The Orange Box
Isn’t it a wonderful time to be a first-person shooter fan? With Halo 3, Crysis, and Call of Duty 4 being released in such rapid succession, it’s almost too much. Gamers on a budget will certainly be feeling the pain, but thankfully, The Orange Box is here to make the choice oh-so-easy. For the same price of any one of those games, The Orange Box packs five- yes, five- games onto one disc. It sounds like the games included would be cheesy no name titles, but no: This is a Valve collection. Not only do we get the classic Half-Life 2, but we get its two pseudo-sequels, a spin off puzzle game, and a brand new multiplayer suite. If that isn’t worth full price for a disc, then I don’t know what does.
Half-Life 2 is the same juggernaut that it was in 2004. With a slow and steady pace, peppered with intense firefights, Half-Life 2 takes advantage of an extremely detailed physics engine (Source), and feels like the thinking-man’s first person shooter. It tells a gripping tale of rebellion from the eyes of the main character, never breaking from that perspective. While it’s a little irritating that he never speaks, it’s an easily overlooked flaw, and it still ranks as one of the best portrayed plots in a video game. The three-year old game has received a bit of a facelift for its 360 outing, boasting HDR lighting and a subtle motion-blur effect. However, it still looks a bit dated, but the strength of the art direction still shines through.
The two Half-Life 2 episodes, on the other hand, look stellar. As far as gameplay goes, Episode One is a fairly short jaunt that relies mostly on Gordon’s gravity gun. The gun is great fun, to be sure, but Episode One is a bit too much of a good thing. The erratic pace definitely makes it the weakest of the three Half Life 2 games, but it’s still worth playing for the story. Episode Two, however, is almost perfect. If it wasn’t for the slightly short length(8 hours or so) compared to the original, Episode Two could’ve certainly done the title “Half-Life 3″ justice. It’s tightly paced, far more intense than the previous two games, and has a jaw-dropping shocker of an ending. Combined, these three games alone would be worth the asking price of The Orange Box. If there was any gripe to be had, it’s that the original Half-Life 2 has barely been tweaked with. While a few new effects have been added, none of the models or textures have been replaced with their superior brethren from the two episodes- for example, look at a Vort in Half-Life 2 and then skip over to Episode Two. Gameplay-wise, there are still a few sections that should have been trimmed; the driving sections are still exasperatingly dull after the first half-hour or so.
Aside from the Half-Life 2 saga, The Orange Box includes Portal and Team Fortress. Portal is an inventive puzzle game that ties into the Half-Life 2 universe. After being given a gun that creates holes in the space-time continuum, players must complete a series of trials involving different uses for the portals, further proving that the Source physics engine still has legs to stand on. The robot running the test, glaDOS, provides plenty of comic relief with her deadpan delivery of genuinely creepy dialogue. Portal is extremely short, clocking in at just over an hour for some people, but it’s still a fun ride and a welcome inclusion in The Orange Box.
Team Fortress 2 is the sequel to the original PC team shooter, Team Fortress. Sporting a stylized Warner Brothers-esque look, TF2 pits two teams against each other in six massive maps. Players can choose between the Soldier, Engineer, Scout, Sniper, Heavy, Doctor, Pyro, and Spy, each with different weapons and skills. It’s important to work with your team, because on their own, each of these units is useless; battles are a group effort that can take a long time. Strangely, there is only one Capture the Flag map, the rest of them featuring attack-and-defend gameplay. While the six maps are large, more would have been a blessing. In fact, the same amount of maps with more visual variety would have been more than welcome. The problem is, every level is dry, dusty, and brown. Team Fortress 2’s otherwise colorful art style would complement practically any environment, and yet the only color palette the player will ever really see in a level is… brown. It’s a minor issue, but it’s sad to see the unique art go to waste on six levels of wasteland. Still, Team Fortress 2 is an excellent multiplayer experience.
So, with five full games, The Orange Box is like an early Christmas for shooter fans. Half-Life 2 works great on Xbox 360, with attractive visuals and an intense story. Portal has a great sense of humor, and while by no means difficult, will give some brains a challenge. Team Fortress 2 is a fantastic follow up to a classic multiplayer PC staple, with a gorgeous visual style and well-balanced action. It’s worth mentioning that all five of these games are tied together with a cool achievement tracking system that can be accessed from the pause menu, as opposed to opening the Xbox Guide. Clearly, a lot of work has been put into polishing the collection for the console. Unfortunately, it should also be mentioned that some players have reported feeling ill after playing Half-Life 2 for too long; the game’s Field of Vision settings are different from most first person shooter games. Still, if you haven’t experienced the trials of Gordon Freeman at the hands of the Combine before, The Orange Box is an absolute must buy. For those of you who have completed the adventure before on PC, The Orange Box is still a great deal- Episode 2, Portal, and Team Fortress 2 are brand new games that are definitely worth playing. If you really must only buy one game this season, make it five: get The Orange Box.
Nine out of ten
- Five great titles
- Well translated to the 360
- Source physics
- Slightly dated visuals (HL2)
- Short length (Portal)
- Bland maps (TF2)