Ok so I got this game a month ago and have managed to play through all 5 of the sections of this game - for those that arent aware the Orange Box also contains the 2 expansion packs for Half Life 2 which effectively double the length of the game. Ok so lets begin with the big one: Half Life 2. Having heard a lot of the hype I was very sceptical about this game, but after playing through the campaign I have come away very impressed. The game mechanics really single out HL2 from the rest of the FPS market (first person shooters) - Firstly, everything you run into can be picked up, thrown, smashed, destroyed, launched, set on fire - whatever you want. Some of the weapons are very imaginative (a gravity gun which can blast huge objects into the distance or into an enemy soldier) as well as the mandatory machine-guns, shotguns, pistols, rocket launchers and snipers. The pace of the game may be a little slow for some, the areas of intense action and shooting are broken up by simple puzzles. Usually this involved picking up some objects and using them to interact with the environment (eg making some stairs out of several crates). It sounds stupidly simple but actually works very well. The game also contains several vehichle sections which are well done and intergrated into the story although do tend to drag on for a bit longer than I would have liked. However one area in which HL2 especially succeeds is in giving the impression of an outside world continuing around you. You will drive past cities, briefly meet hideouts of rebels, see planes whizzing around the sky. Soldiers you meet will live or die depending on your actions. I especially like the later stages when huge "war of the worlds" like combine vehicles roam around. smashing through buildings whilst they chase you. What is most impressive about this game is the way it moves from one genre to the next. One level is a survival horror, zombie infested town with limited ammunition that really upps the tension. The next a squad based shooter where you order around a small group of rebel soldiers. The next may be a puzzle section, a platformer or a driving section. The entire game has been constructed so that you are always faced with a fresh challenge, never stuck with one task for too long. The load times are quick and checkpoints are frequant so should you find yourself killed you dont have to wait long before you can try again. My only criticisms would be - the soldiers you fight are of the genetic stormtrooper variety. They are all completely lifeless uniforms walking around with guns. I got bored of shooting them fairly quickly. The zombies and aliens were much more fun.
The initial HL2 will take about 12 hours and the expansions about 5 hours each so you are getting your moneys worth with that package alone. However if you arent in the mood for shooting people (yeah, because thats going to happen) then the world of Portal lies before you. When I bought the Orange Box I had no idea that the "bonus" game would be so refreshingly addictive - the puzzles are amazingly clever, mind bendigly fascinating. You can spend ages simply setting up weird loops, an endless tunnel, or chase yourself round in circles untill you throw up. The setup is simple - you are a test subject in a lab experimenting with a "portal gun" - left trigger shoots an orange portal, right trigger shoots a blue protal. Jump through one portal and you pop out the other. Its a simple concept - however once I started discovering the hidden messages of previous test subjects I was so intruiged to find out more I completed the entire game in one sitting, retiring to bed happy and satisfied at 5 in the morning. WARNING - ADDICTIVE. Since playing, this has become one of my favorite games. I know it doesnt sound like much but you simply have to give it a try.
Granted not everyone likes spending half an hour figuring out how to manipulate their own body weight in order to propel themselves over a large pit of acid. However this is not a problem. If you want to shoot REAL people (and having spent many hours on xbox live I use the term loosely) then Team Fortress is for you. An awesome multiplayer shooter, pick one of 9 classes and then participate in a attack/defend online melee with up to 15 others. There are 9 classes to chose from, each with individual skills that are all usefull in different situations meaning there is no core class that is required to win. The gameplay is amazing fun and often very amusing - both the art style and characters. Some of the characters are simply inspired - The engineer can construct sentry turrets and teleporters, the spy can briefly turn invisible or disguise himself as an enemy player, the medic can overheal and eventually turn players briefly invincible with his charged healing gun, the scout is speedy and can double jump, and then there are the more run and gun shooter classes like the rocket launcher weilding soldier, sniper, or heavy gunner - Meaning every class is important to success. The levels are beautifuly constructed and it is obvious that a lot of care and attention to detail went into the design of their layouts for maximum enjoyment. However whilst this is great fun to play and wonderful to watch there are several flaws. Firstly the lack of a splitscreen - you cannot sign in a guest and play 2 player online which I found very dissapointing. Secondly the room search engine is a complete pain, and it can be very hard to find the sort of game that you want. It takes longer than it should, but on the plus side rooms tend to fill up fairly quickly. Just make sure you dont miss the "magic window" before the next game comes out. Whilst there is capture the flag and territory style games (2 teams take turns attacking/defending strategic points on the map) there is no deathmatch or team deathmatch. This is however because of the classes that are available - a medic is vital when attacking a control point but by himself will find himself bested by most other classes, and this would make a deathmatch repetitive and uneven. Lastly the max amount of players is fairly small - 8 men on a team - im sure many would have appreciated a 24 player cap. However this smaller cap means the levels and characters can be better detailed so it all depends on what you want from an online shooter. At the end of the day its great fun to play and makes a nice change from Halo 3 or Call of Duty.
Each of these games deserves 5 stars in its own right. There is something here for everyone. The only unavoidable problem is all 3 of the games are single player unless you go online. Still, if you happen to be that "single player" then your'e in luck because this is one of the top games released this year. Cheers for reading my review - ENJOY!