Saturday, October 20, 2007

Cracked open the Orange Box at last. For $79.90, it packs in 5 games, though 2 are reprises (more on them later). The new games are Half Life 2: Episode 2; the innovative 1st person puzzle game, Portal; and the multiplayer Team Fortress 2 that offers a higher level of complexity in the mix of character classes than ET:QW. TF2 I didn't load, since I'm NOT going online with it.

Ep. 2's strength is in cooperative gameplay partnering the player's character, Gordon Freeman, with a highly competent NPC who isn't just a great shot, but also offers contextualized, scripted "conversation" that moves the plot along, and gives the player a sense of companionship unparalleled in any other FPS. It's great having Alex Alyx watch your back with a sniper rifle as you plough through a radioactive swamp crawling with zombies. Though she never misses, the area is so target rich that the shotgun Gordon's totting doesn't have a chance to be idle.

Apart from the runnin' and gunnin', Ep. 2 is also a bit of a puzzle game involving environmental obstacles as well as figuring out how to get crucial bits of machinery functioning. Tense drama, blazin' guns, head-scratchin' moments, Ep. 2's got a little something for everyone.

Portal's a bit strange as a puzzler. The player carries a portal gun that opens holes in walls, floors and ceilings, but the point of entry into a portal leads to an exit point somewhere else on the map. This miracle of technology allows the player to manoeuvre around obstacles to reach objectives that are otherwise physically inaccessible. Amidst this rather disorienting experience is an adventure game that maintains a consistent narrative, driving the player from one puzzle to the next.

Warning: While beautiful and realistic in rendering graphics, the Source engine powering these games makes me sick to the core after a while. Motion sickness makes me play in bite-sized chunks, or alternatively, blow chunks. I prefer the former.

The older games in this package are HL2 and Ep. 1 all over again, for the benefit of first-time buyers who might want to complete the backstory leading to Ep. 2. And this is my cue to announce that publisher, Valve, having recognized me as a legal purchaser of these previous 2 games, allows me to legally GIVE away 1 copy of each to anyone I choose. I'm not exactly sure how the download process is going to work exactly, but the recipient, I suppose, needs to create an account with Valve first. Sooo... any takers? Email me at; 1st come, 1st served!

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