In the Half-Life 2 universe, that The Orange Box compilation contains, you play the role of Gordon Freeman, a scientist destined to save the Earth from hordes of gruesome alien attackers. Developer Valve has created a fully realized world in Half-Life 2, with objects and characters that feature accurate physics properties, behaving with the appropriate mass, density, and physical properties of their real-life counterparts. Extremely intelligent computer AI result in enemies that plan, adapt, and respond to the player’s actions.
The next-gen PC and Xbox 360 plus PlayStation 3 console versions of The Orange Box each come packed with bonuses in addition to the genre-expanding original Half-Life 2 game. Half-Life 2: Episode One and Episode Two add-on levels are also on the disc, as are the stunningly complex puzzle game Portal and the online phenomenon Team Fortress 2.
Did you know the entire Half-Life series has sold over 20 million units? If you enjoy playing video games, you owe it to yourself to check out The Orange Box…
System: Xbox 360, PC, PS3
Genre: First-Person Shooter, Action-Adventure, Puzzler
Release dates: October 9th 2007 (USA), October 19th 2007 (EURO), October 25th 2007 (AUS)
Players: All single player games, except Team Fortress 2′s 1-16 online play on Xbox 360 & PS3 and 1-32 on PC
Publisher: Electronic Arts
If you want to start playing the Half-Life 2 games without having played 1998′s first Half-Life game. Here’s a very brief recap: The original Half-Life took place at a remote civilian and military laboratory called the Black Mesa Research Facility. During an experiment, researchers at Black Mesa accidentally caused a “resonance cascade” which ripped open a portal to an alien world, Xen. Creatures from Xen flooded into Black Mesa via the portal and started to kill anyone in sight. The player took on the role of Gordon Freeman, one of the research scientists wearing a Hazardous Environment suit (or H.E.V suit) involved in the accident, guiding him in his attempt to escape the facility avoiding not just aliens, but also the army sent in to kill every alien and human in the top secret research facility. At the end of the game, Gordon defeats the alien keeping the portal between worlds open and he was extracted by a mysterious figure only known as the G-Man who offered him employment, or rather, Gordon didn’t really have a choice as he’d otherwise have died. Gordon was subsequently put into stasis by the G-Man.
I also recommend you read this extensive Half-Life timeline for a short but full story synopsis in parts 1.1 to 1.5, after which Half-Life 2 begins. Also be sure to watch the following Half-Life 1 walkthrough to hear more of the story’s dialog to fill in the blanks. This way you can start playing Half-Life 2 without confusion.
Games included in The Orange Box compilation:
The original Half-Life 2 — Half-Life 2 has been named Game of the Year by over 35 organizations and sold over four million copies worldwide. The player again picks up the crowbar of research scientist Gordon Freeman, who finds himself on an alien-infested Earth being picked to the bone, its resources depleted, its populace dwindling. Freeman is thrust into the unenviable role of rescuing the world from the wrong he unleashed back at Black Mesa. And a lot of people, people he cares about, are counting on him.
Half-Life 2: Episode One — The player reprises his role of Dr. Freeman, who must immediately face the repercussions of his actions in City 17 and the Citadel. Freeman reconnects with Alyx Vance and her robot, Dog, as they continue their support of the resistance’s battle against the Combine forces.
Half-Life 2: Episode Two — The second installment in Valve’s episodic trilogy advances the award-winning story, leading the player to new locations outside of City 17. Armed with new weaponry and vehicles, Dr. Gordon Freeman must race through a countryside riddled with an increasingly fierce Combine threat.
Portal — A pioneering type of single player action game that rewrites the rules for how players approach and manipulate their environment with the Portal Gun – much like how Half-Life 2′s Gravity Gun reinvented the way gamers interact with objects in the game. Players must solve physical puzzles and challenges by opening portals to maneuvering objects, and themselves, through space.
Team Fortress 2 — An all-new version of the legendary title that spawned team based multiplayer action games. Players choose from a range of unique character classes such as medic, spy, sniper, or engineer and must work together to complete a variety of tactical objectives. The game’s cel-shaded new art style features the most advanced graphics of any Source-based game released to date.
Watch The Orange Box launch trailer.
Click on the bottom-right corner arrow to view it fullscreen.
Half-Life 2 gameplay description:
Half-Life 2 opens the door to a world where the player’s presence affects everything around him, from the physical environment to the behaviors, and even emotions, of both friends and enemies. Players make their way through a linear series of levels, encountering both human troops and hostile alien creatures. As in Half-Life, the gameplay is broken up with a series of puzzles; however, Half-Life 2 includes physics-based puzzles. For example, one puzzle requires the player to either turn a seesaw-like lever into a ramp by placing cinder blocks at one end, or to stack the cinder blocks into a crude stairway.
The use of physics extends into combat with the a tool originally developed for handling hazardous or heavy materials called the Zero-Point Energy Field Manipulator (also known as the Gravity Gun). This unique weapon plays a crucial function throughout the game, granting the player an unprecedented amount of creativity in its use, such as picking up and throwing objects at enemies, holding objects indefinitely for use as makeshift cover, grabbing healthkits and ammunition from out-of-reach places, returning enemies’ grenades, building makeshift bridges, making crude stairs out of crates, flipping over an overturned buggy, or manipulating objects through Combine forcefields.
Vehicles are another major gameplay addition. The player has the ability to drive two vehicles during the single player campaign; an air boat, which Gordon uses to navigate through the “Subzero” canal network, and a dune buggy which Gordon uses to get to Nova Prospekt. The air boat is initially unarmed, but is later mounted with a Combine weapon from a downed hunter-chopper. The buggy is armed with a Tau Cannon that functions very similarly the one found in the original Half-Life. It, however, does not overload if the secondary fire is held for too long.
The game also integrates tutorial-like tasks in the storyline itself and includes on-screen instructions on game controls to allow familiarization of the game’s mechanics and weapons for players as they go. Several such examples include an early incident in the game where a Civil Protection unit orders the player to “pick up” a tin can and “throw it” into the trash can, and Alyx Vance’s introduction of the gravity gun at Black Mesa East, which incorporates an impromptu game of “catch” with her robot, Dog.
Half-Life 2: Episode One gameplay description:
Half-Life 2: Episode One is the first in a series of new adventures created by Valve that extends the Half-Life 2 single player experience. As a direct continuation of Half-Life 2, no significant changes to the gameplay were undertaken. As in Half-Life and Half-Life 2 players make their way through a linear series of levels, encountering various different enemies and allies. The gameplay is broken up between combat orientated challenges and physics-based puzzles. Episode One also integrates tutorial like tasks into the story itself as in the previous games in order to familiarize the player to any new gameplay mechanics, such as the ability to re-program rollermines, without breaking immersion. Like Half-Life 2, the gravity gun continues to play a crucial function throughout the game, granting the player extensive use of physics in combat and puzzle-solving.
One significant gameplay addition was the enhancement of co-operative play with friendly Non-Playable Characters (NPCs), most notably with the character of Alyx Vance — her AI was specifically designed for co-op play in Episode One so that she would complement as opposed to hinder the player’s abilities. The developers described Alyx’s programming for Episode One as a “personality code” as opposed to an “AI code”, emphasizing their attention to creating a unique and believable companion. Her character is well-armed, making her a useful ally in combat, and she often makes suggestions to aid in puzzle-solving situations. At the same time, she is specially programmed to avoid performing too many mechanical or repetitious actions, such as repeating lines of dialogue or performing certain routines in combat situations, thus separating her from the more generic NPC allies the player fought beside in the later levels of Half-Life 2. An example of this co-operative gameplay is combat in the darker underground levels just after the player escapes the Citadel. Here, the player can use their flashlight to help Alyx spot and kill oncoming enemies, conserving their ammunition. Similarly, Alyx will often take up stationary gunner points to provide covering fire while the player travels to a certain area or performs certain actions, therefore keeping the player safe while they undertake their tasks.
Enemies such as Stalkers and areas of the Citadel glimpsed at the end of Half-Life 2 are encountered and explored by the player. Other new additions include the Zombine, Combine pods and Hunters; the latter two are introduced as set-up for Episode Two and only appear in scripted sequences. While new creatures were added, there were no additions to the game’s weapon arsenal.
Half-Life 2: Episode Two gameplay description:
Half-Life 2: Episode Two is the second in a trilogy of new games created by Valve that extends the award-winning and best-selling Half-Life adventure with unique weapons, vehicles, and newly-spawned creatures. Episode Two puts focus on vehicles in open areas to explore new places, dealing with new enemies, new and old characters. Gameplay-wise “You’ll have to manage your cover carefully and pay attention to where all the enemies are,” explains Valve’s director of marketing, Doug Lombardi. “They’ll tend to circle around and expose you from multiple sides, so you find yourself moving around a lot more and rushing forward a lot less. You also have a lot more choice from moment to moment. We’re working on scenarios in which we present the player with a set of high-level battle goals and a large nonlinear space in which to fight. These scenarios play out very differently for different players as they make choices about how to fight the battle: ‘Should I make my ambush here, or 100 yards up the road behind these rocks?’ It’s fun watching players formulate a strategy, execute it at a tactical level, and then revise their strategy based on the outcome.”
By comparison; Episode Two has lots more puzzles than Episode One, including the “biggest physical puzzle” yet in the series. This is meant in terms of sheer physical size, as the centerpiece of the mentioned puzzle is a damaged seesawing bridge. “Puzzles reset a player’s emotional state and get them ready for combat,” Erik Johnson explains. “Some people get a sort of battle fatigue; they get tired of all the combat and stop playing. We look for that when we playtest, and that’s when we know it’s time to allow the player to mellow out and solve a puzzle before we ramp up again. It’s all about pacing, and we’ve found a mix that works for us.”
The game has lots of achievements to unlock (on the Xbox 360 version they add to Xbox Live’s Gamerscore) if you perform certain tasks. Examples include protecting a missile silo from destruction or defeating the first Hunters are required to perform to continue the game, but others are optional tricks or feats the player can perform, such as killing a Combine soldier with his own grenade or killing a Hunter with its own ammunition. Finally, some optional Achievements challenge the player to be thorough or flawless in the execution of certain tasks, such as killing all 333 Antlion grubs in the game or preventing the Striders in the final chapter from destroying any buildings. The penultimate Achievement is “sending the garden gnome into space“, in which the player must carry said lawn ornament from the first chapter with them until reaching the rocket in the sixth chapter, which the gnome must be deposited in. Messages appear in the bottom-right corner of the screen to inform the player of their success, or progress with regards to numerically-based Achievements.
Portal gameplay description:
Portal is a new single player game set in the mysterious Aperture Science Laboratories. Portal’s plot is revealed to the player character Chell via dark comedy-filled audio messages from GLaDOS (AKA a Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System) and side rooms at the Aperture Science research corporation. The game begins with Chell waking up from a stasis bed and hearing instructions and warnings from GLaDOS about her upcoming test experience. This part of the game involves distinct “test chambers” that, in sequence, introduce players to the game’s portal mechanics. GLaDOS’s announcements serve not only to instruct Chell and help her progress through the game, but also to create atmosphere and develop the AI as a character.
Over the course of the game, GLaDOS’ motives are hinted to be more sinister than her helpful demeanor suggests. Although she is designed to appear helpful and encouraging, much of GLaDOS’s speech suggests insincerity and callous disregard for the test subjects, such as leading Chell through “a live fire course designed for military androids” because the usual test chamber is being repaired.
In Portal, the player is challenged to navigate through a series of rooms using the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device (“Portal Gun” for short); however, not all flat surfaces are able to accommodate a portal. The portal gun can create two distinct inter-spatial portal ends, orange and blue. Neither is specifically an entrance or exit. If subsequent portal ends are created, the previously created portal of the same color is closed. The portal gun is also used to pick up objects, though it can only throw objects a short distance (affected by the player’s momentum). These objects (“Aperture Science Weighted Storage Cubes” or a “Weighted Companion Cube”) can be used to depress large buttons to open doors or activate platforms, but barriers (known as “Material Emancipation Grids” or ‘fizzlers’, as described by the audio commentary) at the end of each test chamber or within certain test chambers prevent the player character from carrying such objects beyond them. Passage through these fields also closes any open portals, and portals cannot be fired through these fields.
The portals create a visual and physical connection between two different locations in 3D space. Portal ends are restricted to planar surfaces, but if the portal ends are on nonparallel planes, bizarre twists in geometry and gravity can occur as the player character is immediately reoriented to be upright with respect to gravity after leaving a portal end.
An important aspect of the game’s physics is “momentum redirection”. Objects retain their speed as they pass through the portals but their direction will be altered depending on the orientation of the exit portal. This allows the player character to launch objects, or even herself, over great distances, both vertically and horizontally, a maneuver referred to as “flinging” by Valve. As GLaDOS puts it in layman’s terms, “Speedy thing goes in, speedy thing comes out.”
Although the player character is equipped with mechanized heel springs to prevent damage from falling, she can be killed by various other hazards in the test chambers. Unlike most first person shooters, there is no set amount of health; suffering enough damage in a short time frame will kill the player, but the player cannot die from repeated exposure to small amounts of damage.
Team Fortress 2 gameplay description:
Team Fortress 2 does not attempt the realistic graphical approach used in other Valve games on the Source engine such as Half-Life 2, Day of Defeat: Source and Counter-Strike: Source. Rather, it uses a more stylized, cartoon-like approach “heavily influenced by early 20th century commercial illustrations.” The effect is achieved using a special Valve in-house rendering and lighting technique making extensive use of Phong shading. Part of the reason for the cartoonish style was the difficulty in explaining the maps and characters in realistic terms. The removal of an emphasis on realistic settings allows these questions to be sidestepped. The game debuts with the Source engine’s new dynamic lighting, shadowing and soft particle technologies, among many other unannounced features, alongside Half-Life 2: Episode Two. Team Fortress 2 was also the first game to implement the Source engine’s new Facial animation 3 features.
Like its predecessors, Team Fortress 2 is built around two opposing but equal teams competing for an objective. These two teams are meant to represent construction companies: Reliable Excavation & Demolition (RED) and Builders League United (BLU). Players can choose to play as one of nine classes in these teams, each with their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Although the abilities of a number of classes has changed from earlier Team Fortress incarnations, the basic elements of each class have remained.
The objective of the game is defined by the game mode in use. In capture the flag maps, the objective for both teams is to obtain a briefcase of intelligence from the enemy team’s base and return it to their own base while preventing the opposing team from doing the same. Control point modes are more varied in their objectives, but share the common aim of capturing a particular point on the map. In some maps, the objective for both teams is to secure all the points on the map. On other maps, one team already holds all the points and must defend them from the other for a set amount of time. A third variation, introduced with the map Hydro, is based on territory: each team must capture the other team’s single control point to secure the section of the map. Once all sections have been captured by one team, they are then able to attack the other team’s base directly.
Team Fortress 2 is the first of Valve Software’s multiplayer games to incorporate detailed statistics for players. These statistics include the time spent playing as each class, average point score and the most captures or objectives achieved in a single round. Persistent statistics tell the player how they are improving in relation to these statistics, such as if a player comes close to their record for the damage inflicted in a round. Team Fortress 2 also features numerous “achievements” for carrying out certain tasks, such as scoring a certain number of kills or completing a round within a certain time. Both achievements and statistics are displayed on the player’s Steam Community profile page.
The nine playable classes have all returned from the original Team Fortress. The overall class structure is designed for balance, with effective strategies resulting from using a variety of the different classes in different strategies. Some classes are specifically designed to work well in conjunction with another class, such as heavies and medics. To help new players understand class roles, classes are classified as offense, defense or support, but any class can be played in any role. Hand-thrown grenades, a controversial feature of previous Team Fortress versions, have been removed from every class in an effort to avoid unbalancing the game and to place more emphasis on class-specific abilities.
Characters respond to the environment dynamically with dialogue and facial expressions, such as when on fire, destroying enemy structures, or at the start of a round. Each character also possesses unique taunts that can be used through the course of the game.
Watch gameplay scenes and story explanations from each of the five games in this feature video. Valve developers go behind the scenes to give you an in-depth 10-minute look at what went into creating their incredible collection of games.
So what are the main features of The Orange Box?
* Five Games, One Box: The Orange Box is the ultimate collection of innovative action games for the PC or console, and an amazing introduction to the Half Life series for console gamers.
* Epic Storyline: Half Life 2: Episode Two takes gamers deeper into one of the best-known stories in gaming, following the desperate struggle of Gordon Freeman against the mysterious Combine. In this episode, gamers will leave the confines of City 17 for the first time.
* Redefining Action: Portal delivers an innovative new action gaming experience. Arming players with a portal gun allowing them to create portals from one location to another with the press of a button, Portal will forever change the way that gamers interact with their environment.
* World-Class Multiplayer: Team Fortress 2 is the sequel to granddaddy of role-based multiplayer action games. Featuring nine distinct roles – Heavy, Spy, Scout, Demoman, Engineer, Medic, Sniper, Soldier and Pyro.
Watch some more The Orange Box gameplay.
In conclusion I do have to point out a few minor downsides that are present. Although I personally don’t feel they detract at all from the complete experience, I could understand it if people considered them a bit annoying if they play lots of shooter games. Gordon has no melee action to fight off zombies and other enemies at the last moment (unless you count the crowbar), but in Episode One and Two you do see your partner in crime Alex use melee, which doesn’t seem fair that Gordon can’t. Also Enemies with smarter AI still walk past explosive barrels that you can shoot to explode so they easily die, even if their team mates just died the same way right in front of them. When a new area is loaded in The Orange Box games the action will pause (usually in a long corridor leading to the next chapter) and you’ll have to wait a while, when it happens in a high speed chase in an open field every second waiting might feel out of place – then again – patience is a virtue.
As for the different versions available, the PS3 has framerate slowdown issues during hectic/fast scenes that can be very annoying. This makes the only perfect games the Xbox 360 and PC versions.
Now let’s see how much fun The Orange Box is on a scale from 1 to 10?
FUN FACTOR – 10
Are you a fan of first-person action/adventure games? If yes, buy The Orange Box right away! It has something for everyone. Great gameplay challenges with an amazing attention to detail that make you think whether you’re shooting or puzzling, it’s got great graphics and animations, and brilliant sci-fi storytelling through scripted sequences with a fantastic sense of humor. In this compilation: with Half-Life 2 you’re getting one of the best single player first-person shooter games ever created along with its two expansions that rival its high quality, then there’s Portal giving you one of the most innovative puzzle games created this decade, and to top it off there’s Team Fortress 2 which is one of the best team based online multiplayer games. Each one of these games separately is worth buying at full price, but Valve put all five in one box, as Jim would tell Mike “IT’S AMAZING!!” Interesting and smart masterpieces of games like these don’t come along often. Don’t read spoilers, try not to use any Orange Box walkthroughs until your imagination runs out, and you too will find out the fun factor is through the roof.
Graphics – 10
All games run on the beautiful Source engine. The graphics effects added to the newer Episode One and Episode Two games are also implemented with a higher resolution in the few years older Half-Life 2, so everything looks top notch. The facial animation steals the show by being very emotive, especially in Episode Two and Team Fortress 2. The art style in the Half-Life 2 universe creates a believable war-torn Earth lots with variety in level design, and in Portal and Team Fortress 2 the art looks very unique. Very impressive designs across the board!
Audio – 10
The music across all games is terrific, especially in the newest games, and really makes your heart pump as you go into the action scenes or creates a feeling of dread, horror and suspense in slower sections. The sound effects are fantastic too, weapons sound real or sci-fi-y and are satisfying, add in the enemy roarings and environmental sound effects and you have yourself a completely immersive ambiance.
Maybe I’m just crazy, but I found the dialog so engrossing that I’d often talk back aloud when they addressed me, I mean, Gordon. This, I suppose, is the entire point of the events happening in the environment in combination with the character animations and their dialogs, they make you care about the world you’re in. It’s also reinforced by Gordon (and Chell for that matter) never talking (similar to Link in the Zelda games) to make you feel like the character. From excited to dramatic, the voice overs act their roles perfectly believable. While the main characters and other allies steal the show, keep your ears open for cameos from the likes of Firefly’s Adam Baldwin. Portal isn’t the only game with lots of hilarious dark comedy, the Half-Life 2 games will give you a fair share of laughs. Outside of great scripted dialogs, there are often surprises. For example Alex jokingly referring to the headcrab on Combine troops as Zombines to lighten the horror-like mood, or in other situations where I was walking around with a Vortigaun as my ally and I went to grab an ammo box on top of a boarded up hole… Bad idea, the wood broke and I fell all the way down, when I climbed back up my ally mocked me asking what I expected to find down there and then proceeded to wonder if this was normal human behavior!
Ingenuity – 10
Controls are straightforward, similar to most first-person shooters. Weapons can easily be chosen from your arsenal, one at a time. While throwing grenades isn’t/can’t be assigned to a separate weapons button, the Half-Life 2 games aren’t designed to need it like the Halo games do, at least I never found myself dying because I couldn’t select it fast enough.
All the story in the game is told in-game through a few main characters that join you on your travels, by the city environment itself, on walls, from people talking as you walk by, and as you play the “cut-scenes” play themselves out in front of you trying to get your attention. But it’s never a movie, you always have the choice to watch it, except of course when you have to know and what they say or what’s to be seen progresses the storyline. What they do in those moments is create a scenario where (for example) you have to wait in a room for an action to take place or a door to open, and so you end up in the middle of a conversation that’s usually about your next objective. But in the games it’s all done very interactive and sometimes dramatic to get you invested into the game, and that works extremely well, it’s very compelling to watch and play.
Replay Value – 10
Expect to take 15-25 hours for your first playthrough of Half-Life 2; about 4-6 hours for the first playthrough of Half-Life 2: Episode One; and about 4-7 hours for the first playthrough of Half-Life 2: Episode Two; with Portal taking just 3-5 hours, although the unlockable Challenge and Advanced modes easily double this; and Team Fortress 2 could last you years thanks to its deep addictive multiplayer. If you have the PC version, you’ll be able to download modifications (extra or new game modes) and extra levels from an active internet community in the shape of Half-Life 2 mods and Portal mods. Replaying all these games is still fun, especially in Episode One, Episode Two, Portal and Team Fortress 2 since a Commentary mode can be turned on after the games are completed, which shows text bubbles in context throughout the games with developers giving a behind-the-scenes explanations of everything for hours on end (all added up). All this for the price of a regular game release makes it a must-buy.
The hardest part of this game compilation is having to wait another year, or maybe two, until Half-Life 2: Episode Three, Portal 2 and who knows what else arrives. At least we know for sure it’ll be worth the wait.