It starts with "Half Life 2," which despite its age looks stunning and showcases magnificent environments like rippling water, has a ton of action and gives some of the newer games a run for their money on the physics side. As the protagonist, Gordon Freeman, you don't just play to find out what happens, you also experiment. There are chain reactions with exploding barrels, splintering wood and zombie slaughter all unfolding while you're skimming across the water on a hovercraft. If you've played this game before, then there's nothing new here. The uninitiated, however, will find a treasure chest while exploring this game on the newer game consoles.
"Half Life 2's" follow up, "Episode One" continues where "HL2" left off - again you step into Freeman's hazard suit and battle against the alien nemesis, the Combine. This is a short adventure with about 10 hours of game play, but you won't mind the abrupt conclusion due to its transition directly into "Episode Two." In this chapter, you face countless aliens across a dangerous forest and fight enemies in the bowels of an alien mine. The familiar weapons like a shotgun, pistol, and gravity are at your disposal. The end of "Episode Two" leaves things open for ... you guessed it-"Episode 3," which is about a year away from release. Like "Episode One," this is a short trip with about 15 hours of game play.
Next in the Orange Box lineup is "Portal," an impressive puzzle game that's both amazing and frustrating. In this game, you play as a test subject prompted by a god-like voice instructing you to create portals that allow you to pass through walls and fall through floors.
Finally, we come to "Team Fortress 2," a cool multiplayer-only shooter that is both simplistic and almost impossible to put down. When compared to other games like "Resistance: Fall of Man," "TF 2" comes up short in terms of options. Capture the flag and control point offer little in the way of variety, and the six maps seem laughable, but the game is fun nonetheless.
As mentioned before, the frame rate issue on the Playstation 3 is hard to look past, especially compared to the Xbox 360 version. At times, the game slows to a crawl, even at top speed. And it takes longer to turn or move than in the 360 game. What's puzzling is that the PS3 version took at least two months more to complete. And the processing speed of the PS3 is much higher than the 360, so that's a mystery.
The Orange Box (Half Life 2) - 4 Stars
Rated M for Mature; Publisher: Valve, Retail: $59.99; Platform: Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and PC.The Orange Box (Half Life 2)
The Shelf Life of Half Life
After "Doom," the first-person shooter became the standard for game publishers. Most games released after "Doom" were just pale shadows of the trailblazing game. But there were a few stood outs. Some games like "Descent" gave a new dimension to the premise by adding a mind-twisting flying element to it. "Duke Nukem" added humor and attitude. The breakthrough came from game publishers Valve and Sierra with "Half Life" which added a story to the action. While still in the mold of a first-person shooter, this game brought a new life to the genre by giving details, character and a story. By eliminating repetitive actions, it went beyond just running around shooting and blowing things up. Because of this, "Half Life" became one of the best games of 1998 and spawned a number of sequels itself. In addition, "Half Life" helped set a new standard for the genre that allowed today's gamers to expect more complex games. - Shawn Wallbaum