Valve released the “Orange Box” last week. If the title is a bit odd it’s because what’s inside of it isn’t actually a “game” at all. Valve has grouped together a collection of two previously released titles along with three brand new goodies and sold them all at the price of a single game. It’s a good idea, but the irony is that the littlest game in the pack has the biggest bang for the buck.
At first I thought I’d be able to put off the purchase for a little while. Maybe a month or so. I played Half Life 2 when it first came out, and while it’s fun to see where the story is going I’m not really aching to find out what happens next. Game narrative can sometimes be compelling, but if I’m looking for story there’s a lot of movies and books that I still need to catch up on before I’m going to worry about what Gordon Freeman is up to lately. And if there isn’t some cool new game design in there (and I’ve heard there isn’t) then it’s not really worth it for me to pop the game into the drive. And while Team Fortress looks good and has some unique features, my itch for mutliplayer action has been pretty well scratched over the last few weeks with Halo 3.
But Portal is something special. If I had to describe the genre of the game I’d call it a “First Person Puzzler”. And if you’ve never heard that term before it’s because no one has made a game like this before. The player is given a gun that lets place two portals on the walls or floors that connect to each other no matter where they are. Each level is a small area where where the player must use figure out how to escape the room that they’ve been trapped in using the portal gun and whatever has been left in the room for them.
I only played it for an hour last Monday when someone brought a copy into the office. But since then I’ve found myself longing to finish the rest of it. And it isn’t just the design. The game has a wicked sense of humor that really enhances the experience.
There’s basically three ways you can get your hand on Portal. The Orange Box for the Xbox 360 is $60. That’s cool, but most of the folks I know are playing it on the PC, so if I’m going to play Team Fortress 2 at all then I’ll want the PC version. For the PC, it’s $50 as a downloadable, but only $40 if you can find a retail copy on sale. And finally Portal can be downloaded for $20 all by itself. But at that point it seems like I might as well pitch in another $20 and get the entire package. After hemming and hawing for a few days I got a copy from Amazon.com, and the game is on it’s way to me now. It’s been a weird decision making process, but ultimately I went for the value proposition that Valve has been hoping consumers would bite on. If would have needed to cover a $30 spread I probably would have just bought Portal by itself, even if the price is a little steep for a three hour game.
In a world filled with blockbuster titles that only marginally add new ideas, it’s been left up to the indie market to create titles that can really be considered cutting edge. Whether the Orange Box ends up being a major success or a noble failure, it’s interesting to see them try.