|The Orange Box (2007)
Available for: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Suffice it to say that if you’re an Xbox 360 gamer, then this holiday season is entirely for you. Great games aplenty have been coming out, are coming out, and will be coming out. Why, I thought nothing was going to take away any of my “Halo 3” time lately. It was the only thing I was playing since it came out. But in walked Gordon Freeman, out of my no too distant past, to say hello once again and completely take over my gaming time. Damn you, Gordon. And damn you, Valve, for putting together perhaps the greatest compilation of games ever.
Yep, we’re talking about “The Orange Box” here, the much-anticipated set from the PC gaming geniuses at Valve. In this set you get “Half-Life 2” plus its first two episodic sequels, the insanely addictive first person puzzle game “Portal,” and the online favorite “Team Fortress 2.” Look, that’s simply hours and hours of some of the best gaming of all time in one package. Forget those other lame compilations featuring old console or arcade games. At best, you’re usually only buying it for one or two games for nostalgia’s sake, and then you either let the thing collect dust or sell it after the memories have been replayed. In “The Orange Box,” every game here is perfect.
I had originally enjoyed “Half-Life 2” and “Half-Life-2: Episode One” on my PC, so getting this set for those two games alone to enjoy on the 360 was a no-brainer. Indeed, it had been long enough since I worked my way through the original game, and despite what so many PC gamers claim – that a mouse and keyboard are the way to go with controls – playing “Half-Life 2” again on a console was infinitely better. For me, having everything at my disposal with a d-pad or button press away was always more enjoyable than pushing myriad keys and scooting my mouse all over the desk to get the same results. However, vehicular control with the airboats and dune buggies were still a bit frustrating at times, like their PC counterparts. Still, that doesn’t knock down the game any points for its still thrilling originality, game design and excellent story. If you’ve played the PC version before as well, everything will come rushing back to you quickly. Sometimes this can be good, as it makes solving some of the puzzles easier, but then again, the overall experience is just as vicious and difficult in some areas as it was the first time around.
Ditto that for “Episode One,” and the newest “Half-Life” chapter, “Episode Two.” For all the press given to the much ballyhooed “BioShock” and “Halo 3” (praise that even we gave those games), it seriously doesn’t get any better than this series, both historically and in speaking of gaming in general. Valve knows what makes perfect games and they continue to crank them out effortlessly. Usually the FPS experience is all about the online, but in the “Half-Life” series, it’s all about the story and the singular experience. Valve has yet to deliver something even close to a half-assed game. The main thing about these games is that they’re not just run and gun fun. When you complete a section or a certain puzzle, you really feel like you’ve accomplished something, not just merely worked through them to move the story along.
But how about the other games here? Well, if you’re a puzzle game nut, then prepare yourself for one of the best puzzle games ever in “Portal.” In this short but sweet and insanely fun game, players are given a “portal gun” and are then asked to work their way through a series of rooms, each with its own bizarre set of switches, platforms and barriers to work around. The portal gun is used to literally blast holes in the walls of the rooms so players can then walk through and out of, causing them to reappear in a different section of the same room. This is one of those puzzle games that really makes the gamer not only think about time and space in new ways, but also teases them with those very same concepts just when they think they’ve got a good handle on the whole thing. “Portal” excels by not always ramping up the difficulty over the course of its puzzles, but by varying the pace and torturing the player in a fun way. Trust me. Once you start one of the rooms you will feel it necessary to finish it. And therein lies the genius of the game. Apparently, our brains really enjoy working through oddball and difficult situations. So why the hell was I never good at math?
Finally, “Team Fortress 2” is the online multiplayer portion of “The Orange Box.” It features two variations, “Control Point” and “Capture the Flag.” The latter is self-explanatory, but the former features one team trying to defend three points on a map while the other team tries to take them over. Teams then switch sides in the middle so everyone has a go at doing both things. Indeed, there is no solo deathmatch type of game here, but that’s the point. “Team Fortress 2” is all about the teamwork, with players allowed to pick different classes of characters, be they gunners, spies, engineers, snipers, pyros and so forth. The look of the game is entertainingly cartoonish and the action is definitely fun. For my money, this is the game that has received the least play so far, but that’s mainly because I’ve been working through all the “Half-Life 2” and “Portal” action, and is not a reflection of the value or fun of the game itself.
So there you go. Another must-have for the 360. If you’ve never enjoyed “Half-Life 2” on the PC but always wanted to try it out, then pick this up without hesitation. If you’re like me and have played the game before, pick it up again and have all the games at your disposal in one compact place. The game looks and performs just as well as it did on the PC. From what it looks like, no graphical “enhancements” or any of that hoo-ha was applied, and that’s fine. In this case, keeping the original look was definitely the way to go. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to Nova Prospekt and save the world again. Damn you and your exciting adventures, Gordon Freeman. It’s nice to have you back.