'Letters from Iwo Jima'

Utilitarian title aside, “The Orange Box” is a study in ingenuity. The video game compilation delivers classics “Half-Life 2” and “Half-Life 2: Episode One” to the Xbox 360 and, eventually, the PS3.

Utilitarian title aside, “The Orange Box” is a study in ingenuity. The video game compilation delivers classics “Half-Life 2” and “Half-Life 2: Episode One” to the Xbox 360 and, eventually, the PS3. But it also includes newly created titles “Half-Life 2: Episode Two,” “Portal” and “Team Fortress.” Separately these games would likely sell for less than a full-price game, but together they deliver an experience that encapsulates game developer Valve’s ideals of episodic gaming, digital distribution, and addictive play.

While the console versions are sold in stores, players can get the PC version as a direct download through Valve’s online service Steam.

There are so many interesting things that The Orange Box does right, so many avenues to explore, that it’s easy to forget that at its heart this box set is a video game anthology of amazing gameplay and creativity.

“Half-Life 2” and it’s two episodes are in many ways the main attraction for the set. The first-person shooter, when it first hit the computer back in 2004, won a bevy of awards for its deep and gripping storyline which was backed up with intense gameplay and over-the-top visuals.

Two years later, “Episode One” continued the story by taking gamers on a journey through the immersive world of scientist Gordon Freeman and his struggle to free humanity from the alien Combine.

“Episode Two” furthers the plot, with a minor bump up in visual presentation. While the year-long time gap since the last installment hurts the concept of episodic gaming, the masterful presentation and compelling plot, which takes Gordon to a rural setting where the Combine still poses a threat, mostly make up for that.

While “Half-Life 2” certainly is the most robust product of the package, it’s “Portal” that is the most endearing.

The title presents gamers with a series of puzzles in a first-person point of view that have to be solved using a portal device, a gun that shoots an entry and an exit portal onto walls. Travel through one and exit through the other. While the premise sounds simple, adding gravity and gunplay into the mix makes it deliciously confounding.

Better still is the surprisingly slight plot that grows as gamers make their way through the rooms as living test subjects. What starts as a straight-forward first-person puzzler ends as a game with both heart and humor that, while short-lived, is destined to be long remembered.

The final bit of treasure in “The Orange Box” is “Team Fortress 2,” a multiplayer first-person shooter modification of “Half-Life 2” that packs the fun ‘50s visual style of “The Incredibles” into an intense, hardcore shooter.

While “Half-Life 2” and “Portal” both hook gamers with plot, “Team Fortress 2” is pure action, delivering a handful of humorously crafted character classes into well-balanced maps and setting them against one another in skirmishes with basic goals, like capturing a flag or controlling certain locations.

While the collection of games don’t necessarily all fit together thematically, the varying types of play result in one of the best values available on the videogame market and cement Valve’s place as one of the industry’s best developers.

The Orange Box

Rated M. $59.99.

Production

A Electronic Arts and Valve Software presentation of a game developed by Valve for the PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Reviewed on the PC.
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