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The Orange Box (Xbox 360) artwork

The Orange Box (Xbox 360) review


"Every home lining the barren coast of City 17 tells a different story, and none of them end well. The first is barricaded from the inside, presumably thanks to the ruthless Combine if we can rule out social anxiety disorder. Too bad for its residents that their foes thought to cram the original Half-Life's headcrabs into artillery shells and use them as biological weapons. Turning pesky naysayers into braindead drones with gaping maws where their chests should be, that'll learn 'em. Muffl..."



Every home lining the barren coast of City 17 tells a different story, and none of them end well. The first is barricaded from the inside, presumably thanks to the ruthless Combine if we can rule out social anxiety disorder. Too bad for its residents that their foes thought to cram the original Half-Life's headcrabs into artillery shells and use them as biological weapons. Turning pesky naysayers into braindead drones with gaping maws where their chests should be, that'll learn 'em. Muffled but disturbingly intelligible shrieking makes you feel that extra bit less bad about tossing some grenades at him before continuing on your merry way... it's easy to understand the next guy, who hid behind a fenced-off generator with a mattress and booze before blowing his brains out with a magnum you're all too happy to borrow.

But Half-Life 2 isn't a stuffy gallery of depressing sights and sounds to mope through, and the Combine are as much a threat now as they were when these poor lot were up against them. A soldier in the next house comes standard with a rifle powerful enough to knock you backwards, but play your cards right and you'll be able to take him out with a magnum bullet right to the middle of his helmet. Thanks, suicidey! Too bad you didn't keep your other eye on his buddy, who went all the way around the house just to sneak up behind you and tell you that he doesn't like you with his big fuck-off shotgun.

Better luck next time, though you'll soon have a shot at vindication via magnetic crane. No amount of body armor could save folks from the falling cargo container of doom, or the steel beam of doom if you choose to be just the slightest bit less evil. Occasional shits and giggles like these aren't why objects in the game can so easily be manipulated, though. Half-Life 2's utterly brilliant gravity gun lets you pick up almost anything in the game and either move it or send it careening through the air: constant shits and giggles.

The town of Ravenholm, for instance, is a sadist's playground. A city-wide headcrab bombardment of what used to be a place of refuge from the Combine led to the zombification of every citizen but one, a deranged priest bent on helping his wayward flock attain redemption by buckshot. Yet fun as it may be to use his traps and watch a dozen lost souls shamble through a burning gas leak, the gravity gun is where the real fun comes in. Shame that the zombies don't look scary enough, but it's hard to care when they're just so fun to tear apart. There are sawblades to chop them in half with; chairs and toilets to bludgeon them upside the head with; and explosive barrels to, well, you know. Level the odds against faster zombies with your shotgun if you must, but it's just not as satisfying as knocking them out of the air with a table.

Even that isn't quite as nice as tossing a soldier's grenade right back at him after using a metal grate to shield yourself from his bullets, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Salvation comes first.

Were this just a Half-Life 2 review, I'd fluff it up with more cool examples (and there are plenty) so that I could sneak in some of the flaws while keeping a positive tone. I'm a formulaic hack of a writer like that. Controlling your own squad during the late-game uprising wasn't much of a highlight once the novelty wore off, for instance, even though it should have been. They couldn't be counted on for much more than getting in the way every time you ran from a grenade blew up, and so it came to be that I'd order them headstrong into the fray while cheering on the sidelines for a Combine shutout.

But I don't need to just sweep that under the rug, because that and a fair bit else has been fixed come time for the followup episodes--which is great, considering that you spend most of them in the company of occasional HL2 sidekick Alyx. She's useful. It scared the crap out of me when a fast zombie lept onto my windshield-less car from an overpass, but no sooner than when I jumped out like a bitch had she effortlessly kicked off its head from the passenger seat. Almost as dangerous as her jokes, like groaning in a pitch-black garage or making us in turn groan with a "zombine" joke for zombified Combine... so I suppose you'll still want to kill her after all. It's all pun and games until somebody gets hurt.

By Episode 2, even your generic allies are better. Faceless rebels have been replaced city slickers trying to impress country folk by claiming that they used to wrestle war synths to the ground, and men that awkwardly remind their lady-pals that the Combine's reproduction suppression field isn't working any more. They even do more than just block doors during combat, too. Massive facelifts all around, though even working with Fodder 2.0 isn't as fun as battling alongside your chest-armed Vortigaunt chums. Fans of the first Half-Life who had to off dozens of them will be happy that their lightning blasts never used to make things explode, but change is good.

Also different are the challenges, thankfully. Your earlier encounters with the oversized insectoid antlions aren't simply rehashed: in Half-Life 2, they infested the coast and sprung out of the sand whenever you stepped on it, forcing you to run-n-gun or to build makeshift bridges with debris. By Episode 1 they burrough into the city proper via tunnels that you have to plug up by knocking abandoned cars into them, and by Episode 2 you'll wander into the mess of claustrophobic blue caves that they've made their nest. That the critters drown when you punt them into pools of water with your trusty grav-gun is of little consolation when an acid-spewing variety waits above tunnel exits to douse you; and the oversized guardian that chases you down the final stretch and knocks you around like a ragdoll should you lose your bearings for even a second is as fearsome as they come.

But while the Combine are largely routed by later parts of the story, the few skirmishes you'll have with them in Episode 2 are easily the best. A pack of stragglers ambush you at a deserted inn just when you've forgotten about them, and they're all too happy to flank you via a different floor if you give them half a chance. Best them and they'll unleash three of the fearsome Hunters, which lunge through hallways and make your day that extra bit shittier with volleys of exploding flechettes. Thrown objects are the closest thing they have to what I'd call a weakness, but watch out: stall for even a second and they've the smarts to leap over and smack that toilet right out of your hands. You'll have to get the "Flushed" achievement some other day.

Valve aren't perfect at their craft. One twenty minute chunk of Episode Two rehashes Ravenholm sans novelty or atmosphere, and a few parts of the main game can overstay their welcome even if all the indivdual bits are good. But it's easy to forgive them when they're learning from their mistakes, and even easier when what they're doing is so many miles above just blasting through corridor after corridor of generic aliens with a purple Fischer-Price "My First Rifle" toy. Half-Life 2 and its followup episodes are among the most brilliantly varied and carefully built games I've ever played, and they alone would be a steal. Toss in neat diversions like Portal and Team Fortress 2 and The Orange Box becomes an absolute no-brainer.

Rating: 10/10

Cornwell's avatar
Community review by Cornwell (October 01, 2009)

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WilltheGreat posted October 01, 2009:

My only gripe with this review is actually highlighted by this line about halfway through:

"Were this just a Half-Life 2 review, I'd fluff it up with more cool examples (and there are plenty) so that I could sneak in some of the flaws while keeping a positive tone."

You then proceed, after quickly discussion some flaws, to fluff up the review with cool examples of HL2E1's awesome. If it's not "just" a Half-Life 2 review, where's all the stuff about cake and momentum? Where are the sandviches and gun turrets? It's a pretty good review, but it's not a review of The Orange Box. It's a review of HL2 episodes with a mention to TF2 and Portal at the end.

TF2 and Portal are hardly "neat diversions". Dismissing them as such only hurts this piece.
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EmP posted October 01, 2009:

360 TF2's not worth even that kind of offhanded mention.

That said, Half Life 2 is nothing special, either. It's sub-par shooting with the odd noteworthy set peice set in a world where no one does anything but talk for bloody days.
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Suskie posted October 01, 2009:

Wait a minute. I know whose review this is!
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WilltheGreat posted October 02, 2009:

Would you like to share with the class?
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pickhut posted October 02, 2009:

I'll give you a hint: her name starts with a T.
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WilltheGreat posted October 02, 2009:

Since I can't get a straight answer out of you people, I suppose I'll just have to ask EmP.
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Masters posted October 02, 2009:

That said, Half Life 2 is nothing special, either. It's sub-par shooting with the odd noteworthy set peice set in a world where no one does anything but talk for bloody days.

Fail.
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wolfqueen001 posted October 02, 2009:

^ Agreed. Super fail
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Halon posted October 02, 2009:

This HL2 bashing is coming from someone who likes Halo and Quake 3 so this really doesn't mean too much to me. :)
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EmP posted October 03, 2009:

To be fair, I'm only an hour or so in. It's just been a crazy painful hour thus far and I have little drive to play further. But I probably will. Someday
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Suskie posted October 03, 2009:

You might want to finish the game lest you have about as much authority on Half-Life 2 as I have on X-COM.
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EmP posted October 04, 2009:

Maybe, but you don't see me running off to rate the game after only an hour of play or waffeling about it in a review intro. Because that, you see, would be petty and of poor creditability. I'm all about being creditable.

More than anything, I'm trying to get Boo to bite. He's done well to resist the urge thus far.
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bluberry posted October 04, 2009:

i think you're missing out if you don't keep playing, is all. i'm getting past the point of giving a fuck what other people think of games i like.

i will bite on one thing, though: this review was originally deleted for a reason, and you're a cunt.
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EmP posted October 04, 2009:

I plan to play on. And I know I'll need to do it soon before it becomes another DMC/HL1. Though, come on, that second tram section in HL1 is bloody awful.
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Suskie posted October 04, 2009:

Hahaha. Well since the whole point of me giving that rating was to get under your skin, I'm glad to see it's working.

I actually would have deleted it by now but I can't, so whatever. Although given your response I should actually be lowering it instead.
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EmP posted October 04, 2009:

I'm fine with you rating it whatever you like. It's not me who's admitting to lowballing games to unsucessfully annoy people. It's simply me feeling smug for winning an internet forum arguement.

I'm off to ring people to tell them the good news. Everyone will want to know.
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Suskie posted October 04, 2009:

I will make biased and unprovoked attacks on X-COM for as long as you act this hilariously defensive about it, EmP.
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EmP posted October 04, 2009:

And I'll continue to try and lever in the last word. Because it is very important.
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WilltheGreat posted October 04, 2009:

I think this is the most mature I've ever seen you two act. I'm so proud.

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