Half-Life 2: The Orange Box Preview
If you hadn't heard, Half-Life 2 was a damn good game for the PC, and fans have been eagerly anticipating The Orange Box for the PS3. It includes both Episodes One and Two, Team Fortress, and the all-new Portal, which should make for an awesome package loaded with plenty of options and overall play time. Granted, there are plenty of potentially great FPSs coming in 2007 - Halo 3, Unreal Tournament 3, Haze, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, etc. - but hey, we're talking about the bespectacled bad-ass and his becoming sidekick, Alyx Vance. You don't get that in any other game, and you certainly don't get a guaranteed top-notch title; this was a Game of the Year contender, don't forget. And if you throw in all that extra goodness with the additional game modes, how can you possibly pass up the chance to own The Orange Box come November?
Above all else, Half-Life has been known for fantastic physics and AI, but we should also remember some sparkling storytelling and truly clever puzzle implementation. We can expect all of that in this package, especially when it comes to Episode Two. It seems this pseudo-sequel will be very story-driven, but it will also embody everything we've come to know and love from this legendary franchise. Both Gordon and Alyx have returned - not long after that train disaster from Episode One - and they are primed and ready to continue their battle against the evil Combine. If you're not familiar, Gordon and Alyx have been getting along quite well together (so well, you might want to expect a wee bit of romance), and that will factor into the plot. Furthermore, both Eli and Dog have returned as crucial comrades, and those are two more names Half-Life fans will immediately recognize. So don't think for a second you'll be in a completely foreign land in The Orange Box, even though it's still a brand new adventure.
For the most part, though, the focus remains squarely on the gameplay. Scripted events are definitely the norm, and you'll be having a blast controlling Gordon throughout the vast majority of your adventure. Furthermore, it appears one significant change will alter how we approach certain sections...not every nasty-lookin' thing is an enemy, per se. In truth, it depends on what you're carrying and how often you wish to throw down with the man-hungry Antlions. See, they will emerge from underground tunnels often, and of course, this poses a problem: but perhaps surprisingly, you can either utilize the traditional lethal force, or come prepared to make friends. If Gordon has some "bug bait," those Antlions will suddenly become very docile and even receptive to commands. As you proceed, all kinds of enemies will attempt to end your quest, and you could get overwhelmed relatively quickly. Hence, that "bug bait" might be a crucial addition to your inventory.
Another of the game's strengths is balance. There's a whole lot of beautifully crafted and even unique gameplay segments in Half-Life 2, and you never feel as if Valve is abusing any one of those nicely conceived ideas. They introduce a new section that makes the player say to themselves, "wow, this is sweet!" and perhaps just minutes before the player says, "...okay, I'm tired of this now," the developers effectively switch gears to something else. This is the kind of thing that doesn't happen nearly as much in games these days (especially FPSs), so the creators deserve a lot of credit for this. The atmosphere and environments will also change significantly, meaning you'll never once grow bored of a particular area; if you're feeling a bit claustrophobic in the Antlion tunnels, for example, don't you worry. The great outdoors is awaiting you just around the corner, and when you start to grow weary of all that blue sky - damnit, this isn't Far Cry! - you'll find yourself in a dark, gloomy, and strangely hi-tech backdrop. In short, the pacing and diversity, which includes both the gameplay, locations, and storytelling, should be spectacular.
But again, this doesn't mean you won't recognize a good many things that made the original title so damn appealing. You'll be facing down all kinds of nasties, including those irritating headcrabs, the fun-to-explode zombies, and the oft-frustrating Striders. You remember all your old friends, don't you? Well, you can introduce one new member to the group, and he's simply called the Hunter. It's like a miniature Strider that isn't overly aggressive...until you make the mistake of getting too close. If you invade their space, Hunters will rush you and start tossing sticky bombs that explode almost instantaneously. And if those things don't get your goat, the puzzles just might. With a healthy sprinkling of ingenious puzzles acting as appreciated breaks in the action, the constantly engaging story, and the supreme physics engine that highlights the gameplay, Half-Life 2: The Orange Box is looking very, very enticing.
Once you're done with Episodes One and Two, you can start to toy around with Team Fortress and Portal. Team Fortress is a knock-off of the Counterstrike expansion pack, but this one has undergone a massive style alteration- it's all kinds of cartoon-y, and if you check out any of our videos, you'll immediately start laughing. Who came up with this, anyway? It's even nuttier than Serious Sam! Portal is a revolutionary type of single-player action title that forces the player to alter their thinking in how they approach their environment; you can actually manipulate it. Between the two, you're looking at more reasons to own the game when it arrives. Come on, we're talking about four games in one, and none of them are funky little add-ons that won't hold your attention for longer than a few minutes. Nope, all four are fully realized and fleshed-out experiences, so you will absolutely get your money's worth. And that's a major factor for consumers, if we're not mistaken.
Like with many high-profile games this year (unfortunately), PS3 owners have to wait longer for this one. The Orange Box will hit in a couple weeks for the Xbox 360 and PC, but won't arrive until November 13 for the PS3. It doesn't seem like the latter version will feature anything new to make the wait worthwhile, but at the very least, it's coming in time for the holidays. And it'll make for a great addition to any PS3 owner's library, that's for damn sure.
9/24/2007 Ben Dutka