The Orange Box (PS3) Impressions: Volume One

orange_box_ps3_impressions.jpgDon't tell my boss, but I've been playing video games all day. The UPS man rang the bell at Kotaku's west coast home office today with a copy of the PlayStation 3 edition of The Orange Box. You know what this is right? The collection of Half-Life 2, a pair of Half-Life 2 episodes, Portal and Team Fortress 2 that everyone's gone gaga over. Unfortunately for Valve and publisher EA, 1UP wrote a disheartening preview of the PS3 version calling it, at times, "downright unplayable" and devolving into a "slideshow" at times. This resulted in a bit of a tizzy. Sister sites IGN and Gamespy were less harsh, but I've spent about five hours with the game today to form my own opinion of the final retail copy.

After a quick look around, ducking into Team Fortress 2—which I was able to play momentarily and only in a solitary sense—and working through the first hour of Half-Life 2, I decided to check out what was being billed as the main offender—Half-Life 2: Episode Two. Within the first few minutes, my fears were confirmed. Right off the bat, Episode Two started to chug.But that was it. After that first scene, featuring our silent protagonist moving through a train car derailed in the wilderness, it was smooth sailing. Walking from out of doors to a nearby cave, the frame rate held. Then, within the first ten minutes of the episode, bizarre texture popping or some such graphical glitch was affecting sidekick Alyx Vance's leather jacket. Something else already? Ugh. But, this too, quickly subsided, and was never seen again.

For the next few hours, the game's graphics performance stayed strong. Having engaged in some heavy fire fights during the course of the afternoon, and experiencing nothing out of the ordinary, I was wondering when it was going to head south. While I have yet to actually finish the episode, I've encountered nothing game breaking, merely a few stutters.

Most of my experiences had taken place indoors, and despite the odd hitch when the lighting went into "look at me!" mode, the Source engine, the Cell and the RSX held their own. When Freeman emerged from a mineshaft and back into the woods, I started to notice a few graphical quibbles. A pair of rocky spires popped in rather crudely, with the level-of-detail change being somewhat noticeable.

The frame rate took a hit in a few spots while outdoors, but mostly when quickly panning from side to side, as the game's motion blur effects kicked in.

I stopped playing right before one of Half-Life 2: Episode Two's vehicle sequences, one of the complaints pointed out in the 1UP preview. I'll be there soon enough, as I plan to finish the Episode tonight and will keep my eyes peeled for any inconsistencies.

There's still plenty of game to cover, but my initial impressions of the final game's technical capabilities are positive. We'll see if they don't last soon enough.

Now that all that frame rate and lighting nonsense is out of the way, how does The Orange Box play? Quite well, actually. As a big fan of the Half-Life series, I'm willing to forgive the odd quibble, but wouldn't want anything to interfere with my experience. Episode Two, so far, has been great fun, exploring a handful of new mechanics and adding interesting set pieces to the series. Using the SIXAXIS for control works quite well, even if I'm not totally in tune with the default controller mapping. Normally, I play my Valve games on the PC, as I have already done with Half-Life 2: Episode One, Portal and Team Fortress 2, but I found the console version to be just as enjoyable.

As far as the game's other titles, I've only spent a bit of time with each. Half-Life 2 was smooth, if a bit homelier in parts than I remember it from a few years ago. And while Portal looks to be a nicely handled port, I can't yet pass judgment on Team Fortress 2. No one else was playing TF2 this morning, unsurprisingly, so my hands-on time with the shooter was uneventful. I certainly can't judge the game's performance when I'm the only one on the map, but hopefully I'll find a few opponents sooner rather than later.

Expect another volume of hands-on impressions of the PlayStation 3 version of The Orange Box tomorrow.


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