If you like gaming, have a PC that’s not yet a museum piece, but you don’t yet own The Orange Box (or all the games that comprise this amazing collection), do yourself a favor: Stop reading this article, go to the Steam page of The Orange Box, purchase it for for $30 and let it download in the background while you continue with this post. It’s that good.

Released in October 2007, The Orange Box is a compilation of some of the best titles produced by Valve Software: Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episodes One and Two, Portal and Team Fortress 2. They even throw in a tech demo Half-Life 2: Lost Coast, just in case the rest is not enough for you. You will be playing this stuff for months.

Half-Life 2: Combine terrorizing City 17


I don’t like to use numbers as an incentive for promoting my favorite gaming titles, but this time I pretty much have to. Typically a new game will run you for 50 or 60 bucks (that’s already twice more than TOB). Slightly older titles may drop to half of the price over time. In here you are getting one full-length title (HL2), three medium-length ones (HL2 episodes and Portal) as well as one of the best online multiplayer games (TF2), all for $30. If that isn’t an insane bargain, I don’t know what is.

Sure, games in the box are not the latest ones – but that’s only if you look strictly at the release date. Valve has been always known for unprecedented support for their games. Other studios typically release the game, then a bunch of DLC content, perhaps a patch or two if something is really broken and go on to their next title. Valve continues patching, improving and expanding their games with free updates for many years, creating game lifespans unseen anywhere else, with possible exception of MMOs.

Some of the more notable updates include the addition of the Achievement system to all the titles, upgrades to the Source engine, introducing HDRI and upcoming Mac OSX support, eight massive Team Fortress 2 updates containing new maps, weapons, items and even class mechanics and many more. On top of that, Valve’s Source SDK included in the package spawned huge amounts of user-generated content, from small mods changing the existing titles all the way to full-length games, all available for free download.

Half-Life 2: The Citadel slowly crushing through the buildings


While the original Half-Life 2, included in the box is almost 6 years old, the engine holds surprisingly well against the test of time. It may not be able to push as many polygons as CryEngine or whatever the id guys come up with, but beautiful and smart art direction in all the games in this package proves that it’s not the amount of polygons, but how you use them – that matters.

Let’s talk about the games themselves.

Half-Life 2 and the two episodic installments follow the ongoing saga of world’s best physicist-turned-badass, Gordon Freeman on his quest of surviving and understanding the dystopian reality of Combine-occupied world. Sci-Fi? Check! Zombies? Check! Fantastic script and acting? Check. What else do you need?

Half-Life 2: Episode 2: Cinematic building destruction


Without spoiling too much of the story, a lot has changed since the Black Mesa incident in the original Half-Life. While Gordon was suspended in stasis, the world has surrendered to the alien invasion and only small pockets of resistance remain fighting to take it back. Armed with an arsenal of weapons, a trusty crowbar and (slightly later in the game) the gravity manipulator gun, Freeman’s journey will take you on a crazy ride throughout good 35 hours of content spread among the three games.

While the gameplay is great, it is hard not to mention a deep and involving story that drives the actions of our protagonist. Full of twists and turns, it really enhances the immersion and gives the player a reason for playing much deeper than the usual (you’re the sole survivor, kill everything) scenarios of first person shooters. The ending of Episode 2 is one of most surprising and shocking developments in the story so far, leaving millions of fans hanging in the wait for long-delayed Episode 3.

Portal: A world in a world in a world in a…


Once you finished all the Half-Life 2 content, or when you need a break from it, you can grab Portal – a second title in The Orange Box collection. This mind-bending first person puzzle game will put you in a role of Chell, a subject of Aperture Science experiment involving a device that allows you to connect any two given spots in space using portal technology. Guided by the artificial intelligence computer GLaDOS, you will navigate a devious obstacle course (and beyond) lured by the promise of a big party and cake.

As with Half-Life 2, the writing and voice acting is absolutely superb – this time however, fueled by seemingly endless reserves of dark humor. While Portal was added to The Orange Box as a sort of experiment, it became one of the most famous titles in this collection, building up a cult following and springing to life numerous Internet memes.

Portal: Puzzle room


With the pending holiday 2010 release of Portal 2, you owe it to yourself to get familiarized with this title, especially since it’s setting is placed within the Half-Life universe and the story may intertwine with both the future Portal project as well as Episode 3.

Single-player content of The Orange Box concludes with the tech demo of Half-Life 2: The Lost Coast. This short chapter in the story of Gordon Freeman is one of the stages cut from the Half-Life 2 and concentrates on showcasing the (then) newly-added HDRI lighting techniques in the source engine.

Team Fortress 2: Blu team


Multiplayer component of The Orange Box comes in the form of Team Fortress 2 – a class-based FPS that despite its age (game years are even tougher than dog years) still boosts as strong a following as it did in the months following the launch. Looking at Team Fortress 2, it is hard to believe the game runs on the very same Source engine as the rest of the box. Instead of the realistic look, the game has been art directed in a cartoony, comic style, reminiscent of Pixar’s The Incredibles.

In TF2, player selects one of the 9 available classes and together with the team-mates competes in various gameplay modes against the team of the opposite color. Each class plays very differently from one another and players are encouraged to dynamically switch them depending on the current battle situation. Recent additions (expansions) introduced additional maps, weapons, gameplay modes as well as an entire crafting system for new items.

Team Fortress 2: Red Pyro


Team Fortress 2 is immensely fun to play, not only due to its depth but also because of the humor and style. It is hard not to laugh at Pyro’s muffled screams or Heavy’s love relationship with his gun. And if you get bored with the original content of the game, there are tons of user generated maps, mods and other additions, always keeping the game fresh.

It is really hard to sum up the entire Orange Box experience in one short article. Four amazing single-player games, months of online fun with the multiplayer TF2, endless supply of free mods for each of the titles as well as a very strong machinima following based on the Source engine make this collection an absolute must-buy for everyone.

The Orange Box is currently available for Windows PC, XBOX and PS3 with Mac OSX support coming soon. Personally, I have only played it on a PC, but I hear the XBOX port is pretty good. While I haven’t tested it myself, word on the street is, however, that the Playstation port is quite… iffy and I would recommend caution and perhaps some research when considering it.

Additionally, the PC version gets most regular free updates, great content delivery through Steam, and myself I always think first-person games are best controlled using a mouse and a keyboard. Once the OSX support launches, all the owners of the PC version will be automatically entitled to download the Mac version free of any extra charges.

The Orage Box: Trailer


The Orange Box (PC) is available for purchase at: