are placed in different chambers and tasked with making your way to the exit, through a series of levels that introduce you to more advanced tasks.
Through a series of tests you're introduced to objects, advanced techniques (read: how to use your brain) and, not long afterwards, you're let loose with a portal gun that can fire both blue and orange portals, one serving as an entrance and the other as an exit. If you can get your head round how this works, you'll soon start to realise Portal falls into its own.
It's not nearly as simple as it sounds, though. Hell no, by the time you have made your way to the later chambers of the game, things will start to become very difficult. You see, while early on in the game you're jumping through the hoops (quite literally, in fact) it's not until you begin to make your way to the latter chambers that things are given a spin. You see, there's a catch to this ?basic' premise, that is you can only shoot portals where the crosshair indicates. Now this
is why the game is not as easy as it sounds at first glance.
Throughout the game you're spoken to by a computerised female voice known as GLaDOS ? again, this demonstrates what makes Portal so good in the first place? it's genuinely funny. The voice serves the purpose to help, and hinder, you in the game's stages. For example, in the game, by placing a portal up high on a wall and another below it on the ground, you'll gain momentum as you jump through it several times. This is demonstrated with the line ?Momentum, a function of mass and velocity, is conserved between portals. In layman's terms, speedy thing goes in, speedy thing comes out.? Brilliant! Other favorites are ?Thank you for helping us help you help us all.? and ?Remember when the platform was sliding into the fire pit and I said ?goodbye', and you were like ?no way'? And then I was all ?we pretended we were going to murder you'. That was great.? It's also host to the best credits song to grace a video game.
All this is a testament to how good Portal is, with a mix of comedy, good graphics (based on the same engine Half-Life 2 uses) and above all, new and fun gameplay. Does that sound boring? It depends what kind of person you are. Of course, if you don't like puzzles, stay away. If you do, though, Portal is the best thing since sliced bread.
Team Fortress 2
If you were beginning to get worried about the lack of multiplayer in The Orange Box, don't be! Team Fortress 2 is all you need for multiplayer and then some.
Team Fortress 2 is a class-based FPS that serves as the multiplayer side of The Orange Box. Oh and picking the correct class for each map and game type is definitely a key factor in whether you'll succeed or not, as is making sure you have a balanced team of different abilities. Yes, unlike other class-based FPS titles (Battlefield, anyone?), Team Fortress 2 is genuinely about having a strong team and keeping it that way. Likewise, if you're really sucking in one round, mix things up and change classes in between rounds? because you can.
Everyone loves a bunch of statistics now and again, so here goes: There are nine character classes (broken down into separate sectors to reflect their ability: offense, defense and support); two game types; and six different maps. The game types are Capture the Flag and Control Point. You'll probably know what Capture the Flag consists of if you've played any multiplayer shooter in recent times, and Control Point is like a King of the Hill-type mode where you have to capture certain points of the map. With the classes and game modes out of the way, you're probably wondering, what of the maps? Well, it's hard to describe maps in limited space, so we won't bother trying! They're good though.
Now on to the thing that makes Team Fortress 2 the blast it is to play (well, apart from the fact it's just a damn good game anyway): the unique graphical style. Refusing to be realistic, though it makes use of the Half-Life 2 engine, Team Fortress 2 is all about sporting a cartoony style. With the characters and maps looking this way, there's something special about this game that makes you think ?Wow, this isn't so violent after all.' even though that's an outright lie and you know it. But still, with cardboard cut-outs for animals behind fences and cheesy cartoony visuals, Team Fortress 2 is great on that front alone. Really.