Note: I experienced all Half Life 2 and Orange Box titles via a gaming PC and Steam. Opinions may vary based on the quality of the version being played.
The first reason that I would list for wanting to purchase The Orange Box is the last component I ended up playing. I went after Portal almost immediately, in spite of the game being an afterthought in the package. Then I transitioned to Team Fortress 2 having played a lot of the beta on my steam preorder. Finally I got around to cracking into Episode 2.
As a testament to its fantastic quality I beat the game in two sittings. For my own record I refer to these parts by two different names: Part 1, “The really good part” and Part 2, “The effing mind-blowing portion”. No amount of telling myself to stand up and walk away from the monitor could tear me away. Especially once I had gotten into the really effing mind-blowing portions.
For the sake of those who haven’t treated themselves to this interactive digital feast of a game I will not mention any story point in the effing mind-blowing part. The first half of the game is fair game, nothing happens that you hadn’t seen in the teasers for the game.
Okay, well, that’s not true either. Suffice it to say: the storyline that Valve has woven into the Half Life series is nothing short of amazing. Even though the character models and graphics are showing signs of aging, the characters in Valve’s creation are more life-like and believable than any other game on the market, Mass Effect included. you get a warm feeling as the player when a character turns to Freeman and gives a smile, as if they are smiling at you and not another digital character you control.
In most sequels and expansion packs the requirements are about additive game design–add a new environment or two, add at least two weapons and at least one new enemy type.
Episode 2 is not like most sequels or expansions. It is, in fact, very unlike the average expansion. The environments in Episode 2 aren’t new because they have a new texture pallet or they take place in a new area, they are new because each square foot in Half Life 2 is unique. A standard that has been set since the beginning of the Half Life 2 arch. Episode 2 starts off, environmentally, exactly where Episode 1 ended.
There are no new weapons in Episode 2 to be seen, only news ways to use old weapons. The closest approximation to a new weapon is the Magnusson Device, or “Strider Buster”, that you are charged with using. I can’t tell you when or how, because, well…because. But the way Valve chose to implement new combat ideas is so much more evolutionary than the tradition of adding new versions of guns you’ve had before.
The only way the Episode 2 expansion seems traditional is that Valve chose to add new enemies. Actually, there is only one true “new” enemy, the Hunter, all other new enemies are variations of things you’ve encountered before. The only difference is the new enemies make sense in the universe of the game. They aren’t added in to make the game harder and make you wonder: “Gee, why weren’t these guys attacking my in the city back when the Combine sure could have used them?” Instead they seem to appear where you would expect them to appear. Different versions of Antlions appear in the Antlion caves, the Hunters are used out in the open where they would be more effective than the Striders.
It’s these common sense applications of game design that make Episode 2 shine. Where most games try and outshine others with flashy graphics and fancy terms for AI, Episode 2 outdoes them all with pure polish.
It’s a rare game that has me on the edge of my seat for 3 hours straight. But Episode 2 does it with ease. The storytelling is so tight I find myself on pins and needles for the next installment, and I’m filled with rage at how ling I’ll have to wait, luckily, it’ll all be worth it.
Or else, Valve, or else…
Art Direction: Every step is littered with character, imagination and polish rarely seen in game design.
Sound Design: Music kicks in at just the right time to break the tense silence and to let you know it’s time to be a hero. The voice acting is as spot on as always, you’ll find yourself attached to characters more than you thought you could ever be.
Gameplay: Good in Half Life 2, still good now.
Storytelling: If only every game’s story was this well crafted, you’ll find yourself more drawn into the world of Half Life than any other game world, and Valve does it in 6 hours.
Overall: 5 Stars