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The Orange Box Review

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Developer: Valve Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: October 9, 2007 Also On: PC and Xbox 360

Since its release back in 2004, I have always wanted to play Half-Life 2. Originally on the PC and then ported to Xbox, I never got a chance to play what we could consider the first next-gen game of this generation. Now that I have had a chance to play it, along with the two expansions in The Orange Box, I am glad I waited to play them all together. The ending to the first leaves much to be desired and is woven together nicely in the two expansions that follow.

You play as Gordon Freeman, a scientist from the Black Mesa Research Facility. In Half-Life, Black Mesa was at the center of an accident involving a portal to an alien world. As Gordon, you had to escape the facility. At the end, you are given an offer for employment by a person known as the G-Man. He reappears in hallucinations during Half-Life 2, but now you are in City 17 decades after the Black Mesa Incident.

Life on Earth has changed for the worst. City 17 is a military-state run by the Combine. Gordon eventually meets up with Dr. Kleiner and Alyx Vance, two members of the resistance against the Combine. There they were going to use a teleportation device to get them to a lab run by the father of Alyx, but it malfunctions and the Combine locate Dr. Kleiner’s lab. Throughout much of the game Gordon will rummage through the streets of City 17, into the zombie-infested Ravenholm, into the political prison of Nova Prospekt and finally into the Citadel, the headquarters of the Combine.

You start off with no weapons at all. Eventually you will obtain a crowbar, which can be used to smash crates (full of ammo, health and energy) and ply through wooden slabs. Valve did an excellent job of pacing Half-Life 2. You never feel that the game gets tiresome, mainly for the fact that there is always something new going on. Whether it is first obtaining the pistol, shotgun, or pulse rifle, new guns are to be found constantly throughout the game.

A relatively easy system to switch weapons is in place using the d-pad, separated by gun type. The right bumper can be used to switch between your last equipped weapon and the gravity gun. As far as guns go, you will need to manage ammo and use the right weapon for the right situation. The gravity gun is probably the best innovation of Half-Life 2. It allows you to pick up objects and fling them across the level and at enemies. This can be useful for solving puzzles, moving barrels to create a counter balance to your weight or you can throw items like explosives and sharp objects to slice enemies.

Unlike every game in the Halo series, Half-Life 2 does not use a lot of backtracking. The roughly ten hours of play in Half-Life 2 alone mean that you are going to be exploring a lot of new territory, both on-foot and in a vehicle. The controls can be a bit touchy, but the vehicle missions can be quite fun. As I said, there is a lot of ground to cover, so it’s hard to do it all on-foot, and you can’t if you tried, due to the radiation. Half-Life 2 has a nice mix of action, puzzle-solving and story elements to keep you busy.

Episode 1 starts where Half-Life 2 left off. The Citadel’s dark fusion core is going into meltdown and both Gordon and Alyx need to stabilize the core before they can return to Dr. Kleiner and Alyx’s dad. Failing to stabilize the core could result in an explosion that would level City 17 and kill off all of its remaining residents. Once you stabilize the core, the rest of the game is spent getting out of City 17 and helping other people evacuate as well.

Again you start off with none of your primary weapons, except this time, you will get your gravity gun powered-up early where it can one-shot kill enemies, as well as grab them. This ability is relinquished, however, before you leave the Citadel. The same weapons return from Half-Life 2 and the levels are more or less greatly altered sections of City 17. New to Half-Life 2: Episode 1 are high dynamic range rendering and upgraded facial expressions.

Half-Life 2: Episode 2 is the last of the expansions in The Orange Box. An Episode 3 is in the works which will conclude the episodic trilogy of Half-Life 2. Since I don’t want to spoil any story elements, I will just say that the game starts once again where you left off from the previous game. Along with Alyx, you will need to find your way to the White Forest base where the resistance is located. As opposed to Half-Life 2 and Episode 1, Episode 2 takes place largely outside of City 17 in the surrounding wilderness.

Episode 2 introduces a number of new enemies to coincide with the new environment. One of them is an antlion worker, which spits acid. There is also the grub, which acts as a health pack and can not attack. Also new is the Combine Hunter. These tall and maneuverable robots are deadly and hard to take down. They appear frequently starting about half-way through the game and will accompany the giant spider-like Striders at the end of the game.

As far as graphics go, Episode 2 is by far the most visually stunning of all the games in The Orange Box. I would go so far as to say it is one of the best looking next-generation games on the market right now. A new particle effect system is in place and clearly they have upgraded water effects as well. A new dynamic lighting and shadowing system is in place as well, allowing the player’s flashlight to cast dynamic shadows.

Portal is the fourth game in The Orange Box. It is a 3D puzzle game based in the Half-Life universe using the same graphics engine. You play as an unnamed female test subject trying out an experimental new gun for Aperture Science, known as the portal gun. Aperture Science was conceived as a competitor to Black Mesa. Playing through Half-Life 2: Episode 2 will give you some background into Aperture Science.

The object of Portal is simple: get to the end of each level. The portal gun fires two beams, an orange and blue portal, controlled by each of the triggers. Firing the portal gun creates a portal between the orange and blue, unless a surface prevents it. Firing the gun a consecutive time will close the previous portal of the same color.

In order to reach the end of the level, you will need to manipulate the environment. Whether this means using portals to reach unaccessible areas, placing cubes on pressurized buttons to open doors or flinging your character using momentum produced from falling through portals. There are only nineteen levels and the game should take you no longer than a couple hours.

Still, the satirical story and computer are great entertainment. In the research facility you are guided along the way by a computer program who makes witty remarks and promises you cake when you complete your task. It all ends too soon, but you can always try for the Achievements (like disabling all of the cameras with your portal gun) or just replaying the puzzles. The best part is there is rarely one way to solve a puzzle. I found situations playing the game a few times where my friends were like, “I didn’t think of trying that.”

Team Fortress 2 is a multi-player game and sequel to the original Team Fortress, a mod oddly enough to the rival shooter Quake. It was announced way back in 1998 and has metamorphosed throughout. The final product became part of The Orange Box and took on a more cartoon look than the original, resembling more of a Pixar movie than a video game. The game emphasizes teamwork and features all of the original classes from Team Fortress.

There are nine different classes to choose from among three different sets. The first set is Offense. This includes Pyro (flamethrower), Soldier (rocket launcher and shotgun), and Scout (who is fast, but only has a shotgun with limited ammo). The next class is Defense, who are slower, but have more health. This includes the Demoman (sticky bombs), Heavy (a gattling gun), and an Engineer (collects metal from weapons to build sentry guns for your base). Lastly there is the Support class. This includes the Spy (who disguises himself as the enemy, can instant kill the enemy with a knife in the back and disable sentry guns), Sniper (a rifle), and a Medic (heal your team mates).

The number of players on Xbox 360 and PS3 are limited to 16 players, while PC gamers can enjoy 32. Each of the six maps have their own game type, which are either Capture the Flag or Control Point. Capture the Flag is your standard CTF, while Control Point has you try to capture the most zones on a map. Players can choose from quick match or they can create a match. Unfortunately players can switch teams, meaning you can have lopsided battles, at times creating a ridiculously unfair situation.

Rarely is there a game that I have played as thoroughly as I have The Orange Box. I took my time, beating Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episode 1, Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and Portal, and put in a decent amount of time with Team Fortress 2. I think I am qualified to determine that this is one of the best games I have ever had the pleasure of playing. It is hard to argue that The Orange Box is not a 10. For starters, it comes with Half-Life 2, Game Freaks 365’s Game of the Year of 2004. Valve did not just leave it there. No, they included two expansion packs, a unique puzzle game that would seem out of place other than for the fact that it could be considered the best puzzle game since Tetris, and the multi-player mayhem that is Team Fortress 2. If you can find a better value in a video game, please let me know about it. Congratulations, Valve. You have earned our first post-GoldenEye 10 out of 10.

Graphics: 9
Sound: 9.5
Gameplay: 10
Creativity: 10
Replay Value/Game Length: 10
Final: 10
Written by Kyle Review Guide