Half-Life has been a household name for PC gamers for many years now, since the original Half-Life. It had been a modders paradise and was a series which laid foundations for years to come, always having been ground-breaking and different at the time of its release. Now it is more than three years ago that Half-Life 2 was released with an incredible physics engine and amazing graphics, and Valve have decided to release a compilation of Half-Life 2 titles on one DVD, the famed Orange Box.
This compilation included Half-Life 2 as well as the expansions for it (Episodes One and Two), as well as Team Fortress 2 and Portal. This makes The Orange Box the biggest bang for your buck title on the 360 to date with hours upon hours of fun to be had battling through the different games. Team Fortress 2 and Portal use the Source game engine that was made for Half-Life 2 to create fantastic environments with great physics, and each are unique.
What is noticeable when first diving into the Half-Life 2 universe is how little the graphics have progressed since it was released on PC end of 2004. Don’t get me wrong, they are improved and things really look sharp and the graphics were absolute top notch at the time. But they don’t have the same wow factor that games like Gears of War have, that have been built from the ground up for the Xbox 360. Similarly the physics have now been repeated in other titles, and has now become common practice in next-gen games, which takes away some of the wow factor that was felt with the original release.
Despite all this though I found myself becoming totally enthralled in the story of Half-Life 2, to the extent that the entire experience came together in a delicious cocktail of adventure, excitement and fear. The setting is a sort of Orwellian military state, where you fight the powers at be within ‘City 17’ and in the country side. Playing Gordon Freeman you fight for the freedom of your fellow citizens, against a range of enemies, including the head-crabs made famous in the original Half-Life. There are some awe inspiring enemies (and allies) that you encounter during the adventures which are scary, but a lot of fun to take down.
The addition of the expansions make for a fantastic continuation of the story really help to immerse you in the Half-Life 2 universe and game experience. Episode One is somewhat tedious with a substantial amount of repetition, but Episode Two makes up for it by being far more similar to Half-Life 2 in the level design and the sheer diversity of what you will encounter and do. You will have some vehicles as well as a range of diverse weapons (gravity gun anyone?) throughout all the games. Every now and again you will encounter puzzles, which initially can seem impossible to solve but always come together after only a short amount of searching and thinking. This in most cases does not involve trial and error, but merely observing your surroundings. It is this changing gameplay and gripping storyline that makes Half-Life 2 so addictive.
Not to mention that this is one of the best PC to console ports I have played. You simply do not feel or notice the constraints of playing a mouse and keyboard title with a controller due to the way it has been ported. Frequent brief loading times and occasional frame-rate stutters are the only noticeable after effects of the porting, and all in all a very fluid and enthralling game has been brought to a host of new gamers to enjoy. Of concern however is the unsettling yellow tinge that your companion Alex Vance sports for much of the game, strangely resembling what you might see in a person with a serious liver condition.
Portal is one of the included games built on the Source engine. Portal really pushes the imagination by presenting you with increasingly difficult puzzles for you to solve using merely a portal gun. This involves placing entry and exit portals and jumping through them, to appear instantly at your exit portal. This is done amazingly with you being able to peer into portals through to your exit portal. You will need to bring your imaginations to the game and you really are challenged to think outside the square which makes the game so addictive and stimulating. It also is completely revolutionary, not to mention a huge success.
The puzzles you solve involve throwing yourself, or objects through portals in order to make it to the level exit. As the puzzles become more difficult this will involve more thinking on the fly and fast reactions. This truly is an amazing game which hopefully lays the framework for many fantastic games based around this concept, as Portal has unlocked a truly unique puzzle experience. The only complaint is that the game was too short, and only when it began to become truly intricate was it already over.
The final contender on the jam packed Orange Box compilation is Team Fortress 2. This is a game that truly was a surprise, and moves distinctly away from the art style of any other Source titles. Team Fortress 2 is an entirely online based multiplayer frag fest. Already when booting into the title will you notice that this is something special. The environments and classes are all lovingly drawn in a fantastic cartoon style which gives the whole game a light hearted humorous feel which is a breath of fresh air in the world of serious online shooters. It is so unique it makes it very difficult to describe as it really has to be seen to be believed. The classes all look distinctly different and their unique movement style and art style make them easy to distinguish at a glance. This helps for hectic games when you really need to know who is on your team and who is shooting at you.
The classes that are available are divided into 3 categories, with each having 3 sub classes. They are Offense, Defense and Support. You have the scout, soldier, pyro, demoman, heavy weapons guy, engineer, medic, sniper and finally spy. This gives you various classes to play with and try out, each having very unique abilities. The engineer can build defensive turrets, the spy can disguise himself as an enemy soldier, and the medic, well, he heals. All these abilities are next to useless on their own, but when you work as a team they come together and you can really create a crack unit and walk all over the other team. This game lays so much emphasis on team play it is near impossible to be victorious without a communication and team play. If your a lone rider who doesn’t communicate, this game is not for you, but it really is a fun way to feel important in whichever role you choose. Initially this can be daunting, but have a few games and you will really begin to see that this game is barrels of fun.
The stats tracking that has been implemented into Team Fortress 2 is another fun factor During and after each game you will be presented with stats relating to your performance with individual classes and you will be notified if you have a better round than your previous best (with a certain class). This is fun and helpful to establish if you are improving. Especially if you are a medic or a class not holly reliant on kills. The amount of points healed will be tracked as a medic, or the amount of head shots if you are a sniper. All stats that become more and more interesting as you play.
The game modes are Capture the Flag and Control Point, each suited fabulously to the style of the game and the classes. A downside are the slightly smaller multiplayer matches than over the PC version. But all in all the game does well to remain smooth and connections were usually very good. Team Fortress 2 is clearly the icing on an already marvelous package.
The Orange Box is one of the most complete and feature packed game packs of the year. That Valve have brought this incredible pack onto consoles and done exceptionally well at porting it is credit to them. All the titles are rock solid and stand on their own. Each will provide you with many hours of fun and action and there are few gamers that would feel that The Orange Box was not money well spent. Valve have taken care creating well thought through achievements for each of the games, and have packed in far more than your usual 1000 gamerscore limit. The Orange Box is suitable for almost anyone into shooters, even if you have previously completed Half-Life 2, as the expansions provide incentive enough to pick this up.