Valve The Orange Box review
Back at the tail end of 1998, a game called Half-Life was released for the PC.
Games that had hitherto stunned and amazed suddenly, overnight, seemed depressingly ordinary as Half-Life ripped up the template for action-adventure games and rewrote it in masterful fashion. Tense, cinematic, immersive and desperately addictive; it was everything any gamer could have asked for, and a whole lot besides.
Fast-forward to Winter 2004, and Half-Life 2 repeated the trick. Showered with plaudits from journalists all around the globe, it left many keen pretenders floundering amateurishly in its wake. Since then Half-Life 2 has been followed by a superb sequel, Episode 1, and now the eagerly awaited Episode 2 has finally been released as well.
Great, you're thinking, that's four brilliant games I don't own - that's just a credit card disaster waiting to happen, isn't it? But if you're wondering how on earth you can hope to afford all these frankly essential games, well, barring the original Half-Life you can get all of them, and more, by buying The Orange Box. Rather like a Half-Life 2 omnibus, The Orange Box contains all the episodes released so far. Half Life 2, Half Life 2: Episode 1 and Half Life 2: Episode 2 are all present and correct, so even those lucky souls who haven't yet had the pleasure of playing through the Half-Life 2 episodes won't feel left out.
If you're not new to the series, you'll probably be wanting to know if Episode 2 lives up to the games it follows, and, not wishing to give anything away which might spoil the plot, yes, it does. Like Episode 1, it's teasingly short, so don't expect to take much longer than six or seven hours to scrap your way through to the next cliff-hanger ending. But, however short, those precious hours are so rich with thrilling plot twists and heart-pumping action that it's difficult not to forgive the brevity.
Especially when you consider that you're paying just £27 for three of the best games ever made. But, wait, that's not all: you also get Team Fortress 2 and Portal. The former is an online-only team-based shoot-'em-up. One part Pixar's The Incredibles and one part Half-Life 2 deathmatch, it pits two teams against each other, online, in a highly tactical and often amusing battle for superiority. Portal dispenses with the random acts of violence and instead creates an atmospheric and strikingly addictive puzzle game. Given the quality on offer elsewhere in The Orange Box, it would have been forgivable if these two weren't actually much cop. But, as it stands, we wouldn't baulk at paying two or three times the asking price.