|System: PS3, X360, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Valve||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: EA||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Dec. 14, 2007||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-16||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by D'Marcus Beatty
Valve should feel positively dirty. Over three years ago, they released an Xbox version of the critically acclaimed Half Life 2. This version of Half Life was plagued by frequent load times and less than stellar graphics. Fast forward a couple of years and Valve re-releases the game, adding in two new episodes of Half Life 2, the innovative puzzle FPS Portal, and team based multiplayer Team Fortress 2 all for only ten dollars more. With the amount of gameplay that has been crammed into the Orange Box, either Valve should feel guilty for making Xbox owners pay full price for Half Life 2 or consumers should feel guilty about the amount of content they're getting from Valve for the price of a regular game.
The Orange Box is a difficult game to review. Even if each game were less than stellar, there is still such a variety of titles that most gamers will find themselves satisfied. On the basis of the content as well as the assumption that each game is going to be decent at the least, The Orange Box should score well above average. However, throw in the fact that each of the games is incredibly well done and gamers will find the deal of the year.
When you first pop The Orange Box in, you'll immediately be able to access Half Life 2, Half Life 2: Episode One, the previously unreleased Half Life 2: Episode Two, Team Fortress 2, and Portal. The only piece missing from the whole Half Life story would have been the original Half Life, but gamers can still jump right into the Half Life universe or even skip around to the episodes if they choose. In between playing any of the Half Life 2 games, Portal and Team Fortress provide great gameplay that is fleshed out on their own. Although all of the games play out in First Person, they all feel different because of the distinct gameplay, which means that The Orange Box will take a long time before it begins to lose its freshness.
Half Life 2 is the obvious headliner. HL2 tells the continuing story of Gordon Freeman, a silent scientist who is the helping the resistance fight against an alien invasion. The Half Life series has always been at the forefront of FPS gaming and the original was one of the first FPSes to immerse the gamer in the world by telling the story with a total lack of cutscenes. The game tells the story through in game dialogue so there isn't any forced exposition or intrusive cutscenes. When Half Life 2 debuted, the graphics, especially on high end PCs, were revolutionary and its physics engine was unparalleled. The visuals in the game are slightly behind the curve now, as they aren't as detailed as recent titles like Gears of War, but they have aged well considering the game's age. The detail in each character's faces and animation are among the best, while the foes have a noticeably smaller polygon count.
If you haven't played Half Life 2 before, it is highly recommended that you play through the Half Life 2 and the following episodes in order to get the full impact of the story. Half Life 2 eases gamers back into the story of Gordon Freeman and his fight against the Combine. You'll get acclimated to the scattered resistance cells and fight against agents of the Combine and will frequently find yourself taking part in extended vehicle sequences for better or worse. Half Life Episode One allows the player to team up with Alyx for a relatively short trek to escape City 17. Episode Two finally takes the pair out of City 17 and into new environments, new enemies, and a new weapon. Visually, you will be able to tell a difference as the graphics improve from Half Life to Episode Two. The character's facial and great voice acting combine to create personalities that feel real, especially in the case of Alyx. In addition to differences between visuals, each game has significantly different pacing and focus, with the shorter Episode One being more story driven than the others while Half Life 2 seems more action oriented. Overall, the three games combine to create an incredible experience.
In between Episodes of Half Life 2, players can have a blast battling others online in the long awaited multiplayer game Team Fortress 2. Visually, this game is the most distinct from the others, with a cel-shaded cartoony style that features characters with exaggerated features and body types. The team-based multiplayer provides a unique experience from most other console games that usually regress into deathmatch or team deathmatch, as Team Fortress 2's gameplay creates a distinct experience depending on which character class you choose. For example, the engineer isn't combat based, so he'll stay away from the frontlines, but he does provide valuable support in the various machines that he can build for his team, including teleportation nodes and a turret. The spy can wear disguises and infiltrate the other team and provide stealth kills, while the soldier is obviously more about brute force and killing. The TF2 has objective based games such as CTF, Attack/Defend, Control Points, and Territory Control, and each game type is exclusive to certain maps. This means that if the map wasn't designed for CTF, you won't be able to play CTF on that map. While the class based gameplay provides diversity, the game's strict adherence to map and game types might make some gamers long for the customizability of Halo 3. However, even without the options presented by games like Halo 3, Team Fortress 2 is undeniably a fun multiplayer experience.