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alf-Life 2 originally came out almost three years ago. With cutting edge graphics, a stunningly realistic physics system, and amazing game design, it’s no wonder why it was such a masterpiece on PC. The game was so ahead of its time that it doesn’t seem like a three-year-old title, and now that console hardware has caught up, we are able to get the full, undiluted experience onto our TVs. So if you haven’t played the original Half-Life 2 and Episode One before, then you need to read my headline again. For those who have played both, don’t worry – there is still $60 worth of new content in this package, so you too should go ahead and re-read that headline, because you shouldn’t have to read this whole review to understand why The Orange Box is probably the best videogame deal ever.

Episode Two – Almost a Sequel
Failings first, Episode Two is mostly a retread of all the ideas in Half-Life 2. There’s sort of one new weapon, only a few new enemies, and more of the same FPS action and puzzle solving we’ve come to expect. Then again, when the standard gameplay is this awesome, it’s hard to complain that you’re getting more of it. Valve’s storytelling is top-notch. Characters seem to express real emotion, and you really feel like you are a part of a world that’s bigger than what you can see. Plus there are so many great moments in the game – like the last half-hour – that you’ll probably want to make sure a friend is playing EP2 in parallel so you can talk about them afterwards.

Portal – The Cake is a Lie
I went into Portal not knowing what to expect, but it turned out to be my favorite part of The Orange Box. The concept is simple. You have a gun that creates portals; place two on opposite sides of a room, and use them to bypass deadly obstacles. In practice, Portal turns out to be a mind-bending, wholly rewarding puzzle game. You play as a test subject trying to complete a series of experiments; the story isn’t really all that important, but the journey is made hilarious by the constant sound bites of a snarky malevolent computer who watches your every move. I recommend that you play through Portal first, not only because it’s the best part of Orange Box, but also because it’s referenced a little in Episode Two.

Team Fortress 2 – Fan Functional
I’m sure there will be plenty of Team Fortress fan boys who hate me for saying this, but TF 2 is sort of the weak link in this golden chain. There is no deathmatch, instead each of the six maps feature some kind of territory or CTF game. The game type is locked to the map, and TF 2 feels a little limited in this way. But what doesn’t work for maps works great for the player classes. All nine characters feel different and balanced against each other, so if you don’t feel skilled at aiming with the Sniper or Soldier you can try healing people with the Medic or building turrets with the Mechanic. Or, if you want a more involved experience, try infiltrating the enemy base as a Spy. In short, TF 2 can be a lot of fun, but I’m glad it’s not packaged by itself.


Think of Orange Box as a delicious Thanksgiving dinner. Half-Life 2 is the big juicy turkey and Episode One is the stuffing. Some people will be discovering this masterful combo for the first time while others probably haven’t feasted on this staple since last year (or three). Half-Life 2 finally gets the console port it deserves with graphics and loads identical to the PC version, slick controls, and a host of sweet achievements. Episode Two is like mom trying a tasty new mashed potato recipe. It’s a mix of over-the-top set pieces strung together by bursts of horror and stirring drama. And the final battle is probably the most intense yet in the Half-Life universe. Team Fortress 2 is the cranberry sauce – many will love exploring the class variety while others will get hung up on the limited number of maps and game types. Portal is apple pie that everyone should try with its groundbreaking gameplay, a hilariously sinister robot guide, and surprising depth.
Cram five amazing games into one fair-priced package
Crisp and detailed; Half-Life 2 is several years old and still looks better than some of today’s games
You’ll be cracking up during Portal’s end credit song, and then it’ll be stuck in your head for days
The FPS controls couldn’t be much better, and they work great for both action and puzzles
The Half-Life world will suck you in and absorb many of your waking daily moments
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