Here it is again if you haven't already played it on PC three years back, or on the original Xbox two years back, or at any point in between. The Orange Box contains not only the critically acclaimed Valve shooter, but the subsequent expansions to boot: Episodes One and Two. It's now reached a point where we can refer to the whole lot as a Half-Life 'saga' and be done with it.
The reasons everybody loves Half-Life 2 are as follows: you're Gordon Freeman, a scientist thrown into an Orwellian dystopia ruled by a despotic overlord and a race of curtain-twitching aliens. The tale is spun entirely in first person, from alighting the train at City 17, to being bullied by a man in a gas mask, to the moment you witness the downtrodden populace skulking about the town square while cops march about wielding electrified truncheons - there are no cutscenes, everything simply unfolds around you in wonderfully scripted sequences. The Half-Life universe, despite being your basic alien invasion story, is a rich, deep and involving place, full of interesting characters.
So now you're up to speed, you can probably guess that Gordon has some success in relieving Earth of the invading foe - but not entirely. Episodes One and Two recount your and your lovely lady companion's escape from a City 17 in turmoil, leading a rebel charge to some crucial victories over the enemy. Half-Life 2's particular brand of gunplay, combined with the game's signature weapon, the gravity gun (used for grabbing physics objects and hurling them with at the enemy with deadly force), is what makes both the original and the following episodes a joy to play. The gravity gun's importance wanes as the series continues, but at all times it's a useful tool, and Half-Life's defining weapon.
While Episode One focuses on co-operative teamplay with Alyx Vance (your aforementioned lovely lady companion), Episode Two concerns itself with a mad dash across an Eastern European countryside. The series goes from the urban confines of Episode One, to wide open rural areas, giving you a retro-fitted muscle car with which to tear up the environment. It's the most refreshing change of pace yet, with some enthralling new enemies to tackle, although there's still a definite thematic overlap - one that, at times, creates a sense of tedium. When Episodes One and Two aren't impressing you, they're retreading old Half-Life 2 ground by re-using enemies and situations.
As a collection, you're looking at one of the finest shooters ever created. If, on the other hand, you've just been waiting for the new episodic content, this might not be the revolution you're after. Regardless, The Orange Box contains Valve's finest work in Half-Life 2, and some of gaming's finest moments too. Play it if you haven't, play it again if you have.
TEAM FORTRESS 2
If you're past your teenage years and ever owned a PC capable of playing games, there's a good chance you know all about Team Fortress Classic, Half-Life creator Valve's explosively addictive Team Shooter.
Almost ten years after its original release on PC as a now-primitive Quake 2 mod, there are still thousands of shooter fans blasting, rocket jumping and flag capturing through Team Fortress's class-based chaos every day. The formula is timeless; pick from one of nine distinct and well-armed character classes, then face off in a rocket-flinging capture the flag match with more explosions than a Bruckheimer movie. With such a large following then, how does Valve possibly plan to top it with the inevitable sequel? It's taken the company longer than expected to figure that out...