Review: The Orange Box

The Orange Box is quite possibly the best value game package released this year. Whether you buy it online for your PC or off-line for either the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, or Windows PC, the package stays the same and offers you a total of five games for your choosing.

If you’ve been living in a damp desolate cave, you probably have no idea that Valve – the team behind the award winning Half-Life and Half-Life 2 – have been working on a few new games. This isn’t unusual as most companies work on a few games at a time, but what is unusual is that Valve have decided to release all of them in one big package: The Orange Box.

The Orange Box is quite possibly the best value game package released this year. Whether you buy it online for your PC or off-line for either the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, or Windows PC, the package stays the same and offers you a total of five games for your choosing.

If you’ve never played Half-Life 2, it’s packed into The Orange Box. It’s a great place to start and while it won’t exactly give you the original Half-Life story, it’s probably safe to say you don’t need it and if you haven’t played it, a friend could probably fill you in. Half-Life 2 is still one of the highest scoring games in the world with a MetaCritic rating of 96, so it should be even cooler to note that The Orange Box also ships with Episode One and the new Episode Two.

The Half-Life Episodes continue from where Half-Life 2 leaves off and while neither of them offer all that lengthy a game play experience, they both have enough action and story to keep you going. In Episode One, you’ll find Gordon Freeman – the unlikely hazard suit hero – being dug up out of the rubble by Alyx and her robot Dog. When you get to finish Episode One, you’ll find yourself escaping the city in a train that’s about to crash which is exactly where you’ll find yourself starting in Episode Two. While we could probably get into a heated argument about how both Episode One & Episode Two could be longer, they should leave you with enough entertainment value before you move on to the two games that really make The Orange Box a brilliant buy: Portal & Team Fortress 2.

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Portal could probably be best described as an puzzle-strategy game built into a first person shooter. You’ll start by finding yourself in a strange glass-walled room with a toilet, futuristic bed, and an alarm clock. And then you’ll get spoken to by the one who’s watching you, a robotic female who will guide you through the Aperture Labs facility where you will be given something called the Portal gun. The portal gun allows you to place one portal on a wall and another on a separate wall, allowing you to walk through one point and appear on the other. This makes for some truly interesting gameplay, including the ability to propel yourself great distance by using downward momentum from a fall to become forward momentum in a jump. With things like gun turrets, green acid, and orbs that will kill you, escaping will be your biggest goal and Portal pulls through with some of the most intriguing gameplay ever seen. Complete with hilarious dialogue, Portal is a first-person shooter for people who don’t normally like first-person shooters. Anyone can have fun with Portal; it’s just that good.

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The last game you get in the pack is Team Fortress 2, a game that, like the much loved Counter-Strike, only runs in online multiplayer. In fact, the original Team Fortress which ran on the Quake engine was more or less the grandfather of class-based multiplayer gaming. Titles like Counter-Strike actually have Team Fortress to thank and Team Fortress 2 has been in the works for years. It’s kind of like Duke Nukem Forever in a way as it’s a game that was supposed to be released years ago and is now finally seeing the light of day.

But something’s changed and Valve have done something unexpected. Where everyone expected Team Fortress to adopt a realistic look, it now sports a distinctive cartoony style, like someone had crossed Pixar’s The Incredibles with a Road Runner cartoon. It’s very cool and while the online action is fast and furious, there are points where you’ll wish it wasn’t so you could just step in and breathe in the scenery.

The truly excellent thing about The Orange Box is that it doesn’t let up in value at any time. Five games in one small package for the price of every other game is truly excellent, even if you’ve already made your way through Half-Life 2 previously.

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But an interesting point to note is that while there are different console versions out, we found that they all play surprisingly well. The PC one plays just like you’d expect it to and while we didn’t get a chance to take the PlayStation 3 one out for a spin, the Xbox 360’s analog controllers actually did a pretty good job at emulating the mouse’s quick spin. Sometimes you’ll find that the mouse would actually be better to use, but overall the Xbox 360 controller does an admirable job.

However, playing Half-Life 2 on the Xbox 360 actually feels better than on the PC. For one, you get a no-nonsense graphics set that stays beautiful no matter what system you’re running, but you also have a more immersive set of controls. The vibration that Valve have added for the Xbox 360 as well as the feeling of using a controller just seem to make the Xbox 360 that much more special.

Whatever you buy it on though, the outcome is likely to be a tour de force that you just won’t get enough of. While there are other games out with better graphics, The Orange Box still looks and sounds like a winner. And it is.

Five great games for one small price? How often does that happen?!

Should you buy it?: Yes. YES. Stop reading this review and go buy this game now.

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Developer: Valve Software
Publisher: Electronic Arts, Valve Software
Classification: MA 15+
Formats: PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
URL: The Orange Box

Reviewed by Leigh D. Stark