These days in the games industry you can't look past the franchises to building market share and garnering a massive loyal following. This is just what developer Valve has done with it's latest episodic release of Half-Life 2: Episode 2.
The Orange Box (EA: Rated R16: also out on Xbox 360 and next month on PS3) is the name given to a new distribution package - Half-Life 2: Episode Two, Team Fortress 2, Portal and the Original Half Life 2 and Episode 1.
All the Half Life 2 series to date is included as well as the much anticipated Portal - a mind bender puzzle game with something like a gravity gun. And also the much-missed Team Fortress multiplayer mayhem returns.
The funky orange DVD case does a standout job of drawing attention to the five games within. It's restricted to R16 and not for toddlers by a long shot - which details the amount of precise aiming you'll have to do to lob a Magneson device and sticky it to a Strider.
If you're familiar with the story so far: Alyx escapes City 17 and Gordon eludes the blast by train, only to end up in a crashed train carriage, which is about to be crushed by a falling car!
Best not to give away the entire plot before I even start. There were some fantastic bits in the approximate 8 hours of gameplay, and one I remember vividly - Dog ripping apart a strider was awesome, but yet driving around through lush vegetation with no kills on Hard skill for ages to get to White Forest past hidden ammo dumps, that was not so fun. Though there is little to fault in the entire game.
This package includes the Half-Life 2 series trio and provides a lot more to boot. Portal is where it's at and though only lasting 3-5 hours through the select 19 challenges, there is more where that came from in replayability to knock off all those observation cameras from the walls and complete the Acheivements.
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These Acheivements are select new objectives to complete for each single player mode - and don't forget it pays for you to take a look at them before you actually start playing the game! One objective in Episode Two is to launch the innocent little Gnome to the moon - I guess that proves the physics engine is a rocket!
Installing each application is time consuming, but they blend seamlessly to your Steam installation - if you have one, or if not you are prompted to install Steam (the online community and distribution system for many products and downloadable games).
The hardware requirements for this Source Engine (the same engine for each of the games) are quite lenient for what we expect of high performance graphics in next-gen games these days.
A 128MB graphics card and 1.7 GHz CPU are examples of the common rig the stereotypical Counter-Strike fan is using. And to that end there is not too much graphical advancement over Episode One to be seen here, just more textures and smoother frame rates.
The biggest surprise here is probably Portal. It's a mix of first person action with puzzle-solving, but what makes it wicked is the taunting garbled adolescent speech and humour throughout.
The whole premise is pretty quirky. You play a babe (who was probably submitted for testing at Black Mesa on an open day and never saw the light of day again) waking up in a tiny broken down cubicle inside a series of testing labs owned by a company called Aperture Science.
Your only 'weapon' per se is a gun to fire portals into walls, ceilings and floors for you to smash through or into - or in order to escape the series of gruelling tests set before you. After playing, I want cake.
I assure you, it's all very strange but still a lot of fun.
Graphics throughout and audio are impressive with stylised portal and reverb effects throughout. Gameplay goodness is all there and you won't be short of entertainment going online with up to 24 players in head to head or team clashes. I know why it's orange - it's ripe with gaming goodness. This could be the best thing on offer all year.
MadGamer Rating: 9.5 / 10