You'll be hard pressed to find a game with more bang for the buck than The Orange Box. And we do mean bang, as in lots and lots of explosions. This collection of Valve gems starts with the classic shooter Half-Life 2, continues through Half-Life 2: Episode One and Episode Two, takes a mind-bending detour through the sci-fi puzzle game Portal, and ends up at a destination that you'll likely spend ton of time luxuriating in: the full-tilt blast-a-thon Team Fortress 2. Though the game has been out for more than a month on the Xbox 360 and PC, we recently got a chance to spend some quality time with the upcoming PlayStation 3 version of the game to see how it matches up to its counterparts on other platforms.
First, let's get the frame-rate thing out of the way. Yes, Half-Life 2 has its slowdown troubles, and occasionally they are ugly. Not necessarily "throw your Sixaxis against the wall" bad, but certainly noticeable. Fortunately, these laggy moments are relatively few and far between; for the most part, the game runs just fine on the PS3. But in these moments--for example, when speeding through the sewers of City 17 on the hoverboat as you're being tracked down by the helicopter--the chop can really pick up. Although you might expect some frame-rate issues during a high-speed chase scene, there are moments of relative calm that have frame drops as well, such as at the way station directly after you have blown the battle copter out of the sky. As we crossed the structure so we could open the gate to give our airboat a chance to jump through, the game's frame rate would slow down here and there, despite not much happening onscreen.
After that section, frame rate in the game seemed mostly solid up to Ravenholm, which is as far as we made it in our play-testing. We didn't spend a ton of time in either Episode One or Two, but we did notice some frame-rate issues in both--again, nothing game-killing, but it's certainly something to be aware of. One other thing to keep in mind across all facets of the Half-Life 2 suite (including Episodes One and Two, as well as Portal): You can quicksave your game on the fly at any point by pressing and holding down the start button. You can continue to play the game when quicksaving, but the frame rate sometimes takes a severe hit while doing so, especially if there's a lot happening onscreen.
If Half-Life 2 and the Episodes have their hitchy moments, what of Portal on the PS3? Having made our way through roughly half of this mind-blowing puzzle game, we're glad to report that it runs just fine. This is probably to be expected, considering that Portal isn't exactly a graphical showcase, but the game's relatively small levels and austere atmosphere add up to what seems to be a perfect port on the PS3. And it was great to hear from GLaDOS again, even if she is a lying, robot harpy who tempts us with promises of delicious cake.
The final piece of the Orange Box puzzle, Team Fortress 2, was off limits; we weren't able to get online with it to test how the multiplayer fun checks out. Unlike Half-Life 2, the Episodes, and Portal, this is the game that will suffer the most from any slowdown, so we're keeping our fingers crossed that the EA PS3 development team went to work on the TF2 code like a Heavy in a room full of Medics.
In terms of content, The Orange Box stacks up as one of the values of the year. PlayStation 3 owners who haven't been able to enjoy this amazing collection yet should take heed: The game will be shipping to retail stores during the second week of December. Will the frame-rate issues be addressed in the final version of the game? We'll keep our fingers crossed and report back in our full review after the game is released.