Review: Orange Box (360)
OB-dodie… big game, small body.
Finally, we have Valve’s first release on the Xbox 360. So what is it you may wonder?
A collection of: a three year old game already ported to the original Xbox, two expansion packs both weighing in at less than five hours playtime, a multiplayer game with only six maps and two modes and a shiny version of freeware game Narbacular Drop.
Oh dear, this could get messyâ€¦
What is there to say about the game that has had more awards and accolades than I have have had sordid sexual encounters behind the local bottle bank. It is still the same linear FPS with numerous set pieces and staged encounters all done in real time around you in the game world without a single non-interactive cut scene to endure. It has the same five-year-old textures and hyperactive HDR lighting as before and variety of underpowered or just plain boring weaponry. Nevertheless, is it a bad game? Fuck no. As with all games, the cracks are starting to show both visually and psychically thanks to the Source engine that never seems to give enough weight to objects and leaves everything felling fragile and to light, but it still plays like a beast. I could happily blabber on about HL2 for a few thousand words but I will not as most people have already played it and for those who have not I would hate to spoil the experience for you. I still go to Ravenholm, do you?
Half-Life 2: 9/10
I will not beat around the bush for this entry; it is by far the weakest game in the Orange Box selection. The gameplay weighs in at about three to four hours only and most of that is revisiting a location seen before in HL2. The storyline advances little and spends the first two hours scurrying around in a virtual replay of the final act of HL2 to little effect. While Gravity gun fans will enjoy the fact, you can complete the entire episode by only firing a single bullet most players will get bored with trolling through yet another tunnel to find another switch to open another door leading to yet another tunnel. Add to this a tedious escort mission that repeats five times before you advance and you have a turgid recipe for boredom. High points are few but include a speech given by Dr. Kleiner where in highly scientific terms recommends everyone to get jiggy and Alyx sniping metro cops for you as you dash between cover. Unable to escape from the ‘middle movie syndrome’ format that shaped it Episode One is worth playing if you want to see Valve lay pipe for the following episodes, but if you want to play something fresh skip straight to Episode Two.
Episode 1: 6/10
With the confines of City 17 left behind, Episode 2 breaks away from the eastern bloc style used since the end of the original Half Life and becomes the first true sequel to HL2. More enemies come to the HL universe but rather than the dumbass grenade tossing zom-biens of Episode One, we have a previously glimpsed combine mini-stalker called hunters and a fresh species of antlion to gob acid at you. Both have their chance to shine and quickly develop into feared foes whose appearance signals another harsh fight ahead.
Quickly separating you from Alyx early on makes the game a much more tense experience, as you need to defeat enemies to proceed unlike Episode One when the gameplay let you merely give support to Alyx as she did the majority of the wet work. When you are reunited with Alyx later on you rapidly come to the ‘meat’ of Episode Two with the discovery of the fast transport come deathcoster in the form of the Jalopy. This quickly becomes essential as you tare through the lush countryside with Alyx riding shotgun avoiding combine ambushes and running over zombies stupid enough to be wandering through abandoned villages between you and your destination. Having reached the new resistance stronghold in the Jalopy you then have to defend it from a full on combine assault including a dozen stalkers accompanied a phalanx of the new hunters all the while the buildings and fighters around you are reduced to rubble by the fighting. Can you hold them off long enough to give the resistance the time it needs or will it be the seven-hour war all over again? Episode Two reinvigorates the franchise in fine style. Strong storytelling and character development along with the plethora of hints given in the final act look to move the story in another, unexpected direction for the conclusion.
Episode 2: 8/10
This game has so simple a premise and core mechanic as to be some kind of digital idiot savant. You have can create two portals, your orange portal leads to your blue portal and vice versa. That is it. Now take a moment to assimilate that information… you now have all the information needed to complete Portal. Really, aside from obvious rules like avoid the electrified slime, buttons open doors and gun turrets will shoot at you there is nothing else to learn.
By applying use of the two portals with gravity, you can say, create a portal at the bottom of a room then jump of a high ledge using the speed gained during the descent into one portal to slingshot yourself a few hundred feet out the other portal depending on how much speed you can pick up. Add to the heady mix of special warping a dollop of black humour and just a hint of satire and you have the most original game of the year. Despite the fact, the prototype student version of this has been doing the rounds for ages. Yes, it only lasts three hours and there is not an original sound effect in the whole game, unless you include the frankly brilliant music but seen as part of a completion rather than a game you shelled full price for it excels.
With Xbox Live already overflowing with online shooters I was dubious if TF2 could stand out from the pack and not become another one of those games played briefly then forgotten about. Despite my worst fears, I can happily let you know that TF2 is (by an infinitesimal degree) the best game in the Orange Box. Where can I start singing its praises? How about the inspired art design making everything look like it is from a 60’s spy movie (not unlike the underrated Evil Genius) or how each if the nine different character classes is perfectly balanced and has a distinct flavour be it stealth based sabotage, ranged demolition or defensive turret construction.
Secondary Review 200 words isn’t a particularly long time to talk about what is essentially five games in one. You can read Mark’s review for the meat of it, and I agree with it all. He didn’t mention the rather clumsy weapon select system for the 3 Half Life games, so switching between weapons on the fly to suit the situation is a no-no, but to be honest you can make do with a couple of weapons all through the games anyway. Mapping the Gravity Gun to one button is genius though, especially for those, God love ’em, achievements. Now I’m at a loose end with the score. My heart tells me to give this an 8, my head says a 9. Five games on one disc? All of which are excellent (with the possible exception of Episode 1), that’s certainly value for money. The only thing missing is the original Half Life (still my personal favourite), and that’s just me being greedy. But still I find myself uncertain if this is a 9/10. Maybe it’s because I’m looking at each game too individually. Even then I’d give the majority of these games 9/10 so I’m not sure what my heart is talking about. I’m going to settle for 8, because you have to follow your heart don’t you? But if you’ve never played any of these games previously, then it’s most certainly a 9/10. Or maybe it’s a 10, hmm…
Secondary Score: 8/10
Sure, it only does a variation of CTF and Domination but with each class offering so many options when used exclusively or in combination with another class games are far from simple as each team tries to push for the advantage while keeping an eye own their own briefcases or capture zones. Teamwork is the key with TF2 not just simple tactics like sticking together or camping choke points but muti-staged battle plans involving every player doing their part be it Medics teaming up with a Heavy to create a supercharged walking battle tank or Spies zapping turrets so a Solider or Demoman can destroy it without resistance. Teamwork is not just encouraged it is essential to victory in TF2 as any lone wolf style players will quickly find. Additionally, when you are winning or waiting behind a time-released gate you can throw an animated taunt with a quick key press with me personal favourites being the Scouts baseball bat taunt *Boink!* and the whisky swigging Demoman. I hope that there will be new maps as DLC soon as its glory will be short lived without the longevity offered by more the just the default six maps and their two settings but what there is will last a lengthy time but not forever.
Team Fortress: 9/10
So there you have it a great game compilation for a great price and all on one disc. If you have an Xbox 360 and do not already, own the majority of the games included here on other formats there really is no good reason not to treat yourself to a copy today at your local games emporium. Tell them to expect unforeseen consequences if they do not stock it.