The Orange Box

The Orange BoxI’ve extolled upon the virtues of Team Fortress 2 already here on this site in a previous post, but now finally Valve’s ‘The Orange Box’ is available for play.

If you’ve already preordered this, you’ve played most of what TOB has to offer. Half-life 2 and Episode 1 have been out for months already, and the Team Fortress 2 beta has been nothing short of mind blowing. Now we finally have our hands on Portal and Episode 2.

Episode 2 is quite a bit longer than Episode 1, and provides a ton of setpiece combat sequences. I won’t spoil any of the details obviously, but there’s a ton to love here if you’re a fan of HL2, and the storyline continues in riveting fashion.

Portal is nothing short of a breath of fresh air. More of a puzzle game than anything, you’re tasked with traversing various environments using a portal generating gun, letting you warp around via the blue and orange portals you can throw around at almost any surface. It’s pretty mind bending, and is a totally hilarious experience thanks to some brilliant narration. The game also has one of the best end credits ever.

All in all, Orange Box is a ridiculous value for the money. Highly recommended.

Half-life 2: Episode 1

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Half-life 2 was a strange beast for me. I loved the first game, but the second was just… strange. The entire movement through the game seemed pointless, even thought the overall design was top notch. Just when things get awesome, story wise, it ends with a cliffhanger. Thus I wasn’t looking forward to Episode 1 with much interest.

Then the Orange Box set came and I preordered it for Team Fortress 2. It came with Episode 1 so I gave it a whirl. Wow. In a word, this is what the Half-life 2 should have been like from the start. It has a lot of really awesome gameplay concepts the first game didn’t, and there’s more exposition in the first 10 minutes of play than the HL2 had.

The story of Half-life 2 is pretty cool, it’s just a pity the first game focused more on getting you from point A to point B, rather than explaining what the hell was going on. Episode 1 doesn’t fill in all the blanks of course, but the narrative is a lot less derivative and is much more expertly delivered.

Graphically, Episode 1 includes an incredible implementation of HDR lighting, used to awesome effect throughout the game. Lighting itself plays a huge part here since you’re now paired with Alix, who’s your primary “weapon” to start off. She can only shoot what she sees, so if the lights go off you’d better be pointing your flashlight in the right direction.

The additional commentary icons you can turn on provide some impressive insight into the design process, and I can only imagine the rest of the game’s fans agree since Valve will no doubt provide this feature going forward. It’s not something you turn on during your first outing through the game since it entirely breaks the immersion, but it’s a really great thing to try with your second run through.

The whole package impressed me enough that the Orange Box preorder for me is entirely justified, especially with the inclusion of Team Fortress 2 and Half-life 2 Episode 2. If you’re on the fence about this set because you may have already picked up Half-life 2 already, don’t fret. Episodic content normally turns my stomach, but if Valve can continue to put them out with this level of quality I’ll continue to support them.

I realize of course this isn’t an intensive review, but I’d rather not spoil the experience of this and/or any ending details of Half-life 2 for folks who may not have played it yet.

Valve Did Something Cool

This has been a heck of a week for Valve. They finally put the Steam Community out to the masses, finally out of beta. It’s essentially Xbox Live for the PC, except it’s free, doesn’t suck, and isn’t full of foul-mouthed 12-year olds.

The neat part about this is the ability to create a profile for yourself, describing your person to the world a bit, listing some of your favorite stuff, and tracking various gameplay stats. Here’s mine. It also lets you better track what your buddies are doing, and form or join groups with them. For example, the group I started this week for Mercenary Coalition, the EVE alliance I play with.

All of this comes with the eminent release of The Orange Box, Valve’s new Half-life 2 bundling which includes Team Fortress 2. The kicker is this week, if you’ve preordered that, they’ve treated you to a beta of TF2. TF2 is so ridiculously fun practically everyone I know goes home after work and plays it. It’s stylized like a Pixar cartoon, though one that doesn’t suck. Though the best way to describe how it looks is to see it, so here’s a clip. And I dare say the finished product (this clip is from GC2006) looks even more impressive.

Again, insanely fun, and there’s so many little goofy details in how the characters move and react. Definitely worth the wait. Valve’s also added some insane stats tracking for TF2 that adds achievements, similar to Xbox Live. Though here it doesn’t seem like some contrived way to make you play the game more, just some nifty stuff it keeps track of so you can compare with your friends.

To be honest, this has been the most impressive effort for Valve, in my opinion, to date. The whole package is there, and it’s a ton of fun at just the right price.