The Orange Box
The Orange Box (OB) is the latest release from the gaming giants, Valve. The OB is a collection of three new games, and two old ones thrown in for free, and it costs the price of a single game at retail. So what are these games you ask? Well let me tell you!
First off we have Half-Life 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode 1, these are the two free games I mentioned. The three new games are - Half-Life 2: Episode 2; Portal and Team Fortress 2. As Half-Life 2: Episode 2; Portal and Team Fortress 2 (TF2) are the new games, I will take each in turn and review them separately! On with the show….
Half-Life 2: Episode 2
Playing Episode 2 is like waking up from a long long sleep and being immersed into the best day of your life straight away. It has been a long while since Valve’s first shot at episodic content was released (Half-Life 2: Episode 1) 16 long months of waiting, but here it is, Episode 2, the middle part of the trilogy of Half-Life 2 Episodes, and it is well worth the wait.
The story picks off from where we left Episode 1, that is the end of the gameplay experience, not the video that appeared upon completion of the game, and you can also discount many of the teaser trailers Valve released last year. I will avoid giving away and more spoilers, but I will let you know that the story is magnificent and has been written with a style that anyone who has played a Half-Life game before will be accustomed too, and newcomers to the series will find to be a breath of fresh air compared to many other current First Person Shooters.
The gameplay is a brilliant; we are taken out of the oft claustrophobic depressing environment of City 17 and put into a race to White Forest where Dr. Kleiner and Eli Vance await your arrival with Alyx. This journey takes place in underground Antlion tunnels, a road trip in a muscle car that is a great improvement on Half-Life 2’s buggy and an amazing forest area and a couple of others besides. The changes of gameplay areas provide for a much more refreshing experience than achieved in Hall-Life 2 and Episode 1, and the pacing is exquisite, the game ebbs and flows without leaving you over-burdened with action and bored with travelling. This is something that many modern games get wrong. I must also say here that the end section of the game is much better than in Half-Life 2 and Episode 1, this time you are presented with a monolithic battle, of which I shall say no more except that it shows Half-Life at its best.
The Source engine that powers Episode 2 (and everything else in the Orange Box) has been given a stunning face-lift, all the models and textures have been improved in every way, and it is evident that the artists have utilised the new environments they worked in excellently. Facial and body animations are as ever brilliant, in particular with the mysterious G-Man. Everything just seems crisper than they have done; it was worth some delays to see the engine like this!
Overall I think Episode 2 has the edge over Episode 1, and in some ways over Half-Life 2 due to the tighter pacing and the fact that I love the new environments. The achievement and Director’s Commentary provide you with many reasons to go back and play this game again, and you will love to do so. Valve have really done themselves proud with a must own game for any gaming fan.
Portal wakes you up from a long long sleep. Hang on…I already made the sleep analogy in the Episode 2 review….hmm. Well at least in the case of Portal the sleep comments are justified as you start the game waking up from a deep sleep in your room in Aperture Science. You are a character known as Chell and you are in for a crazy ride!
Portal is the second part of Valves’ Orange Box and it is a short piece clocking in at 2-3 hours of gameplay in the main mode and a whole lot more replayability in the other game modes. It may be short, but it is very sweet, kind of like a cake if you will. Your character Chell is tasked by GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disc Operating System) to complete a series of tasks set inside Aperture Science. These tasks are made special by the use of the ASHPD (Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device) which as the name suggests is a Portal device. What is a Portal device I hear you ask? Well it is a device which allows you to create Portals in the game world through which you, and pretty much everything can travel through.
Yes, Portal is a puzzle game, but it is a great one involving dark-dark-humour, cake and great fun. The writing of Portal is perhaps the best writing I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing and listening to, GLaDOS is a machine whose personality is evident from her introduction and comments during the various levels of Portal, and even the gun-turrets are magical with their comments after you kill them.
I must talk about the gameplay, Portal has been built upon the Source engine by a group of students who were hired by Valve after showing off the spiritual predecessor to Portal, Narbacular Drop. You open portals using two buttons, the left and right mouse buttons and the portal can be placed anywhere allowed by GLaDOS in the level you are currently on. You step through one and you come out the other, do this at speed and you can go flying. Pretty simple eh? Well it is until you get to some of the latter challenges which can be very challenging!
After completing the excellent main game you can take part in the Bonus Maps, with ‘Advanced’ maps where different restriction are imposed upon you and ‘Challenge’ maps for you to complete by using the least portals, in the least time and the least footsteps. These along with the Achievements add a layer of replayability well beyond that of many ordinary games making this somewhat special.
Overall this is an amazing game with very few faults, I may have bought the Orange Box for Episode 2, but I came away enjoying Portal the most of anything that came with it. Get this game, and get some cake to play it with. Amazing.
Team Fortress 2
Team Fortress 2 is here! Finally the sequel to Team Fortress Classic has been released after numerous attempts by Valve to make something they felt was right. And boy have they done it! Team Fortress 2 is a game that breathes a new lease of life into the online first person shooter genre moving away from the current trend of realistic modern-day Middle-Eastern warfare and futuristic alien invasions to a setting of fun! That is the key to this game, fun! Team Fortress 2 is a class-based online shooter that is immensely fun and cool.
The graphical design of Team Fortress 2 is in stark contrast to the other games in the Orange Box, providing us with a visual style that immediately grabs your attention. Everything is semi-cartoony but with a basis of reality, I can’t give it justice with words, but trust me that it looks, and more importantly feels right! In fact everything about this game feels right, the look of everything, especially the classes fit in, and the voice acting also perfectly matches what you expect them to be like.
The gameplay itself is brilliant, all the classes have specific styles of playing, a Scout quickly nips in and out of areas, an Engineer builds defences and a Sniper picks off the enemy from a distance, throw in the rest of the classes and you have a nice blend of approaches you can take to play the game. The weapon load outs for each class suits them perfectly, and looks as they should, powerful and might cool.
The maps, while small in number provide quality entertainment, there is a Capture the Flag map, 2Fort which has been reincarnated from Team Fortress Classic and Territorial Control maps, both game modes do exactly as they say on the tin. Grab the Flag (Intelligence actually) and control the map with control points. They are nice and simple, but more importantly fun to play on. Get a group of mates together, find a server and go wild, I assure you that fun will be had!
The achievements are back again which along with a stat tracking system will keep you coming back for more just to be able to clinch the final kill that you need for an achievement. With the Steam Community you are also able to compare your stats with those of your friends who have played Team Fortress 2.
Overall this is a great new addition to the PC multiplayer scene, everything seems to be spot on which is what we come to expect from a Valve game. Everything about Team Fortress 2 is fun, it is well worth playing!
The Orange Box combines three of the best games to be released this year, and with the bonus of Half-Life 2 and Episode 1 you are getting a great deal. The standout game is Portal for providing us with something new and exciting, while Episode 2 continues the excellent legacy of the Half-Life series and Team Fortress 2 provides and exciting new multiplayer component to the online gaming scene. Due to all the games being built on the Source engine they should all run on any modern PC with a graphics card from the past several years. The Orange Box can be had for about £25 from most retailers and from Steam, a bargain for five games. A last note is that the internet is required to activate the game.
Rating – 10/10