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Half Life 2 - The Orange Box Review

Updated on October 30, 2014
Orange Box - Xbox 360
Orange Box - Xbox 360

What a beauty - probably the most hours gaming you'll ever find in one box, outside of RPGs like Skyrim, that is.

It's still the biggest first person shooter I've ever come across.



I said it before and I'll say it again: Half Life 2 is a genuine classic and probably one of the best shooters of all time, if not the best.

I started playing it again (for the umpteenth time) the other night "just for a little while" and it sucked me in once more.

Over 2 hours later, I went to bed with a mumbled apology to my wife and thought about the game as I went to sleep, trying to work out how to get past that darn helicopter in the chapter "Water Hazard".

I've lost count how many times I've played it through.

Even though I know more or less what's coming, I still have an itch to explore and find all the little hidden places I never found before. - and yes, there still are some.

It's an "old" game by today's standards: the graphics aren't the most amazing (although it's no slouch, either), with lower resolution textures and character models that have been eclipsed by more modern titles.

It's linear and the protagonist, Dr Freeman (played by you) never speaks, although the supporting cast more than makes up for that.

The game even has regular loading screens as you move from one area to the next. This can be quite jarring, since you rarely find that kind of delay these days.

However, that's where the negatives end.

Half Life successfully shows that a really good game doesn't need to be the best looker, just that all important thing that is difficult to put your finger on: gameplay.

Read on to find out more.

The Orange Box - PC
The Orange Box - PC

If you're a PC gamer, then you'll be relieved to know that you can get this wondrous collection on your machine of choice too!


Half Life 2 Characters

Not bad for a 2004 game
Not bad for a 2004 game | Source

Still Life

The atmosphere, the story - and the intelligence with which it is told - knocks every other game out of the water.

If you're used to playing Call of Duty and its clones, full of fire and noise, then you may be startled by Half Life's use of silence, quiet background sounds and mood music to create ambience.

You may even wonder what is going on, because there is no spoon-feeding of aims and objectives by a cliched superior officer.

You are thrown in at the deep end, and into a strange world, trodden down by an unknown oppressor.

Apart from the occasional request by another character to escape, or go from point A to point B, the rest is told through other means.

Instead of a megaphone, nuance and subtlety are the order of the day.

Overheard conversations, overbearing messages from loudspeakers, notices on walls, the sight of soldiers arresting ordinary citizens, or a glimpse of something strange on the other side of a wall - these are the tools of Valve's trade and they use them extremely well.

Half Life

So too is the approach to combat different from other games.

Sure, there is the usual array of weaponry, from pistols, shotguns and machine guns, to the humble crowbar (which is more useful than you might think).

Each weapon is useful in different situations and you will need to be frugal with ammunition if you are to survive, particularly on the higher difficulty levels.

Searching for hidden caches will help, but you will still turn to the crowbar, or switch back to a pistol even late in the game, in order to keep the better weaponry for tougher opponents.

And then there is the Gravity Gun (GG from now on).

This is the single most original part of the game (not that the rest isn't original, by any means) and provides endless variety.

It's simple really:

  • you can pick items up with the GG
  • you can put things down and
  • you can throw and fire things at your enemies.

Sound boring? It's not!

Not only does it save ammo, but it turns everything - and I mean everything - into a weapon, or even the solution to a puzzle.

You can pick up almost anything and fire it at the bad guys - pots, chairs, paint tins, and so on.

Bigger objects do more damage of course, barrels and those of the explosive variety being your best friends.

Portal 2 - Xbox 360
Portal 2 - Xbox 360

Another award winner.

If you've played Portal, either as part of the Orange Box, or by separate download, then you can't go wrong with this sequel.


Thought Life

However, even here Half Life excels, managing to add further twists to the 'basics'.

Many situations include physics based puzzles, which can require some thinking to solve.

What is particularly clever is that weapons become tools and some tools become weapons.

For example, picture a scene with a slippery slope down to some placid, but nasty-looking aliens hanging from the ceiling, their long tongues dangling down to the floor.

You can't turn back, but you can't go on, without getting severely chewed on by said aliens.

You could shoot them all individually, but that would waste a lot of ammo.

Instead, you pick up an explosive barrel and gently send it down the slope.

Waiting until the aliens start reeling it in, you fire two shots from your pistol to set the package alight and it goes off just at the top, taking out all the uglies in one go.

That's just one example.

Throughout the game, there are floating platforms, balance beams, vehicles which need to somehow get over a wall with no ramp nearby (or is there?), and so on.

That makes Half Life 2 one of the most intelligent shooters around and I've yet to see it topped by anything else.

The Orange Box Contents

In this box you get:

  • Half Life 2
  • Half Life 2 - Episode 1
  • Half Life 2 - Episode 2
  • Team Fortress 2
  • Portal

Full Life

But you know what makes it even better?

The fact that there are more games in this box!

For the price of admission, you get: Half Life 2 (the original game), Half Life 2 Episodes 1 + 2 (each almost long enough to be a separate game in its own right), Team Fortress 2 (Valve's own hilarious take on multiplayer) and Portal.

If you've not played Portal before, you really should give it a go.

It's a completely original take on the puzzle genre, set in the 3D world of Half Life, with lots and lots of humour.

The idea, as always, is simple.

All you have to do is use your "portal gun" to create holes in space/time which allow you to progress from one level to the next.

Much lateral thinking, laughter and "I don't believe it" moments follow.

- Just take the references to cake with a pinch of salt...

I'm out of space for this review, but this game - or rather, this box set - gives you more game time and sheer value for money than any other I have seen, ever.

What more could you want?

Have you played Half Life 2?

See results

Game Trailer

This trailer will give you a good overview of what's included in the box, with scenes from all the games inside.

© 2014 Tim Bader


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    • Tim Bader profile image

      Tim Bader 3 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @Elsie Hagley: That's fair enough, thank you for being so honest.

      It's good that we're all different - if we were all the same, then the world would be a very boring place!

      Thanks for reading.

    • Tim Bader profile image

      Tim Bader 3 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @bdkz: That reminds me - I need to add the PC version to my list!

      Thanks for reading.

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 3 years ago from New Zealand

      Great review, I'm sure that people who like this type of thing will learn a lot about it from this review, but it's not my thing, have never played these games, think I'm a little too old to enjoy.

    • profile image

      bdkz 3 years ago

      One of my favorite PC games, I need to check this out!