Review by Fallen Horseman

"Unleash the Box"

Before I start my review, I would first like to say that I have never ever played a Valve game before in my life. That means I have never played any of the Half-Live games, the Team Fortresses, or the Counter-Strikes that the company is known for. So with that in mind, this review will be a fresh look at the series and the company. Also, for anyone who has read any of my previous reviews, this one will depart from my usual structure as this “collection” (and I use this term loosely) has five different FULL titles in it.

The Orange Box is a collection of five games. The Orange Box contains Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episode One, Half-Life 2: Episode Two, Portal and Team Fortress 2. Already the box gives you a plethora of content which basically means you are paying just above ten dollars per game (depends on the price at purchase) – which is definitely a great value. The PC and Xbox 360 versions of the game were handled by Valve themselves but they gave Electronic Arts (EA) the job of porting the game to the Playstation 3. Because of this transition, many problems unbeknownst to the PC and Xbox 360 version arise in the Playstation 3 version, which will be mentioned later on.

Half-Life 2

This is the first game on our list. You play as the silent Dr. Gordon Freeman traversing your way through City 17, which is ruled by a group of alien people's known as the Combine. You meet some characters along the way that will try to help you escape and subsequently free City 17 from the combine.

Graphically, this game is still outstanding, even after the two years it has been out. A lot of the city can be destroyed and altered to your liking and the lighting and textures are phenomenal. The audio is something not to be outdone either. The voice-acting is superb and the music provides a nice ambience to the game as you play.

The game contains puzzles which somewhat differentiates itself from other first-person shooters but none of the puzzles are too hard for one to get stuck on. As mentioned before, the player can alter and utilize a lot of the surrounding objects to help him achieve his goal. Basically you can throw exploding barrels at enemies and watch them explode. Most of your actions apart from that are standard FPS fare, and you can even drive some vehicles in this game. The AI doesn't seem to be too amazing, as they will readily move beside an exploding barrel and wait for you to shoot it, but it does the job in keeping you busy. I had a couple of enemies throw barrels at me for damage which I thought was kind of cool. The game also seems to pride itself on a great physics engine and it certainly does not disappoint in that area.

Score: 9/10

Half-Life 2: Episode One

The second game is more of a continuation of the first. It is a sequel per se to Half-Life 2 since the series is delivered in episodes. This time it takes place right after City 17 gets destroyed. You and Alyx Vance have to try to escape the now ruined City 17 and even save it along the way.

The game is very similar to that of the first. Not a lot seem to differentiate it. It is still nice to look at and the audio is well done. The gameplay hasn't changed dramatically, but it didn't need a lot of fixing anyway. The only real difference is that for the most part, Gordon will have someone to accompany him on his adventures instead of taking on the Combine by himself. The co-op play with your companion does help you in the fight against the Combine and it adds a little strategy. The AI for the companion isn't as good as one would like but it doesn't hinder the experience. This iteration is definitely the shorter of the two continuations.

Score: 9/10

Half-Life 2: Episode Two

The third game is also a continuation of the Half-Life 2 series. This time you and Alyx have escaped City 17 and are now trying to find the Resistance base, known as the White City. You have to arrive there and subsequently try to prevent the Combine from calling in reinforcements.

Graphically, this game suffers the most from the two previous games. The frame rate drops come often and a little more prominent. The game is still playable though and like all the others, the lighting and the textures and the overall look to the game are still high quality. Audio is very real to the surroundings and still have the same type of quality seen in the previous installments.

This game is a little more open than the previous installments and has been littered with puzzles to keep the player busy. There are new weapons, enemies, and vehicles as one would expect. The game is also a little longer than Episode One. In the end you will basically get the same experience from the other installments except for the frame rate problems that occur.

Score: 8/10

Portal

This is the fourth game of the box and in my opinion, the best out of the five. In essence, it is a puzzle game. Some are easy but most are hard. You awake in the Aperture Science laboratories with a voice telling you that you are required to participate in some tests. The voice, which will be revealed to be an artificially intelligent computer named GLaDOS provides some witty commentary to add to the enjoyment of the game. Visually, it is on par with the Half-Life 2 games but it has less variety in the visuals.

The basic premise is to create portals with your portal gun to complete the objectives in one room to get to the next. First you start off with only one portal (the blue portal) and you will use that to access random portals in the room to either get cubes or balls of light that are needed to complete the rooms objectives. Eventually you will find and have access to the second portal (the orange portal) which will then give you more control on where you want each portal to enter and exit. Acquiring the second portal also amps up the difficulty quite a bit and it will require you to find more ways to complete objectives. For instance, the faster you travel into a portal, the faster you will exit the portal. This truth will force you to think of ways to improve your speed in some of the puzzles in the game. The only real problem I have with it is that it is slightly too short. Of course with a fun game like this, you want it to last for a very long time.

Score: 10/10

Team Fortress 2

This is the fifth and final game of the marvellous box. It is also the only online game in said box. This game pits you against an enemy team (BLU or RED teams) in which you will have to complete objectives in the map to achieve victory. To do this, you are given a choice of nine different classes, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. This has been done in many games before but this game does it well. The team seemed to have taken a lot of time to create a nice balance in the game to prevent any class to be overpowered and/or useless. The classes are split into three main sections of Attack (Scout, Soldier, and Pyro), Defense (Demoman, Heavy and Engineer) and Support (Medic, Sniper, and Spy). The game really emphasizes team work over individual play.

Graphically, this game is astounding. The developers decided to go with a cartoon-like animation. The best way to sum up these graphics is “The Incredibles with guns”. Everything is very colourful and all of the classes have their own unique styles and voices. For example, the sniper sounds and looks Australian while the Engineer seems like he is a farmer from the south. Everything is done with a comedic view which definitely lightens the mood of the game. The only plus side of being ported by EA is that the company has some dedicated servers for the player to play in.

My only real gripe with this is the lack of maps in the game. You only really have 6 different maps in the game, which means, this might get tired and boring fast. From what I have heard, Valve will release some new maps in the future, but since it has yet to happen, it suffers on the scoring.

Score: 9/10

Overall

This game suffers from heavy loading times. You can expect to wait almost thirty seconds to get from menu to menu and to respawn when you die. Also, the Half-Life games as well as Portal experience this as well (and it might be how the game is created, but I am not a big fan of this) but there is a lot of loading between areas. You basically play for five minutes and then once you get to a certain point, another loading bar appears which will force you to lose any momentum that you have acquired. It might prove frustrating to some. Already mentioned, there are some frame rate bugs that occur during the game which most noticeably appear in Half-Life 2: Episode Two. For me, the game seems to be a bit slow on the pacing as well.

Overall this game is a great addition to any collection. I recommend that you pick it up for the other platforms if you can, but if you cannot, this is still a game you should get your hands on. This is one of the best values you can get in gaming and you will not be disappointed at all with a purchase.

Next Gen Review #5: The Orange Box

Praises:
- Five great games in one package
- Great graphics for all games
- Great for a single player or multiplayer experience

Criticisms:
- Frame rate problems
- Long load times

Half-Life 2: 9/10
Half-Life 2: Episode One: 9/10
Half-Life 2: Episode Two: 8/10
Portal: 10/10
Team Fortress 2: 9/10

Overall (Not an average): 9/10


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 12/25/07

Game Release: The Orange Box (US, 12/11/07)


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