It almost goes without saying that Half-Life 2: The Orange Box will ship with a ridiculous amount of top-notch gameplay in it. This compilation from Valve Software will serve up Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2 Episodes One and Two, the class-based multiplayer shooter Team Fortress 2, and the slick puzzle game Portal. The Orange Box will ship on October 10, and Valve along with publisher EA gave us a chance to experience its many different components. This week, we'll cover the Half-Life 2 portion of the Orange Box, with Team Fortress 2 and Portal in the coming weeks.
Half-Life 2 was one of the most acclaimed and successful PC games of 2004, and while it was ported to the Xbox in 2005, the performance struggled on that last generation system. Now Valve's bringing the entire thing to the Xbox 360, where it has more than enough power to run. Half-Life 2 continues the adventures of series hero Gordon Freeman, and you won't need to have played the original Half-Life in order to understand what's going on. That's probably a good thing, since Half-Life shipped in 1998, and its dated graphics might make it difficult for newer gamers to get into. Basically, to sum it up, Freeman was a junior scientist at the government's top secret Black Mesa research facility when he, as part of an experiment, somehow opens a dimensional portal that unleashes an alien invasion. Freeman manages to defeat the alien invaders, but then is "recruited" by the mysterious G-Man. The end. Half-Life 2 picks up sometime afterward the events in Half-Life, and Freeman's efforts in the first game were for naught, as the alien Combine have conquered Earth and herded the remaining human survivors into urban centers. We won't get into the story spoilers of Half-Life 2, so you can discover the mix of action and puzzle solving that makes the series great.
When Valve finished work on Half-Life 2, everyone expected the company to eventually work on Half-Life 3. Instead, Valve announced that it was going to make a trilogy of episodes that would follow-up Half-Life 2. Episode One shipped last year, and Episode Two will debut in the Orange Box, so we're only two-thirds of the way through the trilogy at this point. The episodes pick up immediately after the events in Half-Life 2. We will note that we played through the opening levels of Episode Two, which was the first time that we encountered much of that content, and there were a shocking moment, as well as a nail-biting battle against ant lions, giant alien insects that play a prominent role in the games.
If you haven't played Half-Life 2 before, we'll give you some things to keep an eye out for, like the array of convincing characters with amazing facial animations. They're voiced by an excellent cast that includes names and voices that older gamers will undoubtedly recognize from 1980s television and movies, such as Robert Guillaume, Robert Culp, and Louis Gossett Jr. And in terms of gameplay, keep an eye open for some of the cool physics-based gameplay. Consider that Half-Life 2 came out three years ago, the physics in the game still look cutting-edge. You'll be able to play around with the gravity gun, a device that lets you pick up and hurl heavy objects, and Half-Life 2 takes full advantage of that fact by factoring in a lot of puzzles that require you to manipulate the environment.
All three Half-Life 2 games look good on the Xbox 360, and Valve has gone back and added a few visual enhancements, such as motion blur when you spin around quickly. The controls map well to the Xbox 360 controller, and they're similar to those found in Halo. That's not a surprise, since Valve ported Half-Life 2 to the Xbox before.
Between Half-Life 2 and the first two episodes, you're looking at anywhere between 16 to 20 hours of some of the best first-person shooter action ever made. That's a lot, considering the average shooter nowadays only contains six to 10 hours of gameplay. And there's even more content in The Orange Box, but we'll get to that in the coming weeks. At this point, though, if you like shooters, you should definitely circle October 10 on your calendar.