The Orange Box Review
By Chad Montague |
Valve's reputation as a top tier developer began when Half-Life released in 1998 and was cemented in 2004 when they released the spectacular sequel. Now, they're bringing that magic back with The Orange Box. As we've said in countless previews, this is one of the best deals we've ever seen in gaming, especially for those people that have yet to play Half-Life 2 at all. With Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2 Episode One, and Half-Life 2 Episode Two, players can take the entire Half-Life 2 journey up to now in order. If that was the entire package, it'd be hard to express much discontent even with Half-Life 2 being a three year old game, but Orange Box also comes with two other games: Portal and Team Fortress 2. They're quite a bit different than Half-Life in spirit, but offer up unique puzzle based and multiplayer experiences that have exquisite style and beautiful senses of humor. Everything has the spit and polish that we've come to expect from Valve and nothing in the package disappoints.
We've reviewed Half-Life 2 and Episode One in the past and decided to review Episode Two, Portal, and Team Fortress 2 separately as you can purchase them individually via Steam. You can find the links to all of those reviews directly below followed by our overall thoughts of The Orange Box if you don't care about the individual reviews.
Episode Two, without giving too much away for those of you that haven't played Half-Life 2, sees Gordon Freeman and the rest of the crew moved out of City 17 and into the surrounding wild areas that happen to be filled with Ant Lions and combine remnants. Valve has created widely varied levels with claustrophobic fights, frantic defenses, outdoor driving missions, and plenty of the corridor shooter missions that were so good from the original. The final fight alone is worth the look but there's so much more to see here including two new combine evils, The Hunter and The Advisor. Both are visually thrilling and the hunter offers up some of the best enemy battles in the Half-Life series. Episode 2 is definitely the best looking of the saga and adds a wealth of engine tweaks to visuals and physics performance. Once again, Valve has some of the best character models in gaming that can bring real emotion to character development. If you don't like the side characters by the end of Episode 2, there's something wrong with you.
Read the Full Review of Episode Two
Portal also manages to tie into the Half-Life universe in some more subtle ways and also gets a mention in Episode Two. For that alone, Half-Life fans will probably want to give portal a shot. It's certainly not going to take a long time. From start to finish the first time through it probably took us 1 and a half to 2 hours. The first 15 of 19 levels were pretty damn easy with only the last few missions offering up much of a challenge. Even so, the game was consistent in its presentation and polish and offered up an evil sense of humor that had us wanting much more by the end. Finishing the game will add some content. Six levels open up with new challenges to beat including how much time, the number of steps you take, and number of portals you use to beat the challenge. With bronze, silver, and gold marks to meet, this could infuriate you and make you obsessive for several more hours. Those same six levels have also been re-worked in Advanced mode and are much, much harder than they are in the normal game. If you don't care for the extra challenges, Portal is worth finishing just to hear the ridiculously excellent song during the credits that had us laughing out loud.
Read the Full Review of Portal
Team Fortress 2 is the last piece of the puzzle and though it doesn't factor into the Half-Life universe, it's a worthy multiplayer game in its own right. With an amazing visual theme that includes some spectacularly loveable animations, your eyes will never have a dull moment. Valve has proved again that visuals are not only about cutting edge technology but also about consistent style. Sound is equally as brilliant with character in every sound blurb and effect in the game. Thankfully, TF2's gameplay holds up to the visual and auditory polish. Each of the nine available classes looks and plays very differently. Teams will need a good balance between each of these classes in the various team-based maps and game types to be successful. While lone gunman play is possible, it's definitely better to work in a crew. Our complaints sit mostly with the number of maps available at launch, which is six, and the fact that each is tied exclusively to a game type. It's hard to complain too much since each of the maps was obviously specifically designed with each game type in mind, but it might have been fun to see each map repurposed for some kind of capture the flag or team deathmatch games as well. Either way, it's a riot of fun and an awesome atmosphere to play in.
Read the Full Review of Team Fortress 2
The main thrust of this amazing package is definitely the Half-Life 2 series. If you haven't played it yet, you should now feel compelled to take the opportunity. The base game is still brilliant after three years, but you'll also get to play through both Episode One, which is good, and the brand new Episode Two, which is spectacular. Those of you that have already played through the original and episode one shouldn't scoff at the chance to play through everything together in the right order. It's as beautiful as reading a series of books from the start and offers up a view into development not often seen in gaming as the complexity and visuals of the series increase over the episodes. The entire series still looks fantastic though some key improvements have been made to the Source engine that unsurprisingly make Episode Two the best looking iteration in the bunch.
Read the Full Review of Half-Life 2 | Read the Full Review of Episode One
Our recommendation for those of you that have always been interested in Half-Life 2 and haven't tried it is simple: buy this package! Not only do you get the best single player first person shooter ever created, you also get the two next chapters, a 3D puzzle game that also happens to live in the Half-Life universe and a terrifically fun team-based multiplayer first-person shooter. This is a lot of game in one package for only 50 dollars.
As PC gamers, we will have a few more options to purchase each piece than the console guys. Each of parts is available for separate purchase via Steam, though the cost is much more prohibitive than just buying Orange Box. The original Half-Life 2 is 30, Episode One is 20, Episode Two is 30, Portal is 20, and Team Fortress 2 is 30. Aside from the fact that it's likely you can find Half-Life 2 by itself for cheaper elsewhere (actually at the moment it's been reduced to 20 on Steam), all the pieces individually add up to 120-130 bucks. All of the new stuff together is 80. Do the math. Even if you only want two of the new games and don't plan on ever playing the other games, the Orange Box is a better deal, especially since you can give the other games away to friends.