The Orange Box is a compilation of various different videogames developed by Valve software, released for the PC, the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3. This review is mostly aimed as the game as a compilation of videogames as a whole, as well as several "out-of-game" stuff, such as differences between the 3 versions.
It was released in fall of 2007 to massive and overwhelming critical acclaim. It originally was to have a compilation counterpart, called The Black Box, which contained only 3 of the games, instead of 5, but it was eventually cancelled due to possible confusion over its contents.
Now, 13 of April of 2009, a good year and several months after the game's release, I am writing a review of a possibly fully polished version, although still not complete in terms of contents.
The Orange Box contains a total of five games, three of which were new, the remaining 2 being old titles previously developed by Valve software: Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episode One, Half-Life 2: Episode Two, Team Fortress 2 and Portal. I'll write a superficial review of each game, as it'd be unneccessary to include full-depth reviews for each (you can find them in this site).
An action FPS (First Person Shooter), Half-Life 2 is the sequel to one of the most popular, high-quality and influencing title of computer gaming: Half-Life. The game pits the player under the eyes of Gordon Freeman, the protagonist from the afromentioned title, in a new story in which he finds himself as the only chance for humanity to escape the oppressive iron fist of an alien empire, the Combine.
Half-Life 2: Episode One
Episode One continues Half-Life 2 from the point the game ends, and follows the escape of Gordon Freeman and Alyx Vance from City 17, about to be entirely destroyed due to events occured in the previous game.
Half-Life 2: Episode Two
Episode Two is the sequel to Episode One. Considerably richer in content, length and storyline, it follows the plot of Gordon and Alyx through the outskirts of City 17 through a nearby forest and eventually reaching a large rebel base, housing a rocket silo.
An interesting FPS-puzzle hybrid, Portal pits the player as a woman named Chell, test mouse of a seemingly insane computer called GLaDOS, which places her in dangerous tests, which she must solve using the Portal Gun, which can create portals that link any 2 points in space.
Team Fortress 2
An online, team-based, class-based FPS (that's a long description), in which 2 teams as large as of 16 people fight eachother in various maps with different objectives, such as capturing control points, escolting a large bomb on a cart to the heart of the enemy's base itself, and the classic Capture the Flag (with a twist which turns the flag into a bright-coloured briefcase); all using beautifully done, highly stylized cartoon-style graphics. Team Fortress 2 is updated frequently, and right now, it's in the middle of a large-scale "overhaul" which will add large amounts of contents to every class in the game individually, most prominently achievements and unlockable weapons, for free (in the PC).
Sadly, most game compilations compensate the mediocre quality of their individual games with the fact that more than one are included as a single package. However, it is safe to say that The Orange Box is groundbreaking in all senses, including five games (a rather large amount), all of which are of absolutely outstanding quality.
That said, there are a few downsides in The Orange Box.
Advances in technology have made things such as patches (traditionally believed to be impossible in consoles, until the most recent generations) possible, but that doesn't mean "practical". While the PC version gets frequent updates, the 360 version has got very few updates, and the new content is coming in large chunks instead of (ir)regular releases, containing all the patches up to then released for the PC. On the other side, the Playstation 3 version is not getting any updates at all, as its publisher, Electronic Arts (Valve itself published the other 2 versions), refuses to.
That's the most prominent differences between the various versions, but there are more. Apart from the obvious different control schemes, the console versions have a different background for the main menu from the PC version, contain larger amounts of bugs and exploits and also lack a little content, not related to the class overhauls, such as extra player voice clips.
In conclusion, The Orange Box is literally a must-have for everyone, except kids, as the game are quite mature in content. With 5 amazing games for the price of one (9, 98€ per game as average), there is absolutely no reason to let it pass.