Half-Life 2: The Orange Box Review
developer: Valve Software
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Oct 10, 07
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I'm not entirely sure about this, but it's quite possible that God never meant for orange boxes to be more special than regular boxes. Would God really think about boxes? Is God into orange then?
All of this is possible, and quite simply none of it makes any sense (Par for the course with you -Ed). I had to have an opening for my Half-Life 2: The Orange Box review and God and boxes is the best that I could come up with.
Sure Gabe Newell and the gang at Valve may not be pondering the religious aspects of their release, nor are they wallowing over the demise of the orange box's sister box, the black box, but what I can tell you with fair amount of certainty, is that Valve's boxes kick ass.
For $50 dollars, gamers are treated to three rather unique products (along with older releases like Half-Life 2 and Episode 1) - they get the continuation of the Half-Life 2 series with Episode 2, a wacky, gravity-molesting game known as Portal and, of course, the incredibly vibrant and addictive multiplayer experience that is Team Fortress 2.
The Orange Box is available at retail (Valve has EA as their distribution partner for this), but the most natural (and preferred) way to get it is through Valve's proprietary online distribution service, Steam. You punch in your credit card details and presto, you're on your way to downloading each of the games in the package. You can pick which one you want to download and the whole process is rather seamless and quick. The download speeds stayed rock solid even at the day of the box's release - October 10.
I have to tell you, I feel a little silly going on about each product in the package since we've already pretty-much reviewed Team Fortress 2, and covered Portal and Half-Life 2: Episode 2 in our previews.
Regardless, what you as a gamer should know is that The Orange Box offers amazing value for your buck. If you are a shooter fan, you'd be nuts not to get this one.
OK, you might as well stop reading here.
Gabe Newell was smart enough to realize that Episode 2 wouldn't stand so well on its own, so the job of filling the Orange Box with the rest of its orangey goodness was outsourced to teams who worked on Portal and Team Fortress 2 (as Episode 2 was being developed). One could ask what the hell took Valve so long with Episode 2, but one should not. Let's just cherish the fact someone out there was determined enough to treat gamers to an amazing bundle for the price of a single game.
Portal is an immensely fun experience that should take you one afternoon to go through. The game represents a marvelous collection of levels which are themselves elaborate puzzles, designed for the player to figure out by using a portal device which creates entry and exit portals on designated surfaces.
Even though the game doesn't have a single "live" opponent, the whole experience feels intellectually stimulating, innovative and downright fun. Portal has the most "soul" out of all three products (believe it or not) - some sort of nerd panache to it - and even though it couldn't pass for a stand-alone game (as it is), I expect great things from the modding community, on top of possible add-ons from the developers themselves.
The meat of the Orange Box (boy that sounded weird) has to be Half-Life 2: Episode 2, of course. Indeed, this was always the bundle's primary hook. With Episode 2, you can expect the rather standard Half-Life 2 gameplay. This latest episode is crafted with extreme care, meaning that every inch of each map was tested the hell out of to insure the consistency and fluidity of gameplay - something that's become Valve's trademark over the years.
In regards to the story, some questions are answered while new ones arise, and as you'd expect, cliffhangers abound as the series etches closer to its resolution in Episode 3 (Lord I hope so -Ed).
From a technical standpoint, I was absolutely amazed at how viable the Source engine still is. The emotional depth of the characters is accentuated by the phenomenal facial animation. The seamless transition between indoor and outdoor areas still looks fresh, thanks in part to the quality HDR lighting.
The nitty-gritty of the gameplay will still feel very much like Half-Life 2, but what else did you expect?!
As ever, Valve's rendition of the Source engine code is lean and well optimized, so expect great performance even on older rigs. Certain lingering issues from the original game still persist, and that mostly has to do with how enemy soldiers react to you at close range, but that should in no way diminish the fact that this is one extremely polished, first-person shooter - polished in the sense that each step that the player takes has likely been already taken by a member of the QA team at least a dozen times (likely an understatement).
Awesome value for your money, fantastic fun with Team Fortress 2 and Portal; let's not forget Half-Life 2: Episode 2.
I still wish there was more gameplay hours in Episode 2.