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Half-Life 2: The Orange Box

Developer: Valve | Publisher: Electronic Arts
Players: 1+ Player Game | Genre: First Person Shooter

Release Date: 10/10/07

With impressive new titles like Crysis and Mercenaries 2 being shown off in EA’s booth at E3, one might suspect that something like Half-Life 2 would seem like old news. However, while the core of Valve’s re-release of the game, simply titled The Orange Box, may be a game that’s now a few years old, they’re packing so much content into The Orange Box, including new stuff, that it’s renewed interest in the old game.

Don’t expect a kitchen sink, though. The Orange Box won’t have Half-Life Source or Counter-Strike Source, the graphically-remade versions of Valve’s earlier classics that were released alongside Half-Life 2. However, there’s still going to be plenty of stuff to make fans of FPSes tingle with excitement. What’s more, Valve has confirmed that the entire package will be running smoothly on both the Xbox 360 and the PS3 (and naturally, the PC as long as your system has the specs to run the game well).

First off, the game will include the full version of Half-Life 2, redone using graphical enhancements Valve has developed since the original release, such as HDR lighting and more detailed character models. The game will also include Half-Life 2: Episode 1 and Episode 2, previously only available via download off of their Steam service on the PC. These two episodic titles continue the story of Half-Life 2, following Gordon Freeman and Alex after the game’s finale. Also included is Team Fortress 2, which we only saw in video form. This sequel to the classic multiplayer-focused title features stylized cartoony-looking characters, which we saw fighting an electricity-flinging robot.

However, the real treat this E3 was finally being able to get our hands on the last piece of this compilation, Portal, the quirky and inventive title that was something of a surprise when it was revealed about a year ago. The origins of this game are interesting in and of themselves – A few of the folks from Valve were looking over the projects of students at Digipen (the videogame design school located right near Nintendo and Microsoft in Redmond, Washington), and happened upon a very early build of what would eventually become Portal. They came away so impressed with the concept that they snatched up the students that developed the game, who now all have cushy jobs at Valve. If that isn’t a huge sales pitch for Digipen, I don’t know what is.

In any case, it’s easy to see why Valve was so impressed – Portal may very well be introducing the next big thing in the FPS genre (right after Half-Life 2’s gravity gun, natch), and that would be… well, the portal gun. The concept of the portal gun is simple: One button fires a red portal, and the other one fires a blue portal. Players can then walk back and forth between the two as if you were simply walking through a door. It sounds simple enough, but when you take things like physics into account, it can quickly make for some inventive gameplay.

The area we played through felt much like a tutorial, slowly teaching you new things to consider when using the portal gun. First off, players are asked to simply cross a room using the device, with the gap in the ground in between too large to jump. Soon enough, players are taking into account things like directional orientation and physics, where the momentum from a fall can be turned into speed to fling you into a long jump, or where players can place two portals right next to each other to string them together, endlessly falling and warping. Even a simple switch puzzle takes on new possibilities when you’re forced to use the portals to essentially do the impossible.

Of course, this gameplay mechanic isn’t entirely new – we saw something like it about a year ago in the form of Prey, which touted some interesting dimensional tricks of its own. However, Portal marks the first time these tricks are put completely into the hands of players. And while the demo we played was short, the possibilities it suggested were amazing.

In particular, I was wondering whether Valve might work this inventive tool into some form of multiplayer deathmatch, or at least an action game (at the moment, Portal is more along the lines of a first-person puzzle game). “There are three things everyone asks us about that we just don’t have answers for at the moment,” the Valve representative said of the demo, “and those are ‘Portal 2’, ‘Multiplayer Portal’, and ‘The Portal gun in a future installment of Half-Life’”. “So what are the answers?” I reply, slyly ignoring the intention of his statement. He responds with a sigh and says, “look, I can tell you that we’d honestly really like to do all of those things. It’s just gonna’ come down to what we have time to do and what comes first.”

As for how Xbox 360 and PS3 owners might play these future innovations, as well as the announced Half-Life 2: Episode 3 and other possible add-on content, the Valve employee confirmed that downloadable content was a possibility, but refused to confirm that anything specific is in the works – right now, Valve’s focus is specifically set on the release of The Orange Box. Hopefully we’ll learn more once it’s out.

As a compilation of content, information about The Orange Box sorta’ comes piecemeal, with some components more mysterious than others. However, that said, this is shaping up to be a must-have package for FPS fans, and especially those that fell in love with Half-Life 2 (or somehow never played it in the first place).

By Jake Mcneill - 07/27/07

Screenshots for Half-Life 2: The Orange Box

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