You could reasonably argue that it's too short, but I'd argue that in the context of The Orange Box, this is spot-on for what amounts to a freebie. Tom 'ninja' Bramwell claims the 19 test chambers will only take three hours on first run-through, but I'd suggest more that it's closer to four hours if you struggle through the last few like I did. The addition of 'expert' versions ought to keep completists happy, and some of the Achievements add a superb challenge element to what is the most compelling 3D puzzle game I've ever come across.
And if all that's not enough then the inclusion of Team Fortress 2 should pretty much blow any residual cynicism away. If you're bored with the online shooter scene, then Valve's wonderful efforts should go a long way to restoring your faith. The best part of a decade in the making, it single-handedly addresses many of the issues that so many of us have had with games of this nature over the past few years. Chief of these is the way Valve's exaggerated cartoon stylings not only give the game a feel-good factor missing from so many of its super-serious (but drearily generic-looking) competitors, but, crucially, make it easy to see what the character class is even from a distance. With so much of your decision-making hinging on who you're facing and who you can team up with, it totally removes that sense of exasperation you might have had when playing other team-based offerings.
Another crucial part of Team Fortress 2's appeal is how much fun it is to play - no matter which character class you decide to plump for. There's no sense of everyone choosing the same set of characters, as every single one seems to boast an exceptionally cool ability that people will inevitably want to experiment with. On top of that, once you start improving and sussing out each of the six maps, real team-work comes into play once the penny drops that certain characters (like the heavy weapons guy and the medic) work exceptionally well together. As deceptively simple as Team Fortress 2 appears to be on the surface, the formula has been honed and refined to perfection. The maps, in particular, warrant a special mention for being easy to memorise, but brilliantly balanced - but after nine year's, you'd damn well hope so...
One thing we haven't discussed so far is how the games fare on their transition to 360 and PS3. The latter we still cannot comment on (Valve couldn't even show it to us when we travelled to its office), but if the former is anything to go by then the answer is this: perfect. In terms of visuals, Valve has managed to get all elements of the package running in full 1080p, with full detail, and no hint of frame-rate loss.
Running on a big HD screen, the game has never looked better or felt more immersive - even more so if you're blessed with a decent 5.1 audio set-up. Load times (or reload times) are minimal, spooling data off the disk for ten seconds every five minutes or so, and reloading the game roughly as quickly after a death. Better still, the game has an excellent autosave system (which even remembers to retain the previous autosave, should the game accidentally autosave itself, say, just as one of you is about to die - as happened once) and there are none of the stutters or hitches that once were the bane of PC owners a few years back.
Pad of joy
The only area some of you might get a bit sniffy about is how the game feels on a joypad. As someone who was forced to adapt to FPS control on a joypad after years of preferring mouse control, I can assure you that Valve has done a fantastic job. Not once does the game cop out by giving you auto-aim, but manages to make every game feel every bit as slick and smooth as it ever did on the PC.
Take Portal, for example. Later in the game when you're rotating in mid-air, diving headlong into the ground and shooting portals from up high, you desperately need a degree of instant precision that joypads don't offer - yet the game felt every bit as playable despite this. It's a case of what you're used to - and fortunately the arrival of the game on three formats caters for everyone's preferences in style, and for a price you can't complain about. A quick search prior to this review revealed that the PC boxed version is available for under GBP 25, and the 360 or PS3 version roughly GBP 10 more. PC owners should also be aware that they can give their CD-keys to friends if they already own Half-Life 2 or Half-Life 2: Episode One, too.
The Orange Box offers everything any fan of first-person shooters could possibly want: some of the best single-player gaming ever in the shape of Half-Life 2 and Episodes One and Two; wonderful innovation from Portal, and the most refined, downright fun team-based online FPS currently available in Team Fortress 2. If that doesn't warrant a 10 out of 10, nothing does. Buy it and enjoy one of the must-have releases of this - or any other - year.
10 / 10