Friday, November 2, 2007

Review: Five words - the cake is a lie ...

Valve's Doug Lombardi is a pretty cool dude. After swapping a few e-mails, he told me "The Orange Box" was coming to a newsroom near me. Unfortunately, he didn't tell me the cake was a lie.

Valve's smash hit franchise, "Half-Life," is one of the most played and popular FPS's on the gaming market. When EA and Valve published "The Orange Box," which contains 5 - yes - 5 video games on one disk for the 360 and PC, I was a bit concerned. Other PC to 360 ports haven't fared as well ("F.E.A.R.", "Command and Conquer" and "Battlefield 2"). However, Valve's struck gold on the Xbox 360.

First weeks sales, according to, put the 360 version at over 260,000 copies in the U.S. Overseas? Arguably even higher. Add to the fact that you can download the PC version off Steam even cheaper than the 360 version and Valve/EA have another hit on their hands.

Enough about Valve and EA - let's talk about the game itself.

There are 5 games included in "The Orange Box." The first two games, "Half-Life 2" and "Half-Life 2: Episode One" are ports from the PC version. "The Orange Box" also features three new games as well. The first, "Half-Life 2: Episode 2," picks up where "Half-Life 2: Episode One" left our heroes, Gordon Freeman and Alyx Vance, on a train out of City 17. The next game, "Team Fortress 2," marks the legendary return of the role-based multiplayer Quake mod. It's online only, but the mayhem is worth the price of admission. The last, by far my favorite, is "Portal." Basically, you are sent into an obstacle course and use a portal gun to create doors on the course. You blast one portal - and blast another and bingo! You can walk from one area to another. Yes, it will take some major explaining to do.

All of those games - in one package. Clocking it at $59.99, "The Orange Box" has major depth may titles the same price don't. Though one major gripe I have is - the box isn't orange! Comeon ... you say 'Orange Box,' I am looking for an orange box!

All of the games are FPS, and graphically, all of them are gems, except "Team Fortress 2." It's a
cool game - the action is way intense, but graphically, you have to go with the others if you are hungry for eye candy.

Speaking of "Team Fortress 2," gamers have their choice of nine roles - medic, sniper, soldier, heavy weapons, spy, scout, engineer, pyro and demoman - and work as a team to accomplish goals. You can play with as few as four players, and as many as 16. Probably the coolest character is the spy - and for good reason. He can transform into your teammates - or even you. I know this because during a session, I saw this guy named madskillzceo and he was looking at me. I found it rather odd because I am madskillzceo. By the time I realized he was a fake, I was dead and waiting to respawn. Awesome feature.

The goal of "Team Fortress 2" is to capture the enemy's flag and hold your team's flag as well.

In the "Half-Life 2" episodes, you can actually start out playing any episode first, but playing all of them in a row (about 5-6 hours each) makes the most sense. "Half-Life 2" starts out with our favorite hero, Gordon Freeman, running from Combine soldiers. He gets cornered by the soldiers, but gets saved by Alyx Vance, a cute freedom fighter. She leads him to a doctor, who ends up teleporting Alyvx to the Black Mesa facility. When it's your turn, you end up getting teleported outside of the building and into chaos. After battling more Combine soldiers and more aliens than an E.T. reunion, you end up in the Citadel - this huge building where the Combine operates - power it down and stop a baddie from escaping. However, the Citadel's reactor still explodes - and Freeman, you, are stopped in time.

In "Episode 1," Alyx and her robot Dog rescue you and help you infiltrate the Citadel. Too bad you didn't destory it, huh? Anyhow ... you re-enter the Citadel to shut down the reactor and slow its meltdown. You and Alyx do shut the reactor down and escape with some valuable info. However, there's an accident - of course - and you end up have to escape on foot. You meet some resistance fighters and reprogram a train. Sweet ... time to go ... but as you leave, the Citadel explodes and darkness.

In "Episode 2," you come to still in the train, but outside of City 17. You and Alyx head to the Black Mesa facility but Alyx gets severly wounded. She survives - she's one tough lady - and you both make it to the your final destination. Alyx's dad uses the information she got in "Episode 2" to reprogram a rocket to close the alien portal. As they leave Black Mesa, Combine advisers ambush Eli Vance, Alyx's dead and probe his brain. It's not known if they got any information, but it definitely leaves a wide-open possibility of another sequel.

The graphics and environments are awesome and dynamic. If you come on a dead end, usually you can figure out what can be moved or pushed to advance. The sound is nice - and gameplay is killer. You have an assortment of weapons - submachine guns, pistols, shotguns, the gravity gun - and in the episodes, you can even use vehicles.

I have never played the "Half-Life" series before I played "The Orange Box." I need to do a lot more research.

The last game, "Portal," is the 360 version of the Nintendo "Big Brain Academy" video game series. You have to use your head to find ways to get from one area to another with a series of portals. It's definitely addictive - you find yourself starting a level and looking for where your next portal is. It's not so much action as it is just using your noodle.

The weapon - if you call it that - is your trusty portal gun. And if you could combine that with the "Half-Life 2" weapons, talk about sweetness! I would love to send a Combine guy into a speeding train. Snatching them with my gravity gun in "Half-Life 2" is one thing - sending them screaming through a portal is another.

All in all, "The Orange Box" delivers a maximum amount of replay value, a ton of achievements and multiplayer action that truly rocks. And yes, when you finish "Portal," make sure you save some cake for me.

Why should I care? "The Orange Box" is one of the few video games on the market that offers depth - and 5 great, quality titles - for one price.

The good: "Half-Life 2" - "Half-Life 2: Episode One" - "Half-Life 2: Episode Two" - insane gameplay - very, very thought provoking - good AI - multiplayer mayhem with "Team Fortress 2," "Portal" and using "Portal" to put your high-school geometry and trigonometry to good use (yeah, finally)

The bad: Why, oh why isn't this game in an orange box?! "Team Fortress 2" should have had an offline option

The ugly:
Trying at least 15 times to clear the elevator level on "Episode One."

Overall: 9.5 (out of 10) - the fact that "Half-Life 2" is an insanely addictive is one thing. Being able to have more of the same, plus the really, really addictive "Portal" and multiplayer "Team Fortress 2" - all on one disk - makes this one unbeatable value. Kudos to Valve for combining the games - when other companies would sell ONE of these games for $59.99.

Mr. Lombardi, I'm still waiting for my cake - vanilla, por favor!

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