Valve may have missed the point of episodic gaming, but this is one of the best value gaming packs ever releasedThe Orange Box includes Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episode One, Half-Life 2: Episode Two, Portal and Team Fortress 2 in the one package, but it’s easier to simply say that this is one of the best value gaming packs ever released. That’s a very big call and we only have one page to justify it, so we’ll start with the worst component and work our way up from there.
Following the release of Half-Life 2, Valve experimented with an episodic format. Half-Life 2: Episode One was the first out the door, and while PC Authority criticised it heavily for its lack of story and rehashed gameplay, the rest of the world, starved as they were for more of the magic of Half-Life 2, praised it for the same reasons. Sadly, Valve has fallen into the same trap with Half-Life 2: Episode Two. It’s more story focused, but it’s still very much the same game, with similar puzzles and set pieces that made the original game so special. That’s not to say that these elements are bad, but to wait over a year for a three-hour game – that doesn’t bring anything new to the series – isn’t a reason to buy The Orange Box.
Valve doesn’t seem to have much faith in it either, which is why it’s somewhat of a side dish to the real heavyweights: Portal and Team Fortress 2. Fans of the original Team Fortress have waited nearly a decade for TF2, which was originally conceived as a realistic, feature-packed team shooter like the Battlefield series. It came as shock, however, when the actual game turned out to be the opposite: small maps, fast gameplay, comic book visuals and cartoon humour. It’s quick and chaotic, all character classes are balanced and fun, and it includes all the features you’d expect from an online shooter, like built-in voice communications.
Unlike TF2 and Half-Life 2: Episode Two, Portal is an entirely new game. The gameplay is based around a simple mechanic: shoot one portal at an ordinary surface, like a wall or ceiling, then shoot another one at a location you want to go and then just step between them. It’s foremost a puzzle game, but many obstacles also require a high degree of dexterity to overcome. It’s single-player only, features an excellent, darkly funny plot linking each scenario, and when you’re done with the main game, you can play through more bonus maps and new challenges.
Portal and TF2 are worth the price alone, and the entire Half-Life 2 back catalogue is incredibly good value for newcomers – and if you have the originals, you can just buy and download each component separately via Steam. But whichever way you look at it, there’s no doubt that Valve has outdone itself, making The Orange Box all you need this Christmas.