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28 Reviews

The Orange Box

Delayed, and blighted by slowdown, but Half-Life's appeal doesn't decay

Before you ask - yes, this is a review of the PS3 version. Ignore rivals who've based their impressions on Xbox code. And yes, it slows down, but no, it isn't enough to ruin the game(s) - far from it - although it can affect your aiming and has, albeit slightly, affected our final score. OK?

The Orange Box, for the unitiated, is a compilation of five pretty damn fine FPS's - the stellar Half-Life 2, plus extra adventures Episode One and Episode Two, which continue the story. Then there's online shooter Team Fortress 2 and mind-mangling first-person puzzler, Portal. Phew.

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Let's recap the plot, just briefly. Lead character Gordon Freeman's journey, crammed into just one part of The Orange Box, is epic in every sense. You don't have to have played Half-Life to enjoy it so we'll forego too much history. Just know that in that first game, released in 1998, something went bang in the Black Mesa Research Facility, opening a portal between an alien world and ours. One of few survivors, Freeman was the one tasked with escaping the wreckage and putting everything right. Just as well he's a mix of brainiac and maniac, equally skilled with hands, brain, weapons and crowbar.

Half-Life 2 opens with Freeman transported by the mysterious G-Man (he wears a tie, carries a briefcase and speaks in riddles - that's all we know) to an Earth of the not-too-distant future. Humanity has been enslaved by an alien race called the Combine, shepherded into giant fortified cities for brainwashing, torture and who-knows-what else. City 17 is the police state capital of this new world, its Combine architecture literally eating our own, and spreading out rapidly from the all-controlling Citadel. And somehow, Black Mesa's former administrator, Dr Wallace Breen, has come to rule the planet.

To tell you the rest would take another dozen pages, so know this: you're in for one helluva ride. PC owners had to wait years for all the twists and turns, enduring cliff-hanger endings and delays between episodes. Here, you get Half-Life 2, which flows into Episodes One and Two - or you can skip directly to each episode.

Freeman on a mission
As Freeman flees the Combine-controlled City 17, survives the wilderness and becomes a hero of the human resistance, Half-Life 2 visits pretty much every corner of the FPS world. It has an environment as bleak as Killzone's Vekta, but altogether more atmospheric and complete. Its characters are superbly realised, more like those of movies than games. And once you get your hands on the now-famous Gravity Gun, its physics-puzzles add a whole new dimension to the game.

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And that's about half of The Orange Box. And so we come to Team Fortress 2 [2], a class-based deathmatch game with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. If Pixar made Platoon, this is probably what it'd look like.

Beautifully cel-shaded and comically animated, it's a chaotic riot that's easy to pick up. It's not a weapons-based tactics game like Resistance, or a multi-modal warzone like Warhawk - there are no vehicles to control and the choice of weapons is really quite small.

This is more about taking characters with specific skills (and comedy accents), throwing them into the pot and stirring things up. We've explained the classes just above, and they say a lot about the different ways in which you can blow people up, beat people down and piss people off.

The match types, meanwhile, are easy to get the hang of. You've got Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, Capture The Flag (or, in this case, the briefcase) and territorial conquest, where one team has to defend its command points while the other attacks.

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