Review by kobalobasileus
"The Definitive First-Person Collection"
The Orange Box
The Definitive First-Person Collection
The Orange Box is a collection of older PC games, hastily ported and poorly supported for the PS3. On the disc, one will find the complete Half-Life 2, complete, that is, until Valve finally decides to release the finale in Episode 3. Alongside Half-Life 2 are the puzzler, Portal and the online multi-player frag-fest, Team Fortress 2. Though the game proclaims to be five games on one disc, I consider Half-Life 2: Episode 1 and Half-Life 2: Episode 2 to be part of Half-Life 2, not individual games. Regardless of whether The Orange Box contains three games or five, the low retail price of $20 makes it a tempting offer.
Each of the games in The Orange Box looks good. I'm personally partial to the stylized character designs in Team Fortress 2, but the more realistic characters in Half-Life 2 and Portal are still well-animated and easy on the eyes. The graphics are a huge step up from the original Half-Life, in which characters were hideous and unique character models were nonexistent. There are still problems with character models reappearing throughout the game, but at least they are now numerous enough and generic enough that the doppleganger effect is less noticeable. It also helps that clones don't appear in the same location. I'm also still annoyed that there are no reflective surfaces in which to catch a glimpse of Gordon Freeman.
Audio is likewise significantly improved over the original Half-Life. The voices and music are all clear and static-free. Several character voices return from Half-Life in Half-Life 2. Of course, the real stand-out audio performance is the narration of Portal delivered by the game's antagonist, a female computer system called GLaDOS. From the first moments of the game through the ending credits, GLaDOS provides humor, wit, menace, and surprising musicality.
Technically, the presentation suffers a bit from frame-rate drops during scenes with frantic action. However, since Half-Life 2 and Portal are both slower-paced, more thoughtful games than the typical mindless first-person shooter, frame-rate loss is rarely noticeable except right before and after a loading screen.
Half-Life 2 and Portal both take place in the same continuity as the original Half-Life, but an undetermined number of years later. It seems that the interdimensional alien menace that Gordon Freeman unleashed at Black Mesa and apparently subdued in Half-Life was enslaved to an even more powerful transdimensional foe called the Combine. While Gordon spent several years in an undisclosed location, the Combine invaded Earth through the portals opened during the first game and enslaved the human race, corralling the remaining humans in numbered cities where they wait to be transformed into a variety of Combine troopers. Gordon Freeman reprises his role as silent protagonist, only now he has acquired the moniker of revolutionary and is frequently accompanied by the talkative and attractive Alyx Vance, the bi-racial daughter of the Token Black Guy, Eli Vance, who apparently made an appearance in the original Half-Life. Alyx, as well as other allied characters who occasionally accompany Gordon, break the oppressive sense of isolation that was omnipresent in the original Half-Life and make the game world seem much more alive. The only real problem with the story is that there are many characters whom the player is supposed to recognize from the original Half-Life that are basically ret-cons; fleshed-out personalities grafted onto the half-a-dozen character models that populated that game. I remember seeing dozens of security guards who all looked alike... apparently one of them was Barney. I also remember dozens of dark-skinned scientists who all looked and sounded identical... apparently one of them was Eli. I certainly didn't remember either of them as specific individuals, nor any of the other characters based on the original character models.
Portal takes place entirely in an enclosed facility belonging to Aperture Science, a direct competitor to Black Mesa. The main character is NOT Gordon Freeman, but a nameless woman who has apparently been in stasis for a very long time. This nameless, voiceless character is immediately greeted by the voice of the facility's main computer, GLaDOS, which instructs her that she will be completing 19 tests involving portals, and that successfully completing these trials will earn a reward of cake. Since Portal is an incredibly short game (3-5 hours long), I can't really say more about the story while avoiding spoilers. It is sufficient to say that the narrative is about the nature of the relationship between the main character and GLaDOS. The story in revealed through entirely one-sided conversations that contain some of the wittiest writing I've ever seen in a game.
Team Fortress 2 doesn't seem to fit into the Half-Life continuity. It's less about interdimensional invaders or high-tech gadgetry and more about teams of interesting-looking characters trying to kill each other. Basically, Team Fortress 2 makes up for the fact that neither Half-Life 2 nor Portal has a multi-player deathmatch mode. As such, Team Fortress 2 doesn't have a story, which is a shame. The character designs are so interesting and quirky that I'd love to see them utilized in a game with a single-player, story-based setting.
Half-Life 2 brings more of the same first-person adventuring from Half-Life, but with larger and more diverse environments, keeping up the blend of shooting, exploration, and survival-horror that made the original game so... original. One major negative is the removal of the lock-on feature from the original Half-Life. This change makes combat a bit more frustrating, but isn't a deal-breaker, as the game seems more forgiving with auto-aiming. If the targeting reticule is over an enemy, it lights up. As long as the reticule is lit, any shots fired will hit the target (provided the target isn't behind cover). As if to make up for the loss of lock-on, Half-Life 2 features a new weapon colloquially known as a Gravity Gun. The Gravity Gun adds a new puzzle-solving element not previously seen in the original Half-Life, plus it can be fun just throwing random objects around. As mentioned previously, gameplay in Half-Life 2 takes place across more varied environments than the original Half-Life. In Half-Life 2, Gordon traverses Combine-controlled cities, underground caverns, deserts, a ruined city overrun by headcrabs, and more. Plus he doesn't cover all of this ground on foot, as Half-Life 2 features two vehicles: an air boat and a dunebuggy. Vehicular control is somewhat spastic, but since this isn't a racing game, this is a minor annoyance.
Portal is a completely different type of experience and is easily the best game in The Orange Box. It's worth the purchase price by itself. The titular portals are orange and blue ovals that can attach to most surfaces in the game. These ovals bend space-time and act as each side of a two-dimensional surface. When something goes into one portal, it immediately comes out of the other-colored portal. Placing two portals side-by-side and standing in one while facing the other results in the main character standing face-to-face with herself. It is an example of some truly mind-bending physics. In the beginning of the game, all portals are static, but before long the player gains access to a Portal Gun (which looks like the Apple version of the Gravity Gun from Half-Life 2). The Portal Gun can launch both colors of portals in a straight line, allowing strategic placement for the completion of objectives. Each of the 19 trials is incredibly well-designed and the skills learned in each build upon each other. What impresses me most about Portal, however, is that there is no shooting whatsoever. A 100% puzzle solving game coming from a company known for producing shooters (albeit, good shooters) is a wonderful breath of fresh air and irrefutable proof that amazing things can be done with a first-person game engine if a developer actually takes some time to pursue options other than shoot it if it moves.
Team Fortress 2 is completely worthless. I say this for one reason, and that is the fact that it can ONLY be played online. There is no single player mode nor an offline mode for local multiplayer. Why do I consider an online-only game worthless? Because it can never become a timeless classic. Those servers are going to be taken down eventually, probably sooner for the PS3 version than any other, thanks to Valve's complete lack of updates and patches to this version. In 20 years, old curmudgeons will still be able to enjoy a trip through Half-Life 2 or Portal, but won't be able to play a single round of Team Fortress 2. It doesn't matter if the game features interesting classes that complement each other in diverse and strategic ways. It doesn't matter that large numbers of people can play in the same match. It only matters that the game will eventually stop working because it relies entirely on an online component. If Valve issued a patch to the PS3 version of Team Fortress 2 tomorrow that allowed for offline splitscreen multi-player with bots to fill-out the roster, I would be the first to sing its praises as a great multi-player deathmatch experience. Since I don't actually believe that will happen, I will stand by my current assessment of Team Fortress 2.
The Orange Box is definitely a compilation that is worth the asking price. Despite the uselessness of Team Fortress 2, the fact that The Orange Box contains Portal balances it out. Anyone who likes shooters would be foolish to miss out on this collection. Anyone who doesn't like shooters, but likes adventures or puzzles, would be foolish to miss out on this collection. I highly recommend The Orange Box to all PS3 owners.
Half-Life 2 (plus Episodes 1 & 2): 9/10
Team Fortress 2: 1/10
Overall (not an average): 9/10
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 11/11/09
Game Release: The Orange Box (US, 12/11/07)
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