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Game Review: The Orange Box

Sunday, January 13, 2008
A bit of background: I finally got around to installing Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) on my laptop (a MacBook Pro.) I accomplished this by erasing my hard drive (yikes!), loading Leopard, then setting up Boot Camp for a Windows XP partition, installing Windows, then setting up Parallels to also access that partition so I could get at it from within Mac OS X. It's a beautiful thing to behold, though, now that it's all done.

Part of the reason I installed Windows XP was so that I could buy and play The Orange Box, which has in it Team Fortress 2 (I loved Team Fortress classic many years ago), Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episode One, Half-Life 2: Episode Two, and Portal. I played through the original Half-Life a couple months ago, anticipating this, and enjoyed it thoroughly (though it's a lot longer than I remember), so I was eager to start in on Half-Life 2 and its successors.

WARNING: I may spoil the game(s) for you if you keep reading.

First up was Half-Life 2. While I'd played it way back when it came out, I was determined to play through it again. I remembered the grim pleasure I took in clearing out Ravenholm, the excitement at taking down a strider, and, frankly, how hot Alyx Vance is. (If she were real...) I remember the AI seeming to work (which it still does), the graphics being incredible (they still are), and the game being fun (which it still is.)

Breezing through Half-Life 2 (and loving almost every minute of it) I eagerly started Half-Life 2: Episode One. I'm going to start out by saying that I absolutely hated it and will probably never play it again. While there are some upsides to the game (basically it's you and Alyx hitting the Citadel, then escaping from City 17), the downside of the game is that it's boring, tedious, and irritating. Maybe others disagree (and, on the internets, there's bound to be someone) but I don't want to play a game that irritates me. Here's an abbreviated list of my grievances:
  1. The Citadel has a nice black-on-black paint job, which makes finding the little hidden pathways that you're supposed to take extra-challenging.

  2. For the first third of the game, all you have is the extra-powerful gravity gun... which makes annoying buzzing noises and, when you grab something, you can't see what you're trying to shoot at. Thanks, guys, for that bit of fun.

  3. It's amazing that Gordon Freeman can single-handedly bring down the Combine when he can't even walk down the street without falling into a hole from which he must escape. ("Oh, Gordon... You've fallen down a hole! I'll just wait here while you figure out how to get out!") It really interrupted the gameplay, I'm going to say that.

  4. It feels like the Half-Life 2 series is becoming more and more about zombies and having them try to kill you than about the story, or about humanity's struggle with the Combine. I mean, seriously, how many humans can be left? Bodies are strewn everywhere throughout the game in a grisly environment!

  5. The game is dark. There's a level that should be fun - you're in the dark, standing in water, and zombies keep showing up and you have to kill them. But it's constantly dark, your flashlight keeps running out of power, and then you have to wait for it to charge so you can figure out which little pathway you're supposed to take out since you can never just run down the street to exit.

So that list isn't complete, but suffice to say that I didn't like the game at all. Not one little bit.

I'd heard a lot of good things about Half-Life 2: Episode Two, and, honestly, it's the only reason I trudged through Episode One. Had I not purchased it all in one bundle, I'd have probably quit the series right there. But Episode Two was different. It takes place outside (hey, parts of the world are still green!), you get to mix up your traveling companions a bit (Alyx takes a break from reminding you that you need to turn on the lights for her, or clear out the street ahead for her, or get power to an elevator for her) and run around with a Vortigaunt. Moving around is less tedious because you get a car for part of the game. While there are roadblocks and interruptions to contend with, it still feels good to cover some ground towards a goal - a goal that you actually reach at the end of the game. All in all, I enjoyed Episode Two - not as much as the original Half-Life 2, but it was still good. (One day I'd like the Combine to introduce a few new, less-powerful enemies. I'm tired of facing enemies that are increasingly difficult to kill. Valve, are you listening?)

With that out of the way, I turn my attention to the shining gem of The Orange Box: Portal. Many have sung its praises, so I shall only say that I haven't enjoyed a game so much in a very long time. The pacing of the game was perfect - I could take as long as I wanted to do almost every task in the game, and I could have fun. The idea is novel - just get through an obstacle course using a tool (I hesitate to use the word gun in this instance) that can create portals on walls, allowing you to enter one and immediately leave through the other. The writing is spectacular - between the narration of GLaDOS, the death of your friend - the Weighted Companion Cube, and the incessant chatter of the gun turrets, the game is funny in a delightfully dark and morbid way. I can't recommend it highly enough!

So I haven't played enough of TF2 to write about it yet, but I am going to mention that I found and single-player mod called Minerva: Metastasis for Half-Life 2 and it's also incredible. It takes place in the Half-Life 2 world - you're somebody who has a stolen HEV suit and you're infiltrating a Combine island fortress (does it count as infiltration if you shoot down everyone and everything in your path?) at the behest of a voiceless narrator who simply sends you text-only orders. The level design is fantastic, the gameplay keeps moving, and it really stands out as a lot of - wait for it - fun. Check it out! (Half-Life 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode One required.)

That's all I have to write, but I hope you all leave this and go out and get a copy of The Orange Box if you don't already have one. Trust me, it's worth it.

Half-Life 2 Logo


Blogger Fire Ball said...

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9:24 AM, January 06, 2016  

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