The Orange Box + Portal
My copy of The Orange Box showed up today. The Orange Box is, for sixty bucks, the following games combined:
* Half-Life 2
* Half-Life 2, Episode 1
* Half-Life 2, Episode 2
* Team Fortress 2
Let’s get the Half-Life stuff out of the way. I played Half-Life 2 on the PC in 2004 when it was released and it was one of the best games I’d ever seen. So to get a combination platter of HL2 as well as its two sequals (which I hadn’t played, and one of which was new) is totally fucking awesome. I’m about 1/3 of the way through HL 2; I figured I should play that first (again) to get it fresh in my mind before touching the second and third parts (these are poorly named. The first part, Half-Life 2, ends on a cliff hanger; so why call the second part “episdoe 1”?)
Anyways. Team Fortress 2.
I was world ranked in the previous version of this game, Team Fortress Classic, in the top 5000 in the world. And my rank was actually fucked up, since I switched tags three times. So.
I have been waiting for Team Fortress 2 since 1999. Shit you not.
So, first: The sheer awesomeness that is the art direction of TF2 makes me cry. It’s just plain perfect. It’s a fuckin’ *cartoon*, but it’s ferpect. In fact, if they’d gone with the “realism” aspect, I’d be pissed. It wouldn’t work.
That being said, though, I couldn’t play the fucking game. With the exception of *one* match (and I played ten), the lag that I was inflicted with was insufferable. Totally fucking unplayable. And it wasn’t me; everyone on the map complained about it.
I’m not talking about your standard “three seconds of lag and then we’re done” type crap. I’m talking about “45 seconds of lag and holy crap how did I end up here ’cause I was trying to go east how the fuck did I end up inside the enemy base I’m on defense” type of lag. Hellish lag. Game destroying lag.
This is either a) a problem that will quickly resolve itself due to something on my end (unlikely based on the comments from other players) or b) something that will eventually get patched. However, I have to totally thumbs down TF2 based on this right now; even with all the tea-bagging jerkholes, HL3 multiplayer totally fucking owns TF2 right now. I never see lag in HL3.
Now, on to Portal.
Portal may very well be the most intelligent video game ever released.
The story is simple: You’re a test subject in a lab. They’re determining your intelligence by giving you a device that creates “portals” between space points. The blue door always leads to the orange door. So if you can move the blue door (or the orange door) how do you get to the exit of each maze?
It’s. . . . extremely difficult to describe how Portal works in words. It truly is a game that must be played to be understood. You fire the blue gun, and a blue portal opens. Step through the blue portal and you come out the orange portal. Fire the orange gun, and the orange portal opens (and if you step through that, you exit the blue portal).
So: Fire the orange portal at the ceiling directly above you. Now, fire the blue portal directly beneath you. POW. You fall forever: into the blue, out the orange, into the blue, out the orange, forever.
Your momentum is kept through portals. So you fall to the ground, and halfway down fire your orange portal to the left, and BAM, now you’re “falling” left rather than in the vertical axis.
I’m about 15 levels into the game, and each level is a puzzle. There are no bad guys with guns to kill you – though there are things that will kill you, like radioactive water – these are “hazards” you need to work around rather than enemies.
Despite its first-person perspective, Portal is, at its heart, a puzzle game. And its a puzzle game that requires a sharp degree of three-dimensional spatial relations understanding. The problems are the kind of geometric problems that appear on IQ tests or Mensa applications. Only harder (I’ve taken both).
Since you have infinite time, you’ll probably eventually figure it out. But there is a mental cross-over point when you “get” how the portals work, at which point the solutions become. . . well. Not “easy”, but “fun”. “Fun” rather than “frustrating”, maybe. This happened for me around level four or five, I think: at that point, I was more enthralled by the beauty of the game design, of the puzzle design, than anything else in the game.
There is a creepy, robotic voice following you through the game, too. It helps set the mood. “We. Are required. To inform you. That. The water. Will cause death. We advise. That you not. Submerge yourself. Be. careful.” Stuff like that.
I had previously played Prey (previously played Prey), which also made use of this modern-generation “portal” stuff. But in Prey, the portals were “static” – they were basically doors, and once you oriented yourself to them, they were no different than other doors. But Portal takes this above and beyond the call.
I don’t expect that this game will be popular with the rest of the world. I expect that most people will play 2 or 3 levels, get frustrated, and quit. But for those people who struggle through the initial brain rewiring required, it’s a totally rewarding and challenging experience, and totally worth the 60 dollar ticket on its own.