The Orange Box
The Orange Box

Posted by SadExchange
11/29/2007
Released on:
Developed by:
Published by:

With so much quality content spread across 5 games for the price of one there is no better deal out there to be had.

Score

9.34

With Valve, it's not the quality of the game that you're usually worried about, it's when it's going to actually release. After the year delay of Half Life 2, Valve has been more tightly lipped about any talk of possible release dates until they know they can achieve it and this has seemed to work for the past two releases since Half Life 2 including Episode One and now The Orange Box which released on October 10th of 2007. Without question, The Orange Box has to be the most bang for your buck when it comes to actual content, but does the quality hold up throughout the entire package or falter because of the amount of gameplay that the developers wanted to provide and having their ambitions stretch too much?

The Orange Box is unique in and of itself because it actually is five games in one. Two of which were released earlier, being Half Life 2 and Episode One and three new entries including Episode Two, which furthers the story from the first episode, Team Fortress 2 which brings the fun multiplayer gameplay first created by members of the modding community and puts Valve's quality touches on it, and of course, there's the much talked about Portal, which is a unique puzzle solving game that you'll be scratching your head over for moments on end trying to figure everything.. Although it seems like these might be fillers to bulk up the overall content of the package, those of you who've played either game, will already know that that these are quality games that can easily be replayed because of their fun gameplay and puzzle solving experiences and they just round out the entire Half Life collection to date. Meaning that if you've never played Half Life 2 before, you'd be somewhat lost just purchasing The Orange Box and starting from scratch from Episode 2. If you'd like a review of Half Life 2, you can refer to my previous review of the game because this review will cover everything except that part of the overall package.

Whether you want to further your experiences in the Half Life universe with the episodic content, team up and blast your way through the highly polished multiplayer gameplay of Team Fortress 2 or have some fun tooling around in Valve's new puzzle solver Portal, you'll know that your hands will be full for quite a few hours with The Orange Box. Beginning with Episode One, a continuation directly after the events that ended Half Life 2, you'll be driven through multiple chapters that will further the story that's continually be praised by multiple gaming sites and fans alike. We all knew there was going to be some sort of expansion because of the cliff hanger ending that left everyone sitting at their computers screaming multiple obscenities over Valve's decision to leave the ending up in the air like that, but fear not, because now you'll be able to further the story of Gordon Freeman and his crowbar. I'm not going to ruin the story for you, but as you probably already know, you're once again left with another ending that'll leave you wanting more. Most of your time throughout the first episode, you'll be in the company of Alyx Vance and even her artificial intelligence is executed well over the course of the game with her pathfinding and ability to help you in a gun battle. On your way to the ending, you'll be pressed with multiple gun battles and puzzles that you'll have to solve to progress through the episode's chapters. These puzzles are somewhat challenging but border fun more than skill when dealing with the amazing physics engine that accompanies Valve's games. Much like the previous installment, there won't necessarily be different levels of the game, there are points where it tells you that a new chapter has begun, but you won't be leaving one level for another because it's one large seamless experience. Much like its predecessor, Episode One has periodic moments where it stops you and loads up the next area, but you won't be waiting for minutes on end like most shooters. These are just small intervals Valve uses to make the gameplaying experience flow from beginning to end and it works perfectly. Now, it's not a nonlinear experience and the path you'll be following is usually easy to navigate, but the flow of the game never ceases and the other elements of the game, including the intuitive artificial intelligence, the puzzle solving, and many different weapons will keep each playing experience its own each time through. Because it is just an episode, it won't take you too long to complete. A couple nights of gaming should take you from the beginning to the end easily. And many people have complained about the length, but this is episodic content. It's not a full blown game which, most shooters nowadays, would only take 8-12 hours; instead, Episode One will probably last you 4-6 hours which is respectable when compared with an average shooter. The nice part about Episode One is that the overall story has been done quite well and the polish just shines.

Episode Two is much of the same and only seems to make the Source Engine shine as it gets older. It's difficult to understand why more developers don't license Source because of its abilities shown to date. Even though the engine is a few years old, it still is comparative to games of today on the highest graphical settings. Now, compared to Crysis, it may seem older looking, but to be truthful, what game doesn't look ancient to Crytek's new engine and we're not here to compare the two games in any way shape or form, the Source engine still shines because of what it's able to do. And with the addition of Episode Two, Valve only proves the capabilities of Source even more. Taking cue from end of Episode One, you once again embark upon an episodic experience that furthers your story of Gordon Freeman, alongside Alyx as you make your way ever closer to finding Alyx's father at the resistance outpost outside of City 17. During this episode, you'll be making your way through mineshafts, large expanses of outdoor terrain and to speed you along, you'll be able to drive a car, if you can call it that. It's half of a car's body with an engine on front to make it go. These expanded driving sequences break up the many gun battles along the way creating an overall pleasing sequence of events making the entire story flow till it's once again cliff hanger ending. Valve seems to certainly know what they're doing when it comes to ending and making the player wanting more, that's for sure. But they also know how to make a quality story that you actually want to progress to see what's next, to see how Gordon Freeman can help save the world once again. The gameplay is engaging and entertaining leading up to the climatic battle against multiple striders trying to save the last refuge of the resistance. Sequences like this are what build Valve's reputation as a game developer who strives to make quality games. Although another episode like its predecessor, Episode Two is longer than the first and builds on each parts of gameplay from its previous installment and leaves you wonder what will happen next, not only with the overall storyline, but with what Valve can do next with the Source Engine.

Onto Portal, which has be one of the most fun past times because of what's possible with this new component of Valve's. Something that seems quite simple to do, but hasn't been done in a game to date. The ability to make a 'portal' on wall A, and another on wall B; then to be able to walk through wall A and come out of wall B. That simple, but yet quite fun as you exploit the possibilities of what can be done with this new tool. To showcase this new form of play, Valve created nineteen uniquely style levels helping to figure out the full potential of this new component with every new level becoming increasingly hard making you hone your skills in problem solving and speed. But not only that, but Valve also created somewhat of a story behind it, if you could call it that. You're lead throughout each level by a computer voice which informs you of new obstacles or sometimes helpful hints to achieve your next goal. The computer's comments and the story become somewhat humorous throughout the many different levels and you'll find yourself laughing at your computer screen when it's all over and done with. Sadly though, the nineteen levels of Portal don't take that long once you get the hang of it, but included are some advanced puzzles and timed puzzles that are pretty much some of the nineteen levels you've already completed, but on a harder scale. Such as platforms that have been taken out or less material to work with throughout the stages like blocks for buttons. And of course, I assume you know the challenges behind the timed trials. Although it may be the longest component of The Orange Box package, it definitely provides quite a bit of fun to mess around with whether you're dropping blocks from the ceilings onto tripod gunners from a room away or pole vaulting yourself across a toxic-filled chasm; this is definitely a product where you get what you want out of it. It's exciting to think about the possibilities that can be created from the fan community in the coming months and years with this new portal tool.

And onto the last piece of the package, Team Fortress2, sequel to a fan created mod for the original id Software game Quake to entertain fans on a multiplayer level of gameplay with different classes and team-oriented based games. Valve took this fan created mod and gave it the polish and shine it deserves. Artistically different from any previous Valve development, Team Fortress 2 takes its cues straight from the original and fans will appreciate this. Textures, environment, and character models border a cartoon style while blowing your character into chunks keeps the overall content mature in the sense that this isn't supposed to replicate your Saturday mornings of Looney Tunes. The guys who created the first Team fortress were actually hired onto the Valve staff and part of the team to create the sequel and it shows. With a team-oriented style of gameplay where you can choose from nine different classes of characters, Team Fortress 2 has you rely on your teammates to achieve a victory each match. The different classes include: Scout, Soldier, Pyro, Demoman, Engineer, Medic, Sniper, Spy, and the Heavy. All of these classes have their strengths and weaknesses in a multiplayer session which whether you're disguising yourself as the opponent when playing the spy, taking out enemies from long range as the sniper, or even trying to spend as much time as you can healing your teammates as they try to complete the different objectives of each map. Each individual has a part to play in the overall objective and each time you die, you can switch to a different class to try something new and the game keeps your stats as you play to see how well you do with each class you try. These stats can be quite helpful when trying to compare your different playing styles throughout each map. There are six maps in the game that have their own objective whether it's capture the flag, territory control, or another type, and each make use of their perspective levels utilizing the design and environments quite well. One of the only downsides to Team Fortress 2 is the amount of multiplayer maps and the fact that there is only one capture the flag map. One map, named Hydro, is unique, in the way that it's set up into different quadrants where there are multiple sections that you must battle through first before you're able to control your opponent's control sentry virtually making this one multiplayer map seem like six maps. Even though, out of the box, Team Fortress 2 doesn't seem that huge because of the amount of maps, the amount of classes and different playing styles makes up for this and you can rest assure that fans and mod community members will be making new maps with Source soon enough. The only downside might be that they probably won't show the same polish and quality as Valve's map, but hey, they're free right? Can't argue with that?

Since the game also shipped for the Xbox 360, The Orange Box for the pc has achievements that you attain much like any of the thousand achievements on Xbox Live. Although you don't necessarily get anything from completing these achievements, there are something to strive for when going through the different games in the Orange Box, because these achievements are not only for Team Fortress 2 and this only adds to the replay value of the games in this package. To add to that, you can also listen to developer commentary on the different levels and games once you've completed the different levels throughout each which can be intriguing after you've spent time trying to figure out a puzzle in Portal or winning a mass gun battle throughout one of the episodes. These features add to the game in subtle ways where they're not exactly the most exciting addition, but they're there when you need to fill some time in between gaming fixes. And a nice feature that's apart of every game developed by Valve is the ability to play the game without a disc in the disc tray. Some may argue that you can always apply NO-CD/DVD cracks to achieve this freedom and you can, but it's a bit to work with whenever you have to update the game. With Valve, you have the Steam Engine that keeps all of your games up-to-date at all times giving you the ability to play any one when you want.

Another thing to mention about The Orange Box is the overall sound. Environments and people come alive with the musical score and voice acting tells the story that Valve wants portrayed through their games almost perfectly. As you travel throughout the different areas within the world, wildlife and nature itself comes alive across your speakers, and when you go into a large gun battle sequence, the music will pick up with some techno flare as you try to outgun your opponents. These sequences of music and environment flow together seamlessly much like the entire game. Voice acting in both of the episodes and Portal is stellar like it was when Half Life 2 first came out three years ago. There are no characters that seem over dramatic and it never sounds too forced upon you as the conversations flow around you. One thing to note though is that when you're in a conversation, if you turn your player around and happen to not be facing the speaker, their voice volume will go dramatically down. While this doesn't sound bad on paper, imagine yourself in the heat of battle and Alyx or another NPC is giving you directions on how to proceed and you're running away from some enemies trying to find cover, and you can barely hear them and then in turn have to find them and face them and have them speak again to get the instructions. And while the instructions you receive throughout the game won't be necessarily game-stopping, it's just unfortunate to know that you 'have' to fully face them to hear what's being said.

So, with all of these positives, are there reasons you may not enjoy The Orange Box? Well, one could argue that Episode One, Two, and the puzzle game Portal are short, or that Team Fortress 2 doesn't have enough maps, but you have to consider the overall package, being The Orange Box. This package, at the same price as one game by itself, includes five different games and although the episodes may be shorter, Half Life 2 is definitely a full blown game by itself, and Portal and Team Fortress 2 more than make up the price of admission by themselves. While the game still stands up to most others graphically, you still see spots where textures seemed meshed together in certain spots and the Source Engine is beginning to show some of its age, but it has aged well. And you can't help but marvel over what Valve has done with the artistic design of Team Fortress 2 giving it its own look and feel.

Overall, The Orange Box is one of the best purchases you can make because of the amount of content that's inside and not just content, but quality content. You get the award winning Half Life 2, plus the two following episodes that progress the story even further, a new style of gameplay from Portal which one can only imagine where the community will take its abilities, and finally Team Fortress 2, a multiplayer team-oriented experience where the different classes actually matter in the overall gameplaying experience. You'd be hard pressed to have never heard of the Half Life series, but if you haven't had the chance to play it, treat yourself and get The Orange Box. First person shooter fans will see the quality and time that Valve took in creating each component of this package in the first few hours and will then be able to play for unlimited amounts of hours when dealing with the thousands of fan created games based off of the Source Engine. Who knows, maybe one day the creation you make from the Source Engine will spark enough attention from Valve where you could potentially gain a career.
Gameplay10.00
Graphics9.00
Sound9.00
Story/Plot9.00
Replay Value10.00
Stability9.00
Multiplayer9.00
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