The Orange Box [Xbox 360 Review]

Developer: Valve Software
Publisher: Valve Software
Game Rating: T (Teen) – M (Mature)

When the word vapourware comes up in gaming conversation, there’s probably only one title that comes to mind in gaming circles all over the world: Duke Nukem Forever.

There is another title that, had Duke not held that crown, would arguably have been granted it. To say it’s the Queen of vapourware would likely be fitting. It’s the game that won numerous awards at E3 in 1999 and has been anticipated almost as long as it’s Kingly competitor and it’s finally been included in what is now the benchmark of boxed titles.

Of course, if you know your gaming history, you guessed it by reading the title of the review. But for newcomers to gaming, it’s Team Fortress 2 and it’s one of the stellar titles included in the Orange Box alongside Halflife 2, HL2: Episode One, HL2: Episode Two and Portal

There’s so much to the Orange Box that it’s hard to sum it all up in just one review. The titles in this collection are so diverse that they almost need their own separate reviews. Were it not for the fact that some of the titles are a little on the short side, that may almost have been justified.

Portal

First, the newcomer; The story of the Halflife Universe is further expanded with the inclusion of Portal. Telling the story of a human lab rat, trapped in what turns out to be a rival company bidding for funding that currently goes to Black Mesa, Portal gives us yet another disturbing but very humorous look at the kind of world in which Gordon Freeman existed around the time of the incident that brings about the Combine occupation of Earth.

Portal does a wonderful job of revamping the way we think about puzzle games. It’s unique in a refreshing way and yet it fits seamlessly into the kind of world we see in Halflife. The idea of transdimensional portals would fit as well in Halflife itself as it does in Portal and it opens up a slew of possibilities on interacting with the physical universe. I found myself pondering the physics of the portals numerous times to determine if the effects in the game would be feasible in real life, and what makes this game so good is that the effects of using the Portal are really that believable. I’m no physics major, but using momentum from free fall to propel yourself horizontally when emerging from a portal in a wall makes so much sense I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before. It’s the sheer simplicity of using two portals to enter and exit various points in an environment and using them to manoeuvre objects that shows the genius of its creators. It’s no wonder Gabe Newell grabbed this team up straight out of University and had them build this game using the Source Engine. The marriage couldn’t be more appropriate.

The only complaint I have about Portal is that the fun is just too short, but it’s a mind bending and humourous ride while it lasts.

The puzzles in the game follow what is essentially a lab test by some unknown robotic voice that talks you through the levels and all that you are provided is a device that can create two portals which essentially link up the space between them, allowing you to instantaneous transport from one portal to the next. It allows for some interesting puzzle solving and the genius is really in the simplicity of using one device to solve the puzzles and in the implementation of the Source engine to pull off some of the really bizarre but eye opening physics that could potentially be quite feasible in real life should some secret government agency build a portal creating machine. Some tongue in cheek hilarity ensues as you try to fight for your life in this confined lab.

Graphically this game is no different to Halflife, but you’ll find yourself often staring through portals as you place them in ways that you can see to infinity or even look at yourself from any angle as you walk through the portal into the area you’re already looking at. That said, if that last statement doesn’t make sense, you’ll really should try the game. It’s worth it’s portion of the Orange Box cost.

Halflife

The Halflife2 “trilogy” began in 2004 on the PC and was an instant hit. The gameplay was just as revolutionary as the original and Valve set a new standard of visual quality with the move from the Quake2 engine to their own Source engine.

They’ve continued to work on Source and this can be seen in all its glory in Episode 2’s wide open outdoor environments that look spectacular on what is now a 5 year+ old engine. The textures are also crisp and detailed. Valve didn’t sit on their laurels with the Source engine.

The inclusion of HDR lighting after Halflife2’s release on the PC added another depth of realism to the engine, and rather than recreate the PC versions of HL2 and Episode1, Valve has tweaked the game to include HDR lighting for the 360 version. I’ve mentioned in my reviews before that I’m not the biggest fan of HDR when it is overdone. As with any new technology addition for games, developers tend to use them to the point of being ludicrous in order to tantalize gamers eyeballs and show off their graphical prowess. The use of HDR in Halflife is one of those games where HDR is a little overdone. Looking out at the ocean should not cause your eyes to adjust so much that you can’t see the ground around you or vice versa. The range of exposure is a little too dramatized and the time for Gordon’s eyes to adjust is incredibly slow and can be frustrating when you’re waiting to see from light to dark. Case and point is my new benchmark for good HDR usage, namely Halo3, which uses HDR the way every game should.

Looking at the various Episodes of Halflife2 really does give you an idea of how the Halflife universe is growing and how the Source engine is allowing Valve to further expand the grandness of the world Gordon is trying to save. Their use of slowly illuminating the G-Man’s agenda without letting too much out of the box too soon fits seamlessly into the story and plays well into the mystery of the struggle with the Combine and what exactly Gordon’s part is in all this.

You’ll get hours of enjoyment out of the Halflife Collection and they’re a blast from start to finish. The AI and the characters are all diverse and offer unique combat challenges to keep you dreading each time you run into them. The interface to swap weapons is quite good considering the sheer number of weaponry at your disposal and the balance of ammunition availability really does make you think twice about wasting it.

I did find the game less challenging than it’s PC counterpart, but I also found that it was challenging enough without becoming frustrating at all. I died enough times to not play recklessly but not enough to have me screaming at Gordon for being a feeble excuse for a particle physicist who’s trying to save the world.

Team Fortress 2

This is the best vapourware come to fruition that I can remember in recent history. What first grabs your attention with Team Fortress 2 is the stylization of the environments and the characters. It’s right out of something like Pixar’s “The Incredibles” with the humour to match.

There are a myriad of characters to choose from and each one has their own unique characteristics that bring something different to the team and along with those strengths are their corresponding weaknesses and vulnerabilities. This is easily one of the best balanced Multiplayer games to date and you’ll find yourself continually changing characters to match and counter your opponent’s choices. What makes it even more exciting, is the ability to change characters each time you die, so there’s the constant tug of war between opposing teams to try and thrust defeat on each other.

Graphically this game rivals the best cell shaded games to date. Who would think that every game in this collection, especially TF2 is rendered on the same engine. It may be dated when compared to the Unreal Engine, but Source has shown it’s got some fight in it to deliver next gen games on the Xbox360 at least. It almost makes you wonder if this diverse package isn’t some sly marketing scheme by Valve to show off its engine’s capabilities to the world. Whatever their agenda, the value and quality of this collection makes it a worthwhile addition to anyone’s game library.

Now for the bad news. Team Fortress 2 just doesn’t have enough maps to sustain it for very long. The maps themselves are a masterpiece to behold. They’re large, they’re diverse and each game on the same map hardly plays the same way twice. They’re as balanced and polished as the character classes, but after a few weeks, you’re going to find yourself wishing there was more variety. On top of that, each map only plays to one specific game type. This definitely speaks to why the maps play so very well on specific game types, because you can only play that game type on that map. I can see both the positive and negative impact of such a decision on Valve’s part. All in all, I think it was a wise choice, but Valve, “WE NEED MORE MAPS!”

Presentation – 9.5
All in all the sheer number of games presented and the quality of the products speak for themselves. Kudos to Valve for treating gamers like we’re worth something.

Graphics – 9.0
The graphics of the Source Engine on the Xbox 360 rivals anything that’s come out to date. I get the feeling this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Source on this platform. It’s definitely found a home where it’s diverse uses from Realism to Cartoonism are well received and shine.

Sound – 9.5
Not since raytraced sound on the PC have I heard such good echo effects when firing off a gun in a game. Valve’s implementation of environmental and surrounding effects, both indoors and out give most games a run for their money

Gameplay – 9.5
Most of it’s not revolutionary. In fact, that same game was out on the PC 3 years ago, but the AI and all other aspects of Halflife, on top of the fact that Portal is a revolutionary new puzzle standard and Team Fortress brings new meaning to the words “Game Balance” makes the gameplay of this package worth the score it receives.

Lasting Appeal – 8.0
Once you play through all the single player games, there’s little that will bring you back considering the other strong titles out for the 360 this Christmas. Add to that the limited maps on Team Fortress 2 and I’d say this game is more akin to a whirlwind romance than a lasting relationship, but it’s about as fun as the aforementioned though!

Crave Factor – 9.1
Out of 10 (Excellent)

 

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