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The Orange Box (Xbox 360)

Rated: 15.

  • Half-Life 2.
  • Half-Life 2: Episode One.
  • Half-Life 2: Episode Two.
  • Portal.
  • Team Fortress 2.
Story: In Half-Life 2, you are Gordon Freeman, a scientist turned hero, who must lead the resistance against an alien take-over of the Earth. You do this by shooting aliens, zombies, collaborators and giant robot things. There are various factions and there's plenty of backstory but nothing is ever explained, so essentially you end up shooting lots of things because your girlfriend tells you to.

In Portal, you play an unnamed test subject and must solve puzzles using an experimental gun capable of creating a wormhole between any two suitable flat surfaces. Fire it at a wall and then a ceiling, and you can step through a portal in the wall and fall out of one up high. Much fun ensues.

Gameplay: Half-Life 2 and its Episodes are pretty old-fashioned shooters. You wander about with a selection of weapons, viewing things from Gordon's perspective, walking over health packs and shooting almost anything which moves. There are vehicle sections and you frequently have companions but that's about it, apart from a few physics-based puzzles and some creepy sections involving darkness and zombies.

Portal isn't about shooting. It's about working out how to use the portals and momentum to reach seemingly inaccessible places. It's part puzzle-game, part adventure.

Team Fortress 2 is online multiplayer only. I suspect some shooting is involved...

Save System: Manual save at any time and auto-save at check points. Excellent.

Comments: I'm not a great fan of first-person shooters but I've still managed to play Halo 3, BioShock, Condemned, the 360 version of Far Cry and this compilation in the last year, along with various demos and doubtless something else I've forgotten. (Oh, yeah, The Darkness.) Every second game on the 360 seems to be a FPS. Each has something going for it: Halo has epic cinematics, BioShock has role-playing and adventure elements, Condemned has big sticks, Far Cry has open levels and sunshine and The Darkness has, er... evil minions with chainguns. Half-Life 2, though, is perhaps the most traditional of the recent releases. It's fundamentally Doom with better graphics and AI.

The way you're able to pick up objects and throw them using a gravity gun is entertaining but it's nowhere near as exciting as it was when the game originally came out on the PC. We've had plenty of games with telekinesis and realistic physics since then. More than that, the story and graphics aren't anything to write home about anymore, either.

The story-telling, in particular, is a mess. The world has gone to Hell in the years between the original Half-Life and this sequel but the intervening events are only ever obliquely alluded to. Characters aren't properly introduced and it's never entirely made clear exactly who you're fighting. Revelations almost always raise twice as many questions as they answer. Maybe Episode Three will explain everything but, having been kept in the dark for so long, I've ceased to care.

Half-Life 2 does have many great moments, however, from creeping round a zombie-filled town in the dark, to speeding along a river while being chased by a helicopter. The problem is that it just goes on too long. Many sections feel over-extended and the extra Episodes add to the problem - they're more of the same but not quite as good. Without a compelling story or jaw-dropping graphics, it's a struggle to keep going at times.

I prefer BioShock. And Far Cry. (And maybe Halo 3 as well.)

The real fun and innovation in the collection is reserved for Portal. It's a game that involves both thought and skill, is funny and tells an affecting story. It's a game that will make you grin for any number of reasons. It's a game that you should play. The only downside is that it's over in three hours. (Sure, there's a stack of challenges and bonus bits on top of that, but they're nowhere near as much fun as the main story.)

Conclusion: Half-Life 2 is a very competent shooter with some exceptional sections and plenty of variety. Unfortunately, it's very linear and has rather a lot of padding. Unless you really like running around shooting things, this will start wearing thin before the thirty hours are up.

However, even if you don't like shooters much, The Orange Box is an unmissable rental, simply because of Portal.

Graphics: Good but not amazing. In my head, Half-Life 2 looks just the same as it did when I played it on the original Xbox. Obviously, if I was able to see the two versions running side by side, the 360 effort would look smoother and have higher detail but I've just grown to expect that. Many of the locations are quite bland, so the greater resolution doesn't reveal much. There's no slow-down this time round, though.

The Episodes up the visual stakes somewhat but this is counteracted by the familiarity of the locations and enemies.

The graphics in Portal are purposefully functional and add to the atmosphere.

Length: Half-Life 2 is medium to long. The two Episodes are both short. Portal is very short.

Rating: 4/5.

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