The Orange Box
It's the most obvious 10/10 release all year.
Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Valve / EA
By Adam Doree
Reviewing this game should be deceptively straightforward. It's the most obvious 10/10 release all year, that everyone should buy. There, are we done?
Alas, while this is technically my site and I could shock our other fine reviewers into outrage with a 50-word review, the problem with that would be that it does not do justice to what Valve has come up with for the stunning release that is The Orange Box.
Here's the thing: there has not been a better FPS since Half-Life 2. Obviously this is just my opinion, but it's the right opinion. Half-Life 2 was almost flawless in terms of game design, a massive leap forward in terms of production and style, and a complete innovation with its introduction of awesome new gameplay mechanics and proper story linked with the action.
It is, quite simply, essential gaming - even for those who've never really 'done' the FPS 'thing' before. If you never liked FPS games, it's probably because you didn't play Half-Life 2 yet. So before I even get out of bed, we can conclude this is a must-have game for anyone who's missed out on HL2 to date. And I mean that as in, if you only recently bought a 360, then this should be your first choice game, not Halo 3. And as for the PS3 version, I don't feel any hesitation in saying this will surely be the best release on PS3 to date.
If you're like me and you HAVE already been thrilled at the delights of HL2, then it's time to say whether the other games in this no-fuss compilation are worth your time or not. First off, compilation is not an ideal word to use, as it implies shoddy games stuck into a pack to shift a few extra copies to parents in supermarkets. This is not the case with Orange Box. Each of its five games is outstanding.
The two episodic updates to HL2 - Episode One (released a while back) and Episode Two (released for the first time as part of Orange Box) are the first additions, so let me talk about them first. I was interested to read in a recent interview (not ours) with Valve boss Gabe Newell that a large proportion of people stopped playing Episode One half way through. I was one of them, although it's not because I got stuck, or that I wasn't enjoying it. If I remember, I was just having a few issues with my PC and I was just too busy to sort it out and finish it. So I have been looking forward to Orange Box for some time to get a nice stable console version of Episode One to enjoy properly from scratch, and then I could go straight through Episode Two afterwards - all the while feeling less guilty about how much fun I'm having because I could pretend it's all for work.
They're both really good, and also Episode One is improved from its original release here and there. Following the intriguing end of HL2, Episode One is all about getting your act together and escaping from soon-to-be destroyed City 17, the place in Half-Life 2 that was the epicentre of this mysteriously invaded, dystopian hell somewhere on Earth. Episode Two is a return to more open spaces outside of the city, but both episodes have an unnerving sense of unease as the story progresses.
Near the start of Episode Two is a frankly terrifying encounter in the tunnels with a giant antlion derivative chasing you around as you scramble from safe point to safe point. It is claustrophobic and really fucking scary; you constantly hear stomping towards you before you see it. Your goal is not to kill it, but to bait it out of its home so that you can steal something from it, in order to help your trusty and entirely likeable - perhaps even hot - fictional female sidekick Alyx, who's had a bit of an accident at the hands of a Hunter, one of the game's new enemy creatures.
This is a plot deviation in the story but one that warrants your attention, because Alyx is your friend and her company throughout Half-Life 2 gives the series a real sense of direction and purpose. Functionally, Alyx also explains out a lot of the story and your goal at any given time. She is one of the reasons that you always feel like you know what you're supposed to be doing in the tightly structured Half-Life 2 games.