Tag Archives: FPS

Best of 2007 #7: The Orange Box

The Orange Box

Also known as Portal & Friends.

The Half-Life 2 series and Team Fortress 2 are superb games, if slightly overrated in the case of the former. And while many game of the year nominations for The Orange Box can almost be justified on the criteria of sheer value alone, I’m quite comfortable nominating it on the basis of a single three-hour game that gets third billing on the box.

I’m convinced that one day looking at the (atrocious) cover art of The Orange Box will be like watching a film from the mid-80s, where the stars have faded or had a couple of stints in rehab and the only one still around is the precocious kid who got a tiny credit and now gets paid $15 million a time. Portal probably won’t be a multimillion franchise but I can see it being sustained through mods and official DLC alone. It’s already birthed several memes – usually an early sign of gaming stardom.

Of course there’s a ton more in The Orange Box than just Portal. Half-Life 2, though overrated in my opinion, could probably just about justify the price alone and for those without gaming PCs this is the first decent console version; Episode One is average but short (just over three hours for me); Episode Two is probably the best of the HL2 series. I’ve heard that Team Fortress 2 is great, but my experience with it has been marred by the laggy Xbox Live performance and a couple of other multiplayer first-person shooters.

Even if I have complaints, there are no bad apples in The Orange Box. Everything in the box has its merits and when you consider the sheer amount of stuff in here (and I’ve already seen it on sale!) it’s clearly one of the best of the year.



Much has been made about the value of The Orange Box, the new Half-Life 2 compilation, and to be honest it’s beyond dispute. This is one of the best first-person shooters ever made (I still think it’s a bit overrated, but that’s another post) in its first decent console excursion, with two expansions (one of which is brand new), and then two whole new games thrown in on top. And all for the price of one game. Considering the stuff that gets away with a £50 sticker nowadays, Orange Box is a steal.

But anyway, what I really want to talk about is Portal. The real unknown quantity here, what with Half-Life and Team Fortress both coming from established series, it’s almost the first really next-gen puzzle game; one that doesn’t work solely on the principles of Tetris or Bejeweled with some particle effects on top.

Back in 2003 Half-Life 2 taught us that as graphics begin to plateau it was physics that were the next big thing, and so I find it odd that this is the first mainstream title to really exploit it purely for puzzles. The early hours of Half-Life 2 were filled with so many moments that utilised the flashy new Havok engine that even today, when it’s almost ubiquitous, we’ve rarely seen it used for more than making barrels fall convincingly. Such an engine coupled with mind-bending portals – about the only memorable thing in the otherwise wholly forgettable Prey – gives two new ideas, united in their ability to distract from the task at hand, a whole game in which to shine.

Far from being a simple skeleton on which to hang a couple of neat ideas, however, Portal fits into the Half-Life universe as a side story. There’s not a mention of Gordon Freeman and only hints at the Combine invasion (the disembodied voice of GLaDOS, the computer, makes references to ‘them’, and the hastily-abandoned facility speaks volumes), but the unsettling sense of there being more to what you’re seeing than you’re allowed to know remains, particularly in later levels.

I was also surprised by the quality of the writing, being that your character is the only human in the game. GLaDOS is an omnipresent observer who never quite seems to be on the level with you and whose mechanical detachment makes for amusement, and the turrets talk like small children as they try to find and shoot you. They’re like virtual embodiments of the way that violence is sanitised, using phrases like “dispensing product” as a euphemism for attempting to kill you that fits well with the sterile environment. I recommend looking at the script to see what you missed when you finish it.

And the song that plays over the credits is just wonderful. So good that it deserves its own paragraph, see?

Portal takes only 2-3 hours to finish and as such would probably flounder outside of a bundled game or a cheap download, and I think even the $19.95 for the solus download on Steam is pushing it. But as it is a bundled game in a package that would be exceptional value even without Portal, what we have is a proof of concept that has the potential to be the next big puzzler. It’s a wonderfully realised game and quite possibly the best thing in that pack. I’ll regret saying this, but bring on the downloadable content.

Halo 3 Thoughts

I’ll have some spoilers in this post, so you might want to avoid it if you haven’t finished the campaign. I’ll black out any that directly talk about what happens at the end, but I won’t mark obvious or minor ones. Consider yourself warned.

Anyway…the biggest game of the year has arrived and I’ve finished it, as have millions of others, no doubt. All the speculation about how they’d close it – in my case whether or not they’d fire the rings and kill everyone – have been answered and now all we have to show for it is one of the most complete multiplayer games ever made. It’s a hard life…

Master Chief vs a Scarab: no contest

Overall I loved the game, and with the exception of one massive low – mission 8 on heroic was like jabbing myself in the eye for 40 minutes – I thought that the campaign was up there with the first game. In fact I’d probably say it was better since Halo wasn’t without its own infamously bad level and Halo 3 was much less liberal with the repetition of environments, at least dressing them up differently or changing things around. Off the top of my head there are three missions here that I could play until my thumbs drop off and not bore of them – The Storm, The Ark, and The Covenant – up there with The Silent Cartographer and Assault on the Control Room as classics.

Multiplayer is as supreme as it was back in the beta and little has changed since my initial impressions. Big Team Battle on Valhalla with a team of friends is dangerously close to a perfect multiplayer experience, and it’s the new features that allow you to relive it that I want to talk about.

Even if they haven’t yet been matched for depth, Halo 2 was the big step towards making persistent stats a standard feature that has been co-opted for the likes of Battlefield 2 and Resistance. Halo 3 just takes it to the next level, with everything that Halo 2 had and more, including the screenshot facility that we’ll undoubtedly be seeing more of as the popularity grows (see Gran Turismo 4, Forza 2, PGR3, etc). Just going to the stats page for a game lets you view all of the saved media of the best moments such as my double laser kill from across the map (plug). I love taking screenshots to show off the stunning lighting in the game, and the above screen is one such example from my campaign.

The sharing features, coupled with Forge (I’ll link to Bungie’s explanantion since I’ve barely scratched the surface) and the way that it allows you to essentially make custom game modes to be shared and recommended amongst the whole community pushes what LittleBigPlanet will be doing, just with little things like a single player mode and orthodox multiplayer. That’s not a bash of LBP since I want it badly, but the fact that many of these revolutionary features are available right now in Halo 3 – a first-person shooter, in case you’ve forgotten – is why it’s getting all these tens.

I’ll end, aptly, with my thoughts on the ending. It didn’t do what I expected but I found it very satisfying and a great way to finish up the story. Things are still open to some extent (I hope this doesn’t mean Halo 4, though) but it gave closure. I enjoyed how it bookended the whole thing, as the Halo trilogy began with Master Chief getting out of his cryo-pod with little information on his past and ended with him getting into one with a similarly uncertain future. Beautifully done and impressively understated. But in case I haven’t been clear about this, leave the story where it is.

Not one ‘finish the fight’ reference. I’m so proud.

That Sinking Feeling…

You know the feeling when you suddenly realise that you’ve done something stupid and need to check just to make absolutely sure in case you’re not? My 360 gave me that last week.

I’m not talking about the red rings – although that would certainly induce a sinking feeling two weeks before Halo – but how I lost EVERY SINGLE ONE of my saves. Ten hours of BioShock gone: start again; my nearly-maxed-out Crackdown character: lost; halfway through the last mission in GRAW 2: nope, try again. BioShock is the one that really got me because most of my games are finished and I always have the cheat mode in Crackdown if I want to mess around, but still. It’s my record of hundreds of hours that’s just vanished.

For no apparent reason my 360 started logging me out of Live whenever I tried to get into the online modes of a game. It would let me access my friends list and such, but just dropped the connection when I tried to play. I tried the usual tricks – logging in again, restarting, connection test – all with no joy, which left the option of recovering my account to see if that worked.

Before you delete the account it gives you the option to either delete just the account itself or to delete all the saves, DLC, and such associated with it. I chose to delete the account only and then proceeded to recover it, a process that inexplicably takes up to an hour.

That done, I logged in fine and went into the beta which now worked fine. Then I noticed that my custom class was missing, and the eponymous notion kicked in. I loaded up BioShock since it was in the drive where I was only given the option to start a new game, and a random XBLA game (Symphony of the Night) was the same. Fuck.

I even went as far in my recovery efforts as buying an Xport 360, hoping that they had persisted somewhere in the depths of the drive but no, they were gone. As great as BioShock is I don’t know if I want to go all the way back to Fort Frolic from scratch again, taking the time to find all the secrets that I discovered the first time, and the rock to that hard place is that I don’t know if I’ll go back later when I have Halo 3 and COD4 to play. I don’t even know if getting a save from someone else will work since they tightened up the save security in the last Dash update.

Still…at least I’ve still got the touch in Call of Duty.

That BioShock Demo

The City of Rapture


It’s not often that you sit waiting for something to happen because you’re not sure whether or not you’re watching a CG cutscene, but this exactly what happened to me when I played this demo. Water and fire are both the supposed stuff of nightmares for computer graphics and the opening scene of the demo (and, I assume, the final game) manages both to spectacular effect. In real time.

It had me enRAPTUREd from the start, you might say if you liked bad puns. Sorry…

My main concern with BioShock was and still is that I’m a massive pussy when it comes to any game that’s remotely unsettling. I have the Silent Hill Collection on my shelf which remains largely unplayed, and despite buying two copies of the Resident Evil remake (Japanese and US) I’ve never made it past the first boss. It’s a secret shame of mine that I’m exorcising by outing myself on here.

For all the beauty in this game there is a constant and deliberate ominous atmosphere permeating everywhere. You can hear enemies talking and scraping their blades (!), you can hear heavy footsteps of Big Daddies that may or may not be about to cross your path, and even when there aren’t enemies you have giant bronze statues watching you and the groaning of the failing structure as the sea comes to reclaim Rapture. Creepy is an understatement, but it’s beautifully so.

I’m going to work through my little complex when it comes out, though, both because it tries to do something different with the most overdone genre since the 2D platformer and because the buzz and current review scores seem to peg this as one of the games to beat for game of the year. With Halo 3 and Mass Effect to come, I’d be shocked if the GOTY isn’t on the 360.

But still, while the demo didn’t knock my socks off like some will profess (opening sequence aside), I still want to give it a proper go and really try to play it my own way. Even in the demo there are clearly plenty of options on how to approach encounters that it must be quite overwhelming once you’ve done more than scratch the surface of the available Plasmids and weapons.

Just a quick addendum: BioShock needs a photosensitivity warning. I’ve had a couple of game-related seizures (not for nearly ten years now) and the fact that there were two scenes of extreme strobing in the space of a short demo makes me fear for the final game more than all the diving suited giants in Rapture. It won’t be the oppressive atmosphere that forces me to play with the lights on. Well…mainly.