Half Life 2: The Orange Box Part 1

June 18, 2008 § 4 Comments

Disclaimer: Prepare to bear witness to some spoilers, like…big ones. You have been warned.

Half Life 2: The Orange Box is perhaps the best example of forward thinking displayed by a company in a very long time. It was released last year by Valve, who everyone should immediately recognise and the insanely talented developers of the Half Life series. We’re talking here about the people who introduced Gordan Freeman and perhaps reinvented the first-person shooter in the age of extremely fast paced multiplayer focussed shooters of the late nineties. Both the original Half Life released in 1998 and its sequel in 2004 were critically acclaimed best-sellers, winning the hearts of gamers world over.

It should come as not surprise then that when Valve first announced Episode 2, the continuation of the series, most expected the game to be released as a stand alone product, but Valve went against this speculation with the news that Episode 2 would not only ship with the original Half Life 2 and Episode 1, but also with two other games; the long awaited Team Fortress 2 and Portal. This move goes against every rule followed by major videogame companies today. They were not only going to include 3 entirely new games together, but they would also pack in the other games in the series. By doing this Valve effectively threw a net over the entire videogaming community; veterans to the Half Life series would get the next chapter in Gordan Freeman’s adventures as well as two seperate game, and newbies would get a handy catch up guide. It was hard for anyone to resist and the sales reflected this with an average score of 96% on Metacritic.

Today’s article is not focussed on Portal or Team Fortress 2, rather it is focussed on Episode 2, which although amazing in both scale and quality, was overshadowed by it’s two rival siblings. It is a game which is very hard to describe in an introductory sentence; the game is in many ways a continuation of the goal of escape presented in Episode 1 but also marks a turning point when the resistance finally makes a stand against the Combine forces and needless to say, wins.

The game starts, just as its predecessor did, at precisely the point the previous game ended. You’re in the wreckage of a recently destroyed train, blown off the tracks by the massive explosion resulting from the collapse of City 17’s reactor. Immediately the game shows you the peril you’re in when you suddenly see Combine forces swarming by on a nearby road, and it soon becomes clear to you that escape is essential. You need to reach the resistance headquarters and deliver a transmission packet of supreme importance to Dr. Kleiner in order to shut down the super portal opened by the Combine to their home world.

You may have noticed that I referred to “you” in the second person last paragraph in stark contrast to the usual third person “Gordan” or “the main protagonist” I usually use when describing a game’s plot. This is almost certainly due to the fact that Half Life is almost unique in it’s methods of storytelling. You, in effect, are Gordan Freeman. You’re experiences have been kept the same right from the beginning of Half Life 1, and it’s very hard not to become the character you’re playing. At no point in the game do you see Gordan from the third person, at no point do you look in the mirror and see his ginger goatee staring back at you. In fact, apart from the game’s box art, we have no idea who Gordan Freeman actually looks like, and this all adds to the illusion that he’s almost not a real person at all, merely an extension of your own being. When Alyx is seriously injured near the beginning of the game you feel a loss, because that’s your relationship with her that was damaged, not a two-dimensional plot device shoehorned in by the developer. This is not the story of how Gordan Freeman saved the world, but yours.

You’re on the run. At every point in the game you feel outnumbered and it’s made very clear to you, at least in its narrative, that you can’t stay anywhere for very long for fear of discovery by the masses. For the entirety of the game you’re rushing from place to place, using what you can before moving on in your turbo charged buggy. It should come as no surprise then that when you finally reach White Forest you feel safe for the first time in ages, you finally feel, dare I say it, at home. And yet it doesn’t last, but of course you knew that already, because this is Half Life, and things never go your way, and this brings us to the single most awesome event in the Half Life games to date, the stand off against the invading Striders.

You’ve faced them before, in the linear confined of City 17 but this time it’s different, you no longer have your trusty rocket launcher with which to take them down systematically one by one but instead you’re forced once again to turn to the Gravity Gun to attach sticky bombs to the rapidly approaching Striders, taking them out whilst trying in vain to protect White Forest. This set piece is not only unique because of it’s epic scale, but also because it marks a real turning point in the series. You’ve finally stopped running away from the Combine and you’re ready to take their full force on. This can be best described as an evolution of your character, transforming you from the scared cowardly (ish) scientist into the hardened warrior you must become if you’re going to deal with these invading forces permanently.

Episode 2 is not simply a great game because of it’s graphics, enemies or gameplay. Episode 2 is a great game because it is a true evolution of the series. When you reach the end credits you really feel as if you’ve covered some distance emotionally rather than being the exactly the same person you were six hours ago. It also manages to really make you empathise with your character, you feel his pain, his anger, his fear, and it truly manages to immerse you in this world, and make you lust for more after its concluding chapter.

At some point in the future hopefully Trolleydude will step in the write part 2 of this article, focussing on the likes of Team Fortress 2 and Portal. Stay tuned for that in the future! As for me, anyone who’s been reading this blog for any length of time should know that I’m a huge Metal Gear fan so it should come as no surprise to you that I’ve been playing the hell out of MGS4. I plan to write up a detailed review of the game in the near future, however it won’t be a review in the traditional sense, containing huge plot spoilers much as this article has. Until next time.

Peace out.

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