Gaming Today Round Table Review: The Orange Box

The Orange Box

As those of you who listen to our podcast already know, we’ve spent some serious time with Valve’s The Orange Box lately. In an effort to convey our thoughts on it to you, we’ve gathered the comments of a number of our writers together in this round table review.

If you’ve been living in a cave in what will be Islington in about two million years, The Orange Box is Valve’s latest release. It contains not only the eagerly awaited Half-Life 2 Episode 2 (along with the original Half-Life 2 and HL2: Episode 1), but also the newest iteration of the multiplayer classic Team Fortress. As a bonus, Valve’s packed in the first-person puzzler Portal. What can you expect from The Orange Box? Check out our thoughts after the break.


Half-Life 2: Episode 2

HL2: Episode 2 Screen

Shawn Sines

I’m going to take a look at Half-Life 2 as a single product. While Episode 2 is the only new content; I think it benefits from analysis as a whole not just in part. Those who found Half-Life 2 entertaining and grew to love the characters and setting will find a lot to like in Episode 2. It continues the story of Alex and Gordon with their recent escape from the now obliterated City 17. While it didn’t proceed quite the way I expected it to after playing Episode 1, the open environments and good mix of puzzle and run-n-gun action kept me entertained and the ending definitely left me wanting Episode 3 to hit really, really soon.

Steve Burgin

While many will pass off Episode 2 as “more of the same”, I went into the game with a more analytical frame of mind. Even though Valve’s Source engine has become a bit “long in the tooth”, Valve has furiously stretched its usefulness by implementing rigorous optimizations, higher static object textures, and LOTS more object handling via its already excellent physics engine. With the graphical settings cranked in Episode 2, I was able to maintain a steady 30+ fps with an aging system. Thus, I’ve come to the conclusion that you can’t judge Source by screenshots alone; you truly have to see it in motion. Everything about the game screams polish. With that said, the gameplay itself has not changed. You have the same set of weapons that you progressively collect along the way. Or you can exploit the level’s objects with the gravity gun once again. And trust me, you’ll never run out of ammo or ideas there.

Even though the level design has maintained the “run from point A to point B” linearity with little to no backtracking, the levels themselves are not as partitioned as one would expect. My overall impression of Episode 2: A polished companion to the Half-Life series with emphasis on “feel” and intelligent use of level design that result in an enjoyable gaming experience that can vary from 5 to 15 hours of gameplay, depending on how thorough one wishes to be.

Stephany Nunneley

Although Half-Life 2 is nearly three years old, this was my first foray into the game. The storyline and gameplay mechanics are just as interesting and smooth as any other FPS out there, but many other games exist that I would rather play over again. The only real gripe I have with the game is that it was a bit too easy at times, even when playing the game on the most difficult setting. As a FPS I liked it, although to me it does not have a high replay value. That being said, Episode 2 was an enjoyable experience. It combined everything I liked about Half-Life 2 into another five hours of my life that I will look back on with fondness, but it is not something I would care to visit again in the future.

Chris Pereira

Much like Episode One, Episode Two picks up right where the previous game left you off. Gravity gun in hand, it’s time for another 4-8 hour experience that, on the whole, doesn’t stray from what you saw in Half-Life 2 and Episode One. But everything within Episode Two is so much more refined and perfected that you can’t help but enjoy every minute of it. (Except for that early portion, which really didn’t do it for me.) You never get bored because the game does a wonderful job of mixing things up – you might be solving an environmental puzzle one minute, only to hop back in your car to run over some enemies and then hop out for a huge firefight. The Gravity gun is as fun as ever, and the story continues to be one of the most compelling in gaming.

Ron Whitaker

The easiest way for me to sum up Episode 2 is by saying, “More of the same.” If you liked HL2 and Episode 1, you’re going to be pleased. The game leverages the Source engine well in spite of its age. Episode 2 starts you out with the gravity gun, which is no surprise. While the gravity gun was a cool addition to the original HL2, it’s getting pretty tired at this point. It’s a lot of the same implementation we’re used to seeing, from manipulating the environment to advance, or solve puzzles, or shoot debris at enemies. Episode 2 continues on the theme of repeating scenes from the past throughout. On the whole, Episode 2 is a solid effort, but it lacks the originality that made Half-Life 2 so great.


Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress 2

Chris Pereira

I’ve already gone on record as saying Team Fortress 2 is quite possibly the best multiplayer shooter I’ve ever played. Maybe that statement is a little extreme as it certainly isn’t groundbreaking on the gameplay level, but everything is so fun and incredibly well balanced that it’s certainly a contender for that title in my eyes. For a multiplayer-only shooter (or any game, really), the game’s cast of characters are some of the most vibrant and entertaining you’ll find anywhere. The game looks absolutely incredible and while the game does fall a bit short in the variety department due to the lack of many maps, what is there still offers a seemingly infinite amount of replay.

Steve Burgin

I found TF2 to bring back not only good memories, but something that has sorely been missing in a lot of team-based games: unique classes. Although the concept of heavy weapons, medic, scout, etc. have always been around and used in recent games such as the Battlefield series, the difference between the classes in modern games come down to the different pack your soldier carries. The problem is you’re still a soldier toting a machine gun or such. Thus, your primary role is that of soldier with support as a secondary. In TF2, the classes are far more discrete in their primary roles. There is almost a Rock, Paper, Scissors balance going on. The scout, for example, has the advantage of being at least twice as fast as the next fastest class. Sure he has some offensive capability, but if it wasn’t for that speed he would find himself seriously outgunned. The medic is another good example. The medic’s healing gun is truly where it’s at. Not only can he boost everyone’s health around him past the 100% mark, but he can also call upon his “Übercharge” and make not only himself but a targeted teammate practically invulnerable for a short amount of time.

This type of combo teamwork makes for a very formidable offensive capability. Thus, it’s not surprising to see a typical TF2 game using lots of strategy such as probing, plowing, and preparing. It’s the dynamic gameplay that sets TF2 apart from the competition. The acceptable graphics are entirely appropriate for the fun you are having. Is TF2 the perfect multiplayer experience? Hardly. I will promote its fun, however. There are some things from the original TF left out that I would prefer Valve left in. But looking back on it, it would have made TF2 a more complicated game. TF2 is definitely a game where you will be sharing your “That was frickin’ awesome!” moments with your buddies. I hope to see more TF2 maps and different gameplay modes from Valve in the future.

Shawn Sines

TF2 has character coming out its ears (well, if it had ears anyway). This is a refinement of the classic game with a very good eye toward balance and team roles. I enjoyed the limited maps and wished there had been more, but it served as a good sample of what the developers intended. Many complaints about its lag issues are floating about the net, but except for one or two slight glitches I played map after map with no burps. TF2 is not a shooter for everyone. The change from the old game may even come off as an abrupt one but I know I’ve had no problem introducing the game to friends who have absolutely no interest in multiplayer shooters based on the character the game exudes alone.

Ron Whitaker

TF2 is a game I’ve waited years to play, and thankfully, Valve doesn’t disappoint. This multiplayer shooter brings all the glory of the old classes from the original Team Fortress to life in a whole new way. The classes are varied, but mutually supportive. They are also nearly perfectly balanced. The great thing about TF2 is that Valve has managed to retain all the class individually of the original game, and to subtly enhance the interdependency between the classes. Medics charge other teammates, engineers drop deployables, and heavies, well, they just shoot things. This is not a multiplayer shooter for everyone in the beginning. However, I think if players give it a chance, they’ll find that it’s a game they can really enjoy.


Portal

Portal Screenshot

Steve Burgin

“Brain-Melting. Offbeat. Genius.” If you’ve seen the Orange Box TV spot then you’ve heard the 70-80’s style Hal2000-like voice box describing Portal as such. Portal is a first person shooter element mixed in with puzzle and logic problem solving. Because the emphasis is more on the latter, you will not find enemies to shoot in Portal because there simply are no weapons to speak of. Shortly into the game, the player is presented with the “Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device”, which becomes the primary tool of the game. To put it bluntly, the portal device is what makes the game what it is. There are two firing modes on the portal device: create entry and create exit. With that said, being able to position yourself places that would be otherwise physically impossible to reach certainly brings a whole new aspect to thinking. You’ll literally be thinking outside the box with Portal’s abuse of the 3 dimensions. You’ll also be exploiting the laws of gravity and game physics to your advantage as well. Portal’s simple yet effective game design is so immersive, you’ll forget how bland the graphics around you are and how each level looks and feels very mundane. As each level ramps up the difficulty (as well as dependency on the portal device), the game slips in a wee-bit of a plot as well.

Your role as an anonymous Aperture Science test subject quickly pits you against more hostile environments whilst the so-called “friendly” digital voice offers motivation for your actions by prizing you with “cake”, should you survive the ordeal. Much like Half-Life, the player never speaks, so it leaves the person at the helm to question the agenda of the companion voice behind the scenes. Where am I? Why am I here? Who is behind that voice? You’ll have to play through to the very awesome ending to get those answers. Without spoiling details, let me just say that the mini-plot of Portal and introduction of the Aperture Science division runs a nice parallel story to the already rich Half-Life universe. We could very well see the events and back-story of Portal merging into Half-Life 2 Episode 3. Last but not least, Portal has bonus game modes that are pretty much advanced modes of the stock Portal maps. If the regular game wasn’t enough challenge for you, you’ll get a wake-up call here. There’s even an option to load some custom (user?) maps.

Shawn Sines

Much has been made of Portal as an add on game. It is short but sweet – almost like a moist delicious piece of cake. You want to savor every bite but find yourself quickly devouring the entire thing only to be left in a slight sugar high and wanting more. I loved the logic puzzles and the unique setting. While it may not be the first game to use portals or the first puzzle game of this nature it definitely had a lot of polish and kept me entertained through and through. I just wish I could get another piece of cake.

Chris Pereira

It’s amazing how a single weapon can completely change the way you think about a game. The gravity gun showed us this once before, but that was all based in physics and simply gave you another outlet to accomplish things. The portal gun can really mess with your mind and can lead to an experience that could quite possibly cause your head to explode. Nevertheless, without accounting for future downloadable content, this is one of the best experiences you’ll ever have with a game, bar none. The writing is some of the very best I’ve ever seen in a videogame, and it’s also some of the funniest. There’s really nothing bad about Portal; it’s like being given a delicious cake (no pun intended) and being told it will have no implications on your health or weight. I fail to see a downside.

Stephany Nunneley

Portal is definitely an interesting puzzle game, and although easy it was beyond impossible for me to play without getting a heightened sense of vertigo for a few hours afterwards. I did not care for Portal at all. I like puzzle games in general, but Portal did nothing but bore the pants off of me. If I had a choice in the matter I would have stopped playing it after level 7 but since I was forced to play this for work purposes, I pushed through the rest of the game cursing my ill luck, along with my boss.

Ron Whitaker

Portal, to me, is the highlight of The Orange Box. It’s easily the most original part of the package, and is as close to flawless as it probably could be. The levels contain increasingly difficult puzzles, and you’re driven onward by the constant cajoling of the ‘voice’ from above. Unlike other puzzle games, Portal involves not only conquering puzzles, but working out how to reach your goal by manipulating all three dimensions and the objects in the world around you. Portal only takes an hour or two to play through, and this is both a good and bad thing. It’s good because the gameplay still feels fresh and fun without being tedious when you finish. It’s bad because when it’s over, you still want more. I’m looking forward to seeing if there will be user maps for Portal, and I still want some cake.

Scoring

Our cumulative scores for The Orange Box are as follows:

Half-Life 2: Episode 2: 8.5

Team Fortress 2: 9.5

Portal:9.5 (I should note that Stephany scored Portal as a 3, due to the disorientation she found the game produced)

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17 Comments on Gaming Today Round Table Review: The Orange Box

Chris

On October 18, 2007 at 12:19 pm

Turns out I scored things on the higher-end of the scale; Episode Two got a 9 and both Team Fortress 2 and Portal got 10s from me.

I think the bottomline is that if you haven’t already, you must go buy this game. Now.

Stephany

On October 18, 2007 at 1:48 pm

I guess since I did not play TF2 my comments weren’t important enough. :sad:

Steve

On October 18, 2007 at 1:53 pm

I have to admit, Portal made me nauseated the first day. Then again, that might be stress related as I had just survived a brutal week of exams. It’s one of those games that if it clicks with you, you’re hooked.

I tell you though, the challenges (bonus maps) in Portal are really reaLLY REALLY difficult. I’ve now spent more time playing Portal bonus modes than anything else in Orange Box, even Portal’s main game. Managing 10 steps or less on Lvl 13 has been the path to insanity. Why am I wasting all this time over some lousy bragging rights? I don’t know… somebody stop me. It reminds me of those silly Xbox achievements.

weclock

On October 18, 2007 at 2:26 pm

I’ve played all kinds of portal-esque stuff, including Narbacular drop, so when I finally get my hands on Portal, I will be teh winrarz.

Phil Migrowen

On October 18, 2007 at 5:56 pm

“I think the bottomline is that if you haven’t already, you must go buy this game. Now.”

Way to bend over and expose that you have the hots for Valve, Chrissy! I suppose you just had to return the favor and give Valve that plug, since it already put a big plug in your ass.

weclock

On October 18, 2007 at 6:18 pm

@ Phil,
I didn’t read that, you’re right. Chris is full of crap on there.

Chris

On October 19, 2007 at 11:36 am

Valve must have had a whole lot of plugs, since The Orange Box is getting rave reviews across the Internet. Last I checked on Metacritic, it was the highest rated game on PC and Xbox 360.

Also, if you wish to tack on a suffix of some sort to my name, I prefer Chrispy.

And I’m still confused as to what a plug would be doing up there. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, really.

Jonathan

On October 19, 2007 at 11:46 am

@weclock

Not sure if you realize this, but Narbacular Drop was actually made by the same people who made Portal. I saw an interview recently with Gabe Newell and one of Portal’s designers, where they explained how he saw Narbacular Drop and then visited them while they were still in school at DigiPen. Then he offered them all jobs on the spot for when they graduated. So they all went to work for Valve developing a game that eventually became Portal.

RE4LiTY

On October 19, 2007 at 2:12 pm

I’ve Beaten Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and I have conquered Portal. Both are exceptional games but what they lack is length.

Anyone looking into purchasing any of these games she be aware of that. That’s the only downside to these titles. I guess I can’t be greedy though seeing as how they are bundled games and Valve is releasing Half-Life 2 in 3 episodes. Although they really should just make Half-Life 3 and get it over with if they’re going to spend 2 years on a whole episode.

After playing it, I was left feeling unsatisfied. Not that the game was bad, just not lengthy enough considering the time I’ve waited for it’s release.

Just my thoughts…

Chris

On October 20, 2007 at 2:43 am

@Re4LiTY – I don’t get this argument. You enjoyed both games, clearly, so what does it matter if they aren’t longer? Does stretching games out to X number of hours automatically make it superior to a shorter version?

Phil Migrowen

On October 20, 2007 at 3:53 am

“I don’t get this argument. You enjoyed both games, clearly, so what does it matter if they aren’t longer? Does stretching games out to X number of hours automatically make it superior to a shorter version?”

Chris, you are clearly an idiot in addition to being Valve’s . Saying game length doesn’t matter is like saying that a demo version of a game is as good as the longer, full version of the game. If a game is good, players naturally want more of it. And, players deserve more when they are paying as much for games as they are. Valve’s episodic gamettes are not worth the $20 and $30 prices Valve is charging for them a la carte given how relatively short they are.

Phil Migrowen

On October 20, 2007 at 4:06 am

“Also, if you wish to tack on a suffix of some sort to my name, I prefer Chrispy.”

No, given how you like to put out for Valve, “Chrissy” suits you to a tee.

“Valve must have had a whole lot of plugs, since The Orange Box is getting rave reviews across the Internet. Last I checked on Metacritic, it was the highest rated game on PC and Xbox 360.”

Chrissy, you are missing the point. Journalistically speaking, favorably describing or even praising a game in a review is one thing. Advocating that readers must buy a game as you did above crosses over that line into corporate public relations territory. In short, instead of being an objective reviewer, you are a corporate shill. While most reviews for The Orange Box have indeed been glowing (and excessively so from my perspective), I doubt those reviewers are outright or overtly urging readers to buy the game as you did.

“And I’m still confused as to what a plug would be doing up there. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense”

That plug is your words (“I think the bottomline is that if you haven’t already, you must go buy this game. Now.”) not mine.

Dao

On October 20, 2007 at 4:51 am

Oh come on guys! You two are being so childish…

To Phil – if the dude wants to speak his mind – let him. Don’t chop him down just coz he doesn’t think along the same lines as you do. He only did one mistake so far, and that was reacting to your insults. If he liked the damn game, he can tell people to go and buy it. Thats what basically the reviewers do, only without saying it outloud. I agree with you that the comments section isn’t a place for advertising Valve’s (or any other company’s) products, but if we look at it from a different side – he was really just saying that he liked the game…

To Chris (-sy, -spy, whatever u want to be called) – if you said something, be ready to stand by it and defend it. So far you are doing ok. But in the future you should think of refraining from getting into fruitless arguments with those who do not support your point of view. That usually leads to mutual insulting and overall, showering each other with baseless criticism.
________________________________________________________________________________

Everybody has a right to speak his/her mind on things. Yet, everyone has stuff that contradicts others’ opinions. If we just go on insulting people we will not get them to think our way. Diplomacy and polite discussion is the key.

Donald

On October 20, 2007 at 7:49 pm

I think TF2 is a great game. I even rent TF2 dedicated server from Nationwide Bandwidth 24 Players max,dual CPU, with pretty much no lag, and very low ping most of the time, I hope to see you play with us!

Dao

On October 21, 2007 at 2:45 am

Lol TF2 is extremely fun but I guess its too fast-paced (just like all Team Fortress) for my taste… I enjoyed the 2nd episode and Portal though, and if I get used to TF2 – the box is worth the money…

limi

On October 26, 2007 at 8:42 am

limi it’s coool

lann

On November 29, 2007 at 4:20 am

damnit!!i’ve played this game.it’s awesome.u all should have one