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The Orange Box (PC) artwork

The Orange Box (PC) review


"A year or two ago, I wrote a review for the console version of The Orange Box. In it, I threw around a few colorful adjectives for the first four games in the package, before coming to a halt with Team Fortress 2. I didnít have Xbox Live at the time (and still donít), and as such, I could merely say, ďI havenít really played this one, but Iíve heard itís awesome, so there you go.Ē I have since spent more time with the PC rendition of Team Fortress 2 than nearly any other gam..."



A year or two ago, I wrote a review for the console version of The Orange Box. In it, I threw around a few colorful adjectives for the first four games in the package, before coming to a halt with Team Fortress 2. I didnít have Xbox Live at the time (and still donít), and as such, I could merely say, ďI havenít really played this one, but Iíve heard itís awesome, so there you go.Ē I have since spent more time with the PC rendition of Team Fortress 2 than nearly any other game in existence, and Iím fully prepared to call it the greatest multiplayer title ever conceivedÖ and you could still make the argument that itís the least impressive component of this compilation.

Thatís not to discredit the game, of course, but look at what itís up against: Portal, the biggest cult phenomenon of the gaming industry in years , and the complete (to date) Half-Life 2 saga, which has set the standard by which all other first-person shooters are measured, and constantly fall short of.

I wonít waste your time talking about Portal. Enough has been said about the game; its devilishly clever puzzles and twisted sense of humor have penetrated our internet culture for too long. The game is fantastic, of course, but itís lost the element of surprise that caught so many gamers unawares, myself included. Iíll bet the majority of gamers who have never played Portal are sick of hearing about it and probably wonít give it a fair chance. And thatís a shame, as theyíll be missing out on one of the funniest and most original titles of the generation.

Let us instead talk about Half-Life 2, which has been on the market for three years longer and has yet to be topped. Thatís not to say the game hasnít aged; for sure, modern shooters offer prettier graphics, smoother controls and more advanced AI. But when Halo 3 and BioShock have been similarly eclipsed, Half-Life 2 will stand as the perfect example that good design is eternal; good design is what makes a game truly timeless. Improved technology doesnít grant a game variety or expert pacing. Half-Life 2 is always moving, and every hour spent on the game feels entirely unlike the last. One minute you could be trudging through the zombie-infested Ravenholm, picking up and firing environmental objects with the wonderfully inventive gravity gun; just an hour earlier, your frantic escape from City 17ís canal system ended with a standoff between you and the armed chopper that had been following you for couple of miles.

Whereas titles like Deus Ex have forced players to reconsider where the shooter ends and another genre begins, Half-Life 2 in unquestionably a shooter from beginning to end. It never breaks character, so to speak, but rather channels every possible element of the FPS. A run through the claustrophobic corridors of a re-fortified prison facility, Nova Prospekt, demonstrates a knack for fast, tight, close-quarters action; on the other hand, your trip down Highway 17 in a buggy weighs in the power of only a few sparse gunfights after youíre allowed to breathe in the reassuring silence. The journey through the aforementioned Ravenholm after having just received a toy that allows you to pick up and throw nearly any reasonably-sized objects puts a new twist on the horror elements that have often found their way into the genre; on the flipside, a heated battle in a war-torn City 17 in the gameís conclusion invites you to abandon all subtlety and politely asks you to blow some stuff up.

Half-Life 2: Episode One is better judged as one chapter of many in the enormous saga than as a standalone title. By itself, it retreads familiar territory as seen in the previous game, with few contributions of its own, but when viewed in the context of this bundle, itís simply a slight speed bump in otherwise explosive 20-hour single-player package. And for what itís worth, Episode Two wraps things up (for now) as tidily as possible with a spectacular finale that pulls the element of vehicles back into the mix and uses it as the centerpiece for a battle that single-handedly tops anything weíve seen in the series before.

And then thereís Team Fortress 2. Iím kind of glad that I never subscribed to Xbox Live, because then Iíd be playing Team Fortress 2 on a console. Iíd still be playing the same six maps, with the same generic equipment sets that came bundled with the nine original classes back in 2007. In fact, scratch that. I wouldnít still be playing it, because Iíd have lost interest by now.

Team Fortress 2 must be played on PC, because PC players have access to a mod community and the near-constant updates that prevent the game from every getting old. At the time of release, Team Fortress 2 was a very entertaining online shooter that put an emphasis on the word ďteamĒ in the title, but ran the risk of wearing out its welcome due to a general shortage of content. But Valveís dedication has kept the game alive, and having invested hundreds of hours into the title, I have no issue with naming it the best online game Iíve ever played. Itís never as frenetic as Unreal Tournament, but itís one of the few online games that truly rewards communication and cooperation with people you donít know, and never will.

Individually, nearly all of these games would be worth full price; their entertainment value stomps all over nearly everything else on the market. That Valve is offering them as a single package, and now charging only thirty dollars for the whole thing (according to Steam), is unbelievable. I presume real gamers have already taken advantage of the deal. If you fancy yourself a real gamer, I suggest you do the same.

Note: I have already reviewed all five separate components of this compilation on HonestGamers. Those reviews can be found here, here, here, here, and here.

Rating: 10/10

Suskie's avatar
Community review by Suskie (December 30, 2009)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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