Finishing The Orange Box left us in a state of shock. It wasn’t Half-Life 2: Episode 2’s requisite cliffhanger ending that floored us; rather, it was the realization that Episode 2 is the low point of the entire Orange Box package. Portal and Team Fortress 2 completely eclipse what Valve bills as the “centerpiece” of the bundle.
Don’t get us wrong, Episode 2 is not a bad game. It’s more of the same Half-Life 2 goodness, chock-full of physics puzzles and zombie killing; Valve even doles out a few more tidbits of the story of humanity’s battle against the Combine.
That said, Episode 2’s biggest failing is that it’s more of the same: the same types of puzzles, the same enemies, and the same environments. The game remains extremely linear, with a well-defined path littered with choke points and the occasional set-piece battle. Sadly, however, the self-guided storytelling that was prevalent in the earlier games is lessened—the noncombat environments don’t have as many items that trigger monologues from the characters.
Portal is one of the best single-player games of 2007.
Portal lies at the opposite end of the innovation spectrum. This game delighted us with its innovative gameplay and twisted sense of humor. The concept is simple: You have a gun that lets you rip holes in the space-time continuum, which you can then move materials (or yourself) through. More puzzle game than first-person shooter, Portal’s genius lies in the way it introduces new concepts and gameplay mechanics to the player, then immediately forces you to utilize those mechanics in combination with everything you’ve learned before. Although it’s short, Portal delivers nonstop fun from the opening sequence to the end credits. It’s quite simply the most entertaining four hours we’ve spent this year.
And then there’s Team Fortress 2. The first thing you’ll notice about TF2 is its unique Incredibles-esque art style and character design. The second thing you’ll notice is that it is Team Fortress. Not a reimagining. Not a modernized class-based shooter. It’s Team Fortress Classic, perfectly balanced, with all the rough edges smoothed off, and it is, without a doubt, the best multiplayer shooter we’ve played this year (sorry, Quake Wars).
Team Fortress 2 is our favorite part of The Orange Box, and we dig it for more than its stunning character designs!
The game retains all nine original classes from Team Fortress, each honed to fulfill a core role while items that blurred lines between different classes have been removed. This ensures that no class encroaches on another class’s role. Having such a wide variety of classes in the game ensures that no two matches play the same. You must constantly tweak your team composition in order to succeed—there’s no perfect combination of classes.
What really surprised us about TF2 is that Valve included only six maps. While we were initially torqued by this paltry number, the collection is rich and hearty. Because the community for this type of game usually ends up playing on only a handful of maps—we call this the Karkand Effect—Valve concentrated on building six arenas that truly kick ass. Remakes of classic maps like 2Fort and Dustbowl are welcome, but we love the new Hydro map, which reconfigures itself from one round to the next to provide near-infinite replayability.
With Team Fortress 2, Portal, Episode 1, Episode 2, and Half-Life 2, this is the can’t-miss gaming package of the year.
Amazing value; Portal is top-notch; TF2 is riotous multiplayer fun.
Episode 2 lacks innovation; TF2 needs more The Hunted.