7 Best Games of the 7th Generation: The Orange Box

the-orange-box-headerAfter seven weeks, our list of the seven best games of the seventh generation of video game consoles comes to a close. While many, many great games aren’t making such a short list of great games, I think that this game won’t get too much of an argument for making it over other deserving

When a game picks up scads of awards, everyone takes notice. But how good is a company that can make multiple games, ship them in a bundle and garner accolades and win awards for each of them? That’s exactly what Valve did when they put Half-Life 2, HL2: Episodes 1 & 2, Team Fortress 2 and Portal into one award-winning package called The Orange Box.

half-life-screenshot-01When Valve released its first game back in 1998, it was immediately hailed as a revolutionary step forward for the first-person shooter genre. Half-Life drew considerable praise for its realistic and immersive gameplay design, AI programming and environment design. It received numerous game of the year awards and was considered by many to be the greatest game ever made.

While the bar for first-person shooters was set by the original Half-Life, Valve eclipsed that with Half-Life 2. The sequel to Half-Life was the first game released on Valve’s then-new Source engine and the first that required Steam activation. Sure, Steam wasn’t a selling point back then but I suppose that’s important for the sake of historical noteworthiness.

HL2 received just as much praise as the original. Everything from the game’s narrative to its gameplay, sound design, graphics and AI were specifically cited for praise, though that just about covers the whole of the game.

half-life-two-episode-two-screenshot-01To follow-up on Half-Life 2, Valve announced three episodic sequels to HL2. The first, Half-Life 2: Episode One, saw the player get an AI companion, Alyx Vance, whose inclusion garnered the most praise as one of the best innovations the game had to offer thanks to her reactions to the player’s actions. While it wasn’t as highly praised as Half-Life 2 proper, it still garnered its fair share of positive reviews.

And that brings us to The Orange Box. Valve tried something new by bundling a bunch of games together into one package. The highlight was Half-Life 2: Episode Two and came with Half-Life 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode One which gave players the whole Half-Life 2 experience in one package. The Orange Box also included two new small games in the release, Team Fortress 2 and Portal.

The second of the episodic Half-Life 2 sequel trilogy was the first to bring Half-Life out of the city (or industrial complex if you want to get technical about where HL1 was set) and into more open environments. HL2:E2 took Gordon and Alyx out of City 17 and into the surrounding countryside. It may not have been a properly open-world game but it certainly had a more open world for the players to play in, though it did retain some linear elements to help story telling along.

In addition to the rural environments, Valve made a number of other additions to the game. There’s a driveable vehicle (that resembles an old Dodge Charger) that is featured throughout the game. The number of puzzle sections are increased over Episode 1. And the game also marked the introduction of achievements in Valve games and on Steam after the popularity of Xbox’s achievement and gamerscore system.

While the Source engine that HL2:E2 was built on was getting a bit dated by the time this game was released, the critics still loved the game. It may not have received as high praise over all as Half-Life 2 proper, it was generally better received than Episode One. Critics loved the gameplay variety, the new approach to level design and the story. Individually, it may not have picked up any game of the year award but it certainly was among the better games of 2007 and the better of the two Half-Life 2 episodic sequels.

team-fortress-2-screenshot-01The second new release that came with The Orange Box was Team Fortress 2. The original Team Fortress was a Quake mod that featured team-based multiplayer that included a variety of classes and game modes. Valve hired the mod’s developers to re-release Team Fortress as a Half-Life mod and later as a standalone game. Team Fortress 2 was, along with the other games in this bundle, a Source engine game. It was originally in development since before the turn of the century and the subject of many delays.

When TF2 was released, the game was a big departure from the original. While the original Team Fortress had a more realistic art style (well, realistic for the time), this game had a much more cartoony art direction and more light-hearted looking gameplay as a result. However, the numerous game modes and classes from the original game made the jump to the sequel. As such, the gameplay that people loved from the original didn’t disappear.

While fans of the original TF might not have found it completely lovable, overall, it certainly is massively popular. Even to this day, people are still playing TF2 in droves with it often being among the top five most played games on Steam. Even after the switch from a paid game (both standalone on Steam and in the Orange Box bundle) to free-to-play, it’s immensely popular and generates tonnes of revenue for Valve through a thriving in-game economy.

Even with Half-Life 2: Episode Two and the cult hit sequel Team Fortress 2 in the bundle, the true smash hit of The Orange Box had to be Portal. The game was a brand new IP for Valve based in the Half-Life universe but was a first-person puzzle-platformer designed to show off the physics in Valve’s Source engine rather than a pure first-person shooter.

portal-screenshot-01The game seems like a simple puzzle game throughout the first two-thirds of the game. Using your Portal gun, you traverse increasingly difficult testing rooms in order to get to the exit. That seems straight forward enough at first but it’s not as simple as portalling your way from Point A to Point B. Using various objects around the environment and exploiting the laws of physics, you have to find your way to the end.

As you go along, hints are dropped that Aperture Science and the Enrichment Center is more than just a science lab. By the end, you find out that GLaDOS is a homicidal maniac and trying to kill you so you have to destroy her to save yourself in another portal based puzzle.

Portal was instantly a cult favourite game. The dark humour and the smart puzzles were hits with the critics and fans alike. The Cake is a Lie quickly became a meme. The Weighted Companion Cube was a fan favourite despite being an inanimate object. As far as games from the last generation went, Portal may have been the closest to perfect that any game has gotten.

Whether a direct or indirect effect of the release of The Orange Box, bundles are far more common now than they were when The Orange Box was released. Steam’s growth has continued and now boasts over 50 million users and recently started crossing over the 7 million concurrent user mark.

While Half-Life 2: Episode Two was the last release in the Half-Life franchise, every so often, there’s a new rumour about Half-Life 2: Episode 3 and the internet blows up when it does. Even though people have been looking for it for the last six years, the anticipation for HL2:E3 hasn’t waned. While Steam recently suffered a fairly big crash when Left 4 Dead 2 was released for free, I’d hazard that it would be nothing compared to the traffic that the release of Half-Life 2: Episode 3 would cause.

portal-screenshot-02Just like when I named the Mass Effect Trilogy one of the 7 best games of the last generation, I think it would be fair to accuse the naming of the whole of The Orange Box to this list is a bit of a cop-out when I could have picked Portal or Half-Life 2 for this list. My counter-argument would be that HL2: Episode 2, Portal and Team Fortress 2 were all originally released together as part of The Orange Box so the bundle can be judged as a whole.

Whether you agree with all five games being grouped together for this award or not, there’s no denying that The Orange Box is one of the greatest values in the history of gaming. These games, individually, would merit consideration for this list. Together, in The Orange Box bundle, they make one of the best game’s of the last generation.

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About Steve Murray

Steve is the founder and editor of The Lowdown Blog and et geekera. On The Lowdown Blog, he often writes about motorsports, hockey, politics and pop culture. Over on et geekera, Steve writes about geek interests and lifestyle. Steve is on Twitter at @TheSteveMurray.

Posted on December 27, 2013, in Games, Long Read and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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