Half Life 2: The Orange Box Review

Heralded as the best deal in video game history, The Orange Box has been one game I personally have been waiting for. Containing not one, not two, but five games—five absolutely fantastic games, two of which are previous PC releases, but the other three are new to any format. The five games are all bundled onto one disc for the price of an ordinary Xbox 360 game. A good deal? It sure is. But let’s take a look at what is in this lovely Orange Box.

First of all, there are the two previous PC releases, Half Life 2 and Half Life 2: Episode 1. As well as these two games, it also comes with Half Life 2: Episode 2, Portal and Team Fortress 2. This is possibly one of the greatest set of games, rolled into one game.

I was a huge fan of Half Life on the PC, so was glad to see I could play through all the other Half Life games in order. First is Half Life 2. Half Life 2 was released on the PC in 2004 to critical acclaim, heralded by many to be the best first-person-shooter ever made. The game follows Dr. Gordon Freeman, our silent protagonist. He has recently escaped from the Black Mesa lab after a freak accident which unleashed alien monsters around the world, and the mysterious “G-Man” has now placed Gordon on a train to City 17. He discovers that it has been taken over by a group called the Combine and his old nemesis, Dr. Breen, is now running the city. He joins a group of rebels and old friends to take down the Combine.

Since it was released three years ago on PC, I’m sure that most people will have played it before. But for those without a decent PC, this is perfect chance to play it. With a riveting storyline and brilliant characters, Half Life 2 is worth the cost of the entire box alone. The gameplay is so memorable that you will want to play through it again just to experience the world all over again.

The game is full of brilliant parts. The combat is smooth and intense, such as a shoot-out with a gunship or smashing a zombie’s face in with a crowbar. There are many puzzles you will need to solve to progress, ranging from the easy (placing a plug into a socket) to the hard (finding out how to get across to another roof without jumping in the sea of zombies). There are so many bits to keep you hooked, especially trying to battle through Ravenholme with just a Gravity Gun and a load of saws.

The graphics aren’t much of a change from the original PC version, but that didn’t exactly look awful. It’s a gorgeous looking game. While you explore the square in City 17 and look up at the Citadel, you will realise how great the Source engine actually is. The sound is also magnificent. The music is perfect for every part of the game, getting intense when in you’re fighting or slowing down when crawling through a dark cave

It’s a shame Half Life 2 multiplayer isn’t included, but you won’t really miss it with all the other games to play.

Once you’ve finished Half Life 2, you have Episode 1 and 2 to fight through. When playing all 3 in a row, you can see that Episode 1 is definitely the weakest of the three, acting more as a bridge than adding anything to the story. Episode 1 is based in City 17 which means a lot of drab urban environments instead of a varied set of environments like in Episode 2. Episode 2 is fantastic. The story progression is great, picking up where Episode 1 left off. The environments are full of atmosphere and are supported by fantastic music and the music that gives the game an excellent sense of urgency.

The Half Life set of games are fantastic, offering many hours of play. The physics engine is the best in any game, with the gravity gun taking the cake as the coolest item in the game, allowing you to fling different items around the environment. However the long, annoying load times are still prominent. This would be a brilliant package in itself, but no! There is more.

Portal isn’t going to win any awards for story, but it sure will for originality. This is probably one of the most amazing puzzle games I’ve ever played. The “story” of the game is that you are a test subject for Aperture Science who are testing out a new portal system. If you complete the test, you will get some cake at the end, however, later in the game you can sneak behind the scenes and see scribbling on the wall saying “The cake is a lie” showing that the test isn’t everything you thought it was. The dialogue is fantastic and at times, laugh out loud funny. I spent more time listening to the Robot AI who guides you through the game than actually playing it because her dialogue is so witty and sarcastically funny.

The concept of the game is simple. You need to make your way through each room by using your portal gun and pressing switches. The first few levels are extremely simple, but near the end, the puzzles become frustratingly hard, yet still addictive. Any gamer will finish it in 3 hours or less. There are challenges and bonus puzzles to try out to keep you amused. It also has one of the best ending credit songs ever made, be it for film or game. It is a piece of comedy genius. Portal is perfect for making use of marketplace downloads, so let’s hope Valve dish some out in the near future.

Lastly is Team Fortress 2, the sequel to one of the greatest class-based multiplayer games ever. This is the multiplayer aspect of The Orange Box, making up for the lack of Half Life death match games. It’s brilliant fun and great online, however many games I have been in have been quite glitchy and laggy. Hopefully Valve will create a patch to sort this out because when you look past the lagging, it is a fantastic online game.

The class system is extremely well balanced. The key to your team’s success is to spread the classes out equally between teammates. If you’re all engineers, for example, you will not win because a more diverse team is more flexible and able to exploit your weaknesses. There’s no doubt you’ll start with a favourite class, but you’ll soon start using them all equally. The spy is my favourite, because he can disguise as any of the opposite team, but the engineer is starting to grow on me.

Graphically, the game has a totally different art style to any of the other games in The Orange Box, but it shows just how versatile the Source engine is. It looks very cartoony, but not so much it looks cel-shaded. Nice little touches include things such as, instead of arrows on your HUD telling you where the capture points are, and signs in the world guide the way.

It is a shame, however, that there are only 6 maps. Each map is stuck to one game type, which is also a shame. Hopefully, Valve will release some more maps for download to spice things up.

The Orange Box is easily one of the best deals. It may not be as long as some games, or contain as many games as other compilations but it’s the best deal with a load of quality games all stuck into one fantastic box.

Chris Taylor

Chris is a Northern lad with a passion for video games. With his opinions on video games and his need to force these onto other people, Chris began writing for Console Monster in 2006. Chris is a bona fide nerd who enjoys any decent game that can keep his interest. Being a keen music fan, in his spare time (what little he has) he likes to go to gigs and spends most time with some music on.

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