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Half Life 2: The Orange Box Impressions

Before I start going in to any sort of detail about Half Life 2: The Orange Box, I want to remind you about a few choice quotes of some reviews from some big name games sites.

Here’s Eurogamer on some of the problems they encountered with Episode One and Two:

Dipping into the graphically more challenging Episode One, the game initially still manages to impress, matching the 720p/30 performance of Xbox 360 seemingly with few problems. However, the deeper you move into the game, the more the frame rate issues intrude on the experience. Catching falling debris with the gravity gun becomes an exercise in anticipating lag as the frame rate dives dramatically. Fierce firefights can become a slideshow. Death is your constant companion not necessarily because of your lack of gaming ability but because you literally can’t see what’s going on – the PlayStation 3 is simply not giving you enough visual information to work with.

But while Episode One is decent enough and just about bearable even when things go pear-shaped, its sequel is essentially a complete write-off. The Source Engine is pushed to its limits in Episode Two, rendering scenes far more complex than any seen in the previous Half-Life games. It looks absolutely gorgeous, but on PlayStation 3, the drop in frame rate is always with you, kicking in right from the beginning and rarely letting up.

That’s just a taster of their criticism for the PS3 version. Next up is IGN:

The remainder of our criticisms are to blame for the discrepancy in scores between the PlayStation 3 version of the game and the 360 version (the PS3 version, after all, wasn’t handled entirely by Valve). The PlayStation 3 Orange Box performs far worse, and this fact just isn’t up for debate. While framerate issues aren’t as problematic in Half-Life 2 and Episode One, Episode Two suffers a great deal, especially during the episode’s larger battles. We regret to say that some sections border on being unplayable because of the stutters, which often cause your aim to be thrown off and timing shots to be very difficult. The problem isn’t persistent throughout, but when it hits, it hits hard.

More troubling still is the difference in load times. Almost all the PS3 load times are at least five seconds more than the 360, but loading a saved game/loading after death is particularly awful. These clock in at about two to three times as long as the 360 version, which slows down the gameplay considerably. Even though the PS3 Orange Box sports a quicksave feature, any benefit of this option is lost considering the overall abundance of loading.

Gamespot’s HL2: The Orange Box Review doesn’t criticise the PS3 version quite as much as Eurogamer or IGN but it still mentions issues with frame rate and slowdown, not to mention the longer load times in the PS3 version.

And this is where I have a problem. Yes the PS3 version has stupidly long load times on all the games that I played (Team Fortress 2 is the only one I haven’t tried) but the issues with the frame rate and slowdown is greatly exaggerated.

I experienced one major incident of slowdown during Half Life 2, on the Route Kanal mission when I was in the boat. It lasted for under a minute and stopped after I got out of the boat. There were no other incidents of drops in framerate during the rest of HL2.

Next is Episode One. There were very few drops in frame rate during Episode One and when they did occur, it was usually just after I had quicksaved and it would last for 1sec then things would be back to normal. No major incidents of slowdown occurred during open play.

Finally, Episode 2, the much criticised portion of The Orange Box. IGN said it was virtually a complete write off. What a load of bullshit! There was one incident of slowdown during Episode 2, while playing the mission where Alyx was being healed and you had to fend off hordes of Antlions that came through four different tunnels.

It lasted for around 30 seconds and didn’t affect my ability to dispatch the Antlions with my shotgun. There were no other major problems of frame rate drops during the rest of the game, including the epic mission at the end. I won’t spoil it for people that haven’t played it but if you have played it, you know the mission I mean.

I have to question which version of the game IGN and Eurogamer were playing because it wasn’t the same version that I was playing. I almost missed out on experiencing The Orange Box due to these negative reviews. I’m glad I got it because it turns out the criticisms levelled at the PS3 version of the Orange Box were greatly exaggerated.

The game itself was an excellent experience. It took a while to draw me in, probably about halfway through HL2, but once I was it just got better and better.

Episode 2 is definitely the best portion of The Orange Box for me. The graphics are a step up from HL2 and Episode One (hardly surprising) but the pace and set pieces are also phenomenal, not to mention the shocking twist near the beginning that had me pretty emotional.

It’s definitely one of the best FPS I’ve played, with a great story and characters to match. Alyx and Dog make the HL2 so much more enjoyable. I wouldn’t of played the game solidly for over a week if it wasn’t for those two.

I hope more people give the PS3 version of The Orange Box a chance because it would be a shame for people to miss out on such a great experience.

Eurogamer’s HL2: The Orange Box Review

IGN’s HL2: The Orange Box Review