hl2_logo.jpgThe Orange Box is now available to pre-order through Steam, and those of you who take the offer up will get a treat.

Valve are including a beta key for Team Fortress 2 with the pre-order, allowing you to start playing the long awaited sequel next week. The Orange Box includes the full version of Team Fortress 2 along with Half Life 2, Episode 1, Episode 2 and the intriguing Portal and is being touted as the best deal in videogames since Chu Chu Rocket was given away with the Dreamcast. If bought individually the package would cost upwards of $120 (+tax) on Steam, but Valve are almost giving the package away at a price of $50+tax ($45 if you pre-order)

hl2e2.jpgEpisode 2 is the next part of the Half Life saga and sees Gordon Freeman going up against some new adversaries (pictured). Gabe Newell (you should really know who he is by now) has compared Episode 2 to films like The Empire Strikes Back and The Matrix Reloaded, it being the middle episode of a trilogy, in that it is a darker affair than previous excursions and acts as a bridge between the first two parts and the finale which is to come in Episode 3.

portal.jpgPortal is probably the most intriguing of the three new titles offered as part of The Orange Box. A prisoner in a combine experimantal laboratory, you are given a prototype of a new weapon and a series of tasks to complete. The weapon is the Portal Gun, not unlike the Gravity Gun of the other HL2 games, it is an indirect weapon which interacts with the environment around you in a deceptively simple way, but to devastating, and often hilarious effect. Primary fire creates an entrance portal on any flat surface, floor, wall, ceiling, and secondary fire creates the exit portal. Entrance in the floor, exit in the ceiling directly above and you can fall forever. More a puzzle game than a traditional FPS adventure to begin with, you use the portal gun to navigate a series of increasingly complex and deadly rooms, finding new and interesting ways to defeat turrets, activate inaccessible switches and move bits of scenery around. This is the part of the Orange box I’m looking forward to the most (not to belittle the other parts, I’m sure they’ll be great).

team_fortress_2_leadin.jpgTeam Fortress is the part of The Orange Box package that has been receiving the most attention, and rightly so. Its pedigree is impeccable, appearing on the Quake mod scene almost a decade ago, and moving from engine to engine down the years. Its last, and probably most popular incarnation was on the original Half Life engine as Team Fortress Classic. When development of TF2 began its look was more in keeping with TFC, with the classes retaining the same characteristics as the HL mod but a rethink was demanded and the distinctive Incredibles style caricatures were born. As a result this is not a game you can take too seriously, the Heavy is reminiscent of Jesse Ventura’s character in Predator, The spy is an amalgam of every Spy cliché in the book and the Soldier takes the Tackleberry character from the Police Academy films to an extreme that even he would have found disturbing. Multiplayer fun should be guaranteed, and if you pre-order you can play the beta from next Monday. When I get it I’ll be organising a TF2 Beta Event through our Steam Group (If possible) so we can give it a go.

The Orange Box is released to UK retail on October 12th (October 10th in the states and presumably on Steam), those of you with HL2 and Ep1 already will be able to give the ones included in the package to a friend from the release date. It will also be available on the 360 for those of you who don’t have a PC though there will be no cross-platform multiplayer.

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