Some of my most enjoyable gaming experiences have been with gaming compilations. “More bang for your buck” is the familiar slogan used to describe these games. Traditionally, these compilations show up late in console’s life cycle in order to re-sell old titles that couldn’t probably sell on their own. So needless to say the Orange Box surprised me on a couple of fronts. The 360 isn’t an ancient or dying system by any means. Furthermore, by combining Half Life 2, the two sequels, Portal and Team Fortress 2 you bring together a package that from initial glance looks to be five great games in one. However, are these five games as vast as one would hope or instead are these five games that should have stayed on the pc to collect dust and be riddled about in debates about the best pc shooter to date?
Half Life 2 is a pc first person shooter that was also found on the old Xbox and is backwards compatible with the 360. To be honest, it looked good then as did many Xbox titles that got the upconvert treatment. In bringing this to the 360, the visuals have received an upgrade. It’s not perfect but it is very serviceable and on-line with many first person shooters on the Xbox 360. The two sequels get better with every turn and Episode 2 cranking out some impressive visuals to best the group. Portal while featuring similar graphics suffers from giving the player possible headaches due to the 360 degrees of interface. More on this later. Team Fortress 2 rounds out the group with a more cartoony style to its graphics design. TF2 is a case of either love it or hate it, it just so happens that it very much suits the game’s overall style.
Audio feels much like the graphics where most of it is very good and fits the mood the game is looking for. Something that is found among all five games is a good sense of humor whether it is the subtle sense of humor in Half Life, or the sarcastic wit in Portal and finishing off with the madcap fun in Team Fortress. The sound perfectly envelopes each of these situations in the native Dolby Digital 5.1 Sound. Surrounds are used decently and the sound effects are strong in almost every situation. The only game that might suffer a bit in the audio department is TF2. The cries of “medic” are hard to figure out where that person might be if you happen to be playing that class and sounds aren’t quite as expansive as one would hope for.
The story in Half Life 2 and corresponding sequels is one that might or might not be familiar to you depending on your gaming in the PC world. Sure there was an Xbox release, but the sales of the title weren’t exactly all that wonderful. So for a lot of people, this is new ground. You play as Gordon Freeman, a former scientist with a trusty crowbar. In the previous Half-Life, he opened up on accident, a portal to another dimension (darn pesky dimensions). After he saved the world, his body was put into a form of stasis. Well, that time has come and Gordon Freeman is needed once again. This time, free City 17 from the military force known as simply the Combine. Of course in the sequels that follow, you once again take up the reigns as Gordon Freeman as they introduce rebel fighter Alyx who will aid you as you try to escape City 17 and make the world safe again.
The interface for this brilliant first person shooter is a pretty familiar one to those who have played other fps games on 360. Your right trigger is used to fire your weapon while your analog sticks are used to look around at your surroundings. Movement is handled pretty well and due to the wonderful physics engine behind the game; everything has a pretty lifelike feel. Many items can be grabbed and must be used in order to get to the next area. Your trusty crowbar is used to clear away debris or knock somebody in the noggin. After the first Combine solider you knock down, you will net a handgun which is useful for those entertaining headshots. However, the gun that you get later on (and is used throughout all episodes) is the Gravity Gun. This unique item will take grenades and other assorted objects and enable Gordon to throw it back at the enemy with force. This is the source of many achievements later on as you become more adept at using the device. The level design is also top notch as even areas that you go back to will feel new all over again. The only problem one is to find here is how often this game has to load up new areas. This tends to last only 20-30 seconds but it reeks of a game that is primarily made for PC’s and then simply ported over to a console. This is minor but worth mentioning.
Portal serves as the puzzle game for this package. Using the 3d design in the same engine as Half Life, you become a test subject at the Aperture Science Center. After a couple of quick sessions, you are given the experimental portal gun where you create orange and blue portals depending on what you are trying to accomplish. Shoot a portal in the ceiling and then a matching portal of different color will appear in the wall next to you. Confusing, yes it is a little. However, as you progress through the nineteen stages you learn a little more about your portal gun and the environment you play in.
Did you ever play a first person shooter for hours on end to only realize you have no clue what you are doing and are creating yourself a giant headache in the process? I mean so bad that you had to actually walk away from the television and lay on the bed and think about sheep and fluffy things and portals…arggggggggh. Portal is a great concept and has lots of fun sarcastic humor (“The cake is a lie” comes to mind). However, the actual in game-play is somewhat nauseating depending on how well you can handle the 360 degrees of play field. When you are flying through the air dropping from portal to portal in a kind of free form drop trying to accomplish your objectives for that stage, the cake is the last thing on your mind. (Because as luck would have it, you would just throw up the darn thing)
The last game on this list is the multiplayer juggernaut known as Team Fortress 2. Take one of nine classes like Soldier, Medic or my favorite, Pyro (I like fire). Then throw them out in one of six maps where you can capture the flag or to take over territories or control points. Use team play (read: not walking into the open field and opening fire unless you are a heavy weapons specialist) to win the game and prevent the other team from doing the same. The cartoony graphics and caricatures of the classes are sure to keep you laughing and interested in its gameplay.
Team Fortress 2 isn’t as vast as the Halo multiplayer. To be honest, it takes a different breed to play in the cartoony and crazy environment known as TF2. It’s more laid back and you won’t necessarily be taunted like you might be in Halo or Gears of War (*caugh* teabagging). Sure there is still humor but it’s just fun. The nine classes are vast and have many pros and cons depending on how you play them. If subtleness is your way; then try your hand at being a Spy as you use Cloaking to disguise yourself and set up the perfect backstab kill. If you would rather just support your fellow members, then play a Medic or Engineer. Gangbusters, call in the Heavy or Pyro. The only problem here really lies in the depth of the package. Six maps and only one way to play each map. One would think that DLC would eventually help this out but I know better than to count on such things.
The difficulty is rather well done for the most part. Half Life and its sequels will present a hardy challenge even if you have played many first person shooters before. It provides much more thought than traditional run and gun games of its type. But it’s a good challenge and will keep you playing until you figure things out. Portal however can be the easiest game of your life or the hardest. Experienced puzzle and 3d game specialists can probably finish most of this in a few hours but some of us (*sigh*) will take most of our lifetime trying to figure out the more advanced stages. Team Fortress 2 can be frustrating at times but this is mostly created from the fact that you have to learn the class in order to play it correctly.
The first player adventure known as Half Life 2 and its two sequels Episode 1 and 2 will take you roughly twenty hours depending on skill. The first adventure takes roughly half that time with each of the smaller episodes taking about five hours a piece. It’s fun and there might be some reasons to actually go back and play it again where as you wouldn’t with other similar titles. Portal will also only take a few hours if you are particularly adept at this type of game. Team Fortress will continue to have replay value as long as there are people playing this title. The release comes between Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4. I would venture to say that you will see people on this title at almost any time but the range of players might be limited.
If you are into achievements, then this game becomes your god-send. Seriously. Since this is a compilation, Microsoft first allowed Valve to put 99 Achievements into this game. NINETY NINE. Spread across all five games, the achievements are colorful and shown off the character of this game. Kill an enemy with a toilet, *bink* Achievement! Break a teleporter (must have been the cat) *bink* Achievement! Some of the achievements are relatively simple and some require a lot more work. However, one of the marvelous things that this game does is achievement progress. Don’t remember how many classes you have left to play in Team Fortress? Check the achievement list and see how close you are. Each game has its own list and any achievement that is applicable will have a meter beside it. No longer do you have a game where you just hope that you are close to achieving a goal. *caugh* Rainbow Six Vegas *caugh*. This is simply the best example of how achievements should be done, bar none.
The Orange Box puts together five of the finest displays of gaming I have ever encountered. However, I have a feeling that there are only two ways to feel about this package. Either you will love it (like myself) or hate it (as a few of my Halo scumsucker friends have commented). In fact, I can easily see a definite competition between the two products. But rest assured Half Life has something that Halo is lacking. Character. Whether you never view a crowbar in the same way again or realize that all portals lead back to the same place just a little different or know that a heavy is only as good as the medic that backs it up; you will be chuckling and enjoying your experience throughout the Orange Box. The Half Life or the physics engine is unique and makes for a very realistic experience. The only negatives one could find is the 360 rotating stomach upset medicine in Portal and the lack of maps in TF2. However, when one puts all five games together; they make for a grand time and will keep this gamer singing the praises of Gordon Freeman and Alyx. So I give this game a hearty recommendation and welcome to City 17, it’s safer here.
- PlanetXbox360.com: “If you are a fan of the Half Life brand it should be a no-brainer purchase, I cannot recommend The Orange Box enough.”
- Gamedaily.com: Interesting older article about how a couple of years ago they didn’t even want to release Half Life 2 on the 360. How things change.
- Details on the most recent patch by Valve for Xbox 360