Constipation is no laughing matter
Constipation is no laughing matter

By cleverly packaging Half Life 2: Episode Two, POrtal, and Team Fortress as one, Valve jam-packed a barrel of fun to rate higher in Game of the Year awards. Priced at $49.95 on Steam, it’s a deal with the inclusion of Half Life 2 and Half Life 2: Episode One totalling the value at $129.75. Go, go gadget infomercials for this clever marketing technique. Considering their devoted followers already own these two previous games, The Orange Box inclusion makes up for a lack of content. By that, I mean from the perspective of playing time, whether it’s high-quality or not.

POrtal

POrtal uses engine rendering techniques found in Prey to make rooms seamlessly flow. Shoot a gun at any angle onto (almost) any surface to initialize a doorway, then a secondary shot to another surface completes the portal. The result is a series of physics puzzles involving turrets, crates (I didn’t test out the STC), lasers, and dangerous liquids that look like steaming, toxic poop. Architecture has an old-school Lego simplicity with its square angles and texture work, but that expands once you explore “outside” the training area.

Much love surrounding this game is the vocoded female voice going meta on you. Your experience becomes narrated, mocking nonchalant and inconsequential deaths found in video games. Logical android characters initially display subtle self-awareness of their human counterparts. They expose a malevolent edge to their behaviour that escalates as levels progress. Turrets’ exclaim “I don’t blame you” after getting knocked over. And the female voice-over promising to stop “enhancing the truth” of her narration.

Things have gone all upside-down face. *stare*
Things have gone all upside-down face *stare*

While this clever humour roused smirks out of me, the resulting interwebisms culled from this game just need a rest. “The cake is a lie” and coda song are noteworthy quirky portions of the game’s content, but they are not catchphrases requiring ad nauseam mimicry. Sledgehammer, head.

The game is also short in length, taking three hours on average to cover. Hopefully once mod tools come out, we’ll see more creative campaign add-ons like Ren 2. You should also check out the video of Zero Punctuation’s review for all its motor-mouthed witticisms.

Half Life 2: Episode Two

For Half Life 2: Episode Two, any preview claiming the world was more open, it didn’t mean open-ended. You see more outdoor terrain – that’s all. Any illusion of non-linearity in the final scripted strider fight is an illusion. Fights are still predictable and so are the paths to follow. It’s still the rail-shooter we’ve come to hate love.

After its absence in episode one, vehicular gameplay returns in the form of a make-shift muscle car. It handles better than Highway 17’s buggy in HL2. You’re also exposed to two new enemies: a Hunter (mini-strider that charges) and an Acidlion (larval antlion that shoots… acid.)

Hello, random character (not the gnome)
“Hello, random character” (not the gnome)

The episode begins at the train wreckage episode one ended with. Pre-release game trailers showed Alyx dangling on the edge of the intro train bridge but instead you start below it. According to developer commentary, Valve changed the segment where she’s hurt/disabled because falling from a bridge is too arbitrary. So you can fight alone, like Gordon will always be. Alone.

The portal storm and resulting bridge collapse is neat to see in real time. It exposes you to live cutscenes used often and showcases the physics engine.

One odd part occurs shortly after the bridge when Alyx makes video contact with a rebel base called White Forest. Kleiner and her father Eli located there along with a new character Dr. Magnuson. He comes on screen and immediate indicates what an antagonistic dickhead he is. We aren’t introduced whatsoever why this character acts so aggro or his relation to other characters. We have Alyx, Barney, and these likable characters on the good side. So let’s throw in a neurotic megalomaniac for good measure. Right on.

Interaction with NPCs are much like Half-Life 2 where everyone knows your character (the free-man, thank you Vortigaunt annunciator.) They shoot off rounds of weak fire at enemies while you do all the hard work. Of course, Gordon the mute, is always a passive puppet in the narrative. At one point, Alyx even asks, “what do you think?”, as if you have a choice. Thanks for volunteering me for all the dangerous tasks, assbags.

There are amusing lines of dialog during idle time, if you pay close attention. When you’re about to enter White Forest, follow two characters that run in the opposite direction and sit at the cliff on watch out. You’ll hear the black male claim, “after this is over, I’m gonna mate!”, with the white female respond, “that’s enough out of you.” Racial. Inside the base for the Our Mutual Fiend chapter, you can stand beside a security dude on detail staring at surveillance monitors utter, “I hate my life”. Cheer up, emo NPC. 🙁

I just felt like stacking some cars, ok?
I just felt like stacking some cars, ok?

Just last week I played through the previous two games and was chuckling due to every interaction forcing NPCs to use the phrase “Gordon Freeman”. Every time. This time I took eight hours to beat Half Life 2 and Episode One in three. Episode Two takes about the same time as its predecessor.

The ending references episode three taking part in the Arctic, or at least somewhere with tangible weather. It also chucks in a loose Portal connection and gives a story snippet on G-Man. For reals though, the story isn’t the reason people play this series. It’s the production values and design cohesiveness, which Half Life 2: Episode Two shows in spades.

There are cutesy additions to the package, like Steam’s Xbox Live-style achievement system. Now you can lengthen your ePenis then immediately cry yourself to sleep. The “Rocket Man” one is a nuisance once the gunship comes into play half-way through the episode. The lawn gnome won’t stay in your car due to shoddy physics when turning corners. I believe the only people with all 22 achievements in Half Life 2: Episode Two are from Asiana.

Team Fortress 2

We also get the long-delayed multiplayer online addition, Team Fortress 2, with all its The Incredibles-inspired artwork and bloody loud humour. I haven’t touched this part of the release since my computer desk is an ergonomic nightmare. It’s a cheap clothes dresser where the keyboard tray is one of the drawers flipped over. White trash ahoy. Once I have played it, I just might review Team Fortress 2. Until then, off with ya.