Product Type: Electronic Arts Xbox 360 games
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Half-Life 2: The Orange Box (Xbox 360)
Member Name: samueltyler
Half-Life 2: The Orange Box (Xbox 360)
Advantages: 5 Games! Portal is excellent
Disadvantages: Team Fortress 2, first half of Half Life 2
If you look at the list of awards handed out over the years in the games industry the company Valve have more than their fair share. The likes of 'Half Life' and its sequel 'Half Life 2' have garnered both critical and financial success making them one of the most powerful games companies, even making their own PC based streaming system. As a console gamer my involvement with them has been poor. 'Half Life' on the PS2 was a poor port and I missed the sequel on the Xbox. Therefore, I was intrigued to see 'The Orange Box' getting a 360 release with not only 'Half Life 2' included but also two extra add-ons (Episodes 1 and 2), an online shooter experience (Team Fortress 2) and a puzzle game (Portal). Could this be the best collection ever?
'Half Life' is yet another First Person Shooter (FPS). You take control of one Gordon Freeman, a scientist whose finds himself fighting against an alien invasion on future Earth. Unlike most FPS the shooting is not as dominant as you would think with Valve's famous physics engine playing a huge role. You will find yourself taking down enemy soldiers with firearms, but these sections are broken up with intelligent physics problems that will take some sorting out. It is this level of intelligent gaming and the pacing that makes 'Half Life 2' and its two episodes better than the average FPS experience. However, I found the game too similar to many other FPS, and it was not until the final quarter of the first game that things picked up. Once you are in 'Episodes 1 and 2' you realise that Valve are an excellent company, it is a shame the gameplay through the majority of the main game is a little dull.
An area where the gameplay is not dull is in the 'Portal' expansion. Here you play as a character trapped in a series of laboratory experiments were a computer called GLaDOS makes you get to the exit. Your only weapon is a portal making devise that allows you to create entrance and exit portals. This game is a real brain teaser as you have to solve the puzzles in a 3D space. It really hurts to think about it, but the level of satisfaction is immense.
I will mention 'Team Fortress 2' in the online section. In terms of gameplay I think the overall box is excellent. However, the wonder of 'Portal' is let down a little by the average start to the main game. (4 out of 5)
There are two main characters that dominate 'The Orange Box' and surprisingly you play as neither of the. You may think that Freeman needs to be an interesting character, but the fact is that he is not and he actually says nothing throughout the game. It is his relationship with Alyx that is the highlight. Alyx is your companion through large parts of the main game and its episodes and she is a breath of fresh air. The voice acting and character animation of her is the best I have seen in gaming and makes you real care for her (and even start to fancy her). Alyx is a far more ordinary women and she reacts to you with knowing glances rather than overt sexualisation - something that should be commended in the immature games market.
The excellent characterisation continues in 'Portal' with the computer GLaDOS. The use of humour is paramount in this part of the game and GLaDOS becomes a constant companion as you seek to solve the puzzles. Here is a computer than uses straight laced sarcasm to try and throw you off and it world really well. The intelligent writing makes a brilliant puzzle game even better. Cake will never be the same.
In terms of storyline I was impressed in terms of computer games, but not in overall fiction. The idea of an intelligent alien race taking over the Earth is not new, but the subject is handled cleverly enough here to work. It feels almost like a modern retelling of 'V'. (5 out of 5)
With 5 games and over 20 hours gameplay there is no issue with the amount of play time that this collection offers. There are also some of the most interesting achievements that I have seen as Valve has been given permission to offer 99 and not 50. Achievements such as completing Episode 1 using only one bullet means that you can tackle the level in the usual gung-ho way or by using the gravity gun. (5 out of 5)
Here for me is the biggest issue that I had with 'The Orange Box'. 'Team Fortress' was originally a PC online shooter that allowed you to fight as one of several highly different classes. The sequel does the same and allows you the choice of 9 different people from a scout, to a heavy shooter, to an engineer, to a medic. Each class has its role on the battlefield and the most successful teams will have a good balance with everyone playing their part. The fights are team versus team and usually take the form of having to take over certain points on a map. In essence it should be some of the most varied and intelligent online shooting on the 360.
Unfortunately, it is not as the servers are broken. Rarely did I manage to play a game without significant lag. When I did get a game there were not enough people to fill the teams. Also the game types all went on for too long sometimes taking an hour to finish one game. I for one can not guarantee that I can be around for that length of time. I tried 'Team Fortress 2' on several occasions just to see if I was wrong, but I could never get into it. Personally I did not find it fun at all. (2 out of 5)
The Half Life games are based on the technology that was built for the original sequels release on the PC. This means that it has aged slightly and is no longer in the top tier of 360 games. Overall, it looks very good, but the textures feel a little flat and the detail is not as high as modern games. (4 out of 5)
The level design within 'The Orange Box' is what differentiates if from the other FPS on the market. It does have its fair share of corridors and there are a couple of dubious vehicle sections. Apart from that the game is designed to flow brilliantly as you go from action section to puzzle area. The best levels are saved for 'Portal' were Valve have really thought outside the box to create a brilliant 3D puzzle world. If it were not for the early levels in 'Half Life 2' I would give this 5 stars - if you can get past the first few hours you are in for a treat. (4 out of 5)
I always find that the most classy of games show their quality as much in the peripheral areas as the core gameplay. Valve has created a musical and sound effects masterpiece throughout the 'Orange Box'. It helps greatly that the quality of voice actor is top notch especially GLaDOS and Alyx. The music is also great giving the game a synthed science fiction feel that adds to the experience. The sound effects are also meaty and you can tell that they have spent a lot of timing getting them all right. (5 out of 5)
There is no denying that 'The Orange Box' offers some of the best value that the 360 has to offer with 5 gaming experiences for the price of 1. However, out of these 5, three of them are essentially the same game, and one of them is broken. Only 'Portal' acts as genuine extra content as the three hour experience is as much fun as the rest of the box combined. But at over 20 hours the collection does offer great value.
I know that this game has already won countless awards and is many people's favourite game of last year. However, I do not feel the same as although the game is good it is not brilliant. The core games of 'Half Life 2' and its episodes get better as they go along, but for me none of them reach the heights of 'Bioshock' or 'Call of Duty 4'. 'Portal' is the clear standout for the collection, but its short running time means that it is a fleeting experience. As for 'Team Fortress 2' I just did not find it fun - even when it worked the matches were overly long. 'The Orange Box' is a great collection and one that console gamers should buy, however, the fact that a lot of its is over 2 years old already just stops it being a true classic for me.
Maker: Valve RRP £50
Amazon uk £33.96
Summary: Still a must for all console gamers
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