Being a games reviewer isn't always as brilliant as people expect it to be. Sure there are free games, but there is also sorting out screenshots and game info, writing the review itself and also having to play a game that is terrible. The thing that frustrates me most is when I have several games to get through, especially when I could be spending my time playing a game that I have paid for and enjoy. Well at the moment I have five games to review and I've never been happier. Orange Box is five games in one though each one stands out in its own right.
Ok, I'm going to save you some time. Stop reading this review and go out and buy the game. It really is that simple. If you don't have the money, trade some games. Even if you have to trade five old games you are no worse off.
The term 'bargain' is frequently used when referring to the Orange Box and for good reason. For those of you that didn't already know Orange Box contains it consists of; The original release of Half Life 2, The first expansion Episode One, The brand new expansion Episode 2, First person Puzzle platformer Portal and finally the long awaited multiplayer shooter Team Fortress 2.
I'm not going to go into much detail with the story parts of the Orange Box. Half Life 2 has been around for some time now and there are dozens of reviews out there concentrating on that game alone. Likewise with episode one. Instead I'll discuss how the game compares now that a multitude of other top class first person shooters have been released.
The Half Life games have generally considered as FPS royalty on the PC with and adoring group of followers. There is a reason for this Half Life 2 is a very good game. Even three years after it's initial release it's clear to see that it is a quality title. Though if you have been doing much gaming recently on your 360 then HL2 won't be as innovative as you may be used to. It doesn't have the engrossing story or flexibility of play style that Bioshock has nor does it capture the essence of gaming in the same way as Halo 3.I may be sounding a little critical here but the fact that HL2 deserves to be compared with these titles speaks volumes. As you progress through the first game and onto episodes one and two the game does seem to play a little closer to more recent releases. At its heart Half Life 2 is a linear affair though it is a linear game done exceptionally well.
Now I'll be honest, puzzle games, whilst very addictive, really annoy me. In fact they annoy me almost as much as platformers do. Now Portal in essence is a first person puzzle game with platforming elements. On paper this is the game worst suited to me. In reality it's a game that I'm having difficulty turning off of an evening. The game is very small on story yet big on gameplay. You play a female character who has to negotiate her way through a facility solving a variety of puzzles. The crux of this is the portal gun. This allows you to create an entrance and an exit for a portal. The game features a host of increasingly complex and difficult puzzles. Over time enemy sentries flying energy balls, switches, boxes and other items are added to increase the complexity of the game. Whilst a relatively short game Portal is well worth playing and is a title that could have stood on its own without the rest of the contents.
The original team fortress was a true triumph and had me addicted for many, many hours.
Team Fortress 2 doesn't really re-invent the original, it doesn't give us new classes to toy with, it doesn't bring a whole host of new maps. What it does do is take the original and refine it. The adjustments to each class are subtle in places and more noticeable in others though each one is executed with perfection.
Instead of building on the violence expected in the FPS genre TF2 brings a different art style that significantly lightens the mood. The art style is quite cartoony and is heavily influenced by 'early 20th century commercial illustrations'. The art style definitely holds the game away from its counterparts and really adds to the sense of enjoyment.
Whilst I've said that the maps haven't changed, they have had a new lick of paint. In fact the map 2Fort despite being virtually identical to the same map in the original felt completely different due to the new artistic direction. I actually got a little lost on a few occasions. In fact the maps are more restrictive than you may expect. Rather than choosing a map and a game type, each map only supports one type of game. This has allowed the maps to be tweaked so that you get the best possible results from each map. Choke points are expertly placed and after a few games I forgave the developers for restricting the play types. Each map is specifically designed to be great in only one game type.
For me Team Fortress 2 is the highlight of the package and I have put a lot of hours into it. The developers do seem committed to the project as a patch came out shortly after release which significantly improved net performance.
In summary The Orange Box is worth buying. Sure some elements feel a little dated, but on the whole it is a great experience. The game could have been split up into its separate components and each sold as an individual title and all parts would have sold well.