As you can see, my copy of The Orange Box is finally here. I’d actually ordered it a couple of months back from PCGame.com.my to be delivered to my wife’s house so that she could get it from her parents when they visited Australia. Unfortunately, when I tried activating it, I got an error message about how my license key is only valid for Russia and surrounding territories. I suppose that the Russia part is some mistake by Valve, and in any case, it clearly says on my box that this copy is only valid for Brunei, Cambodia, Indonedia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam and the Solomon Islands is not in this list.
No big deal, I’ll just have to actually attach the license key to my Steam account the next time I’m in Malaysia. In the meantime, I’ve actually played and finished Portal, which is the main reason I bought The Orange Box in the first place, by borrowing a colleague’s copy. Between us, we currently have four copies of the game in the company, and since I’d already paid for the game, I figured that it wouldn’t really count as software piracy. The only annoyance right now is that I won’t be able to play Team Fortress 2 online, and we won’t be able to do that anyway given our latency here.
Uninspired box art aside (it was ranked 10 in Games Radar’s list of the 15 worst games box art of 2007), I agree that this compilation is, as its back blurb claims, an incredible value for money for me since I’ve never played Half-Life 2 or its two subsequent episodes. This is an unforgiveable omission for any hardcore PC gamer and I was glad for the chance to remedy that. Still, after having finished Portal, I can happily say that it’s so good that I’d have paid for it alone.
For one thing it’s presentation and game mechanics make it clearly the most creative and innovative game of the year 2007. It’s so new that there’s no point in even trying to describe it. You’ll have to see it for yourself to understand what the fuss is all about. I agree with Valve director Gabe Newell when he says in the developer commentary that we’re just at the beginning of fully utilizing the new Portal mechanic. It’s exciting to think of the gaming possibilities once this mechanic gets integrated into more traditional FPS games.
What elevates Portal from being cool to great however is its quirky sense of humor. For such a short game with so few characters, it’s amazing how much story and personality the writers managed to cram into it. For this, we have Erik Wolpaw and Chet Faliszek to thank, the duo who might be better known to old-time gamers as the people behind the now defunct website Old Man Murray. OMM was famous in its day for its acidly harsh yet hilarious criticism of popular games and invented a “Start-to-Crate” system which rates games by measuring the time that it takes for an average gamer to encounter a crate in the game. So having the duo work for Valve, famous for its extensive use of crates in games, was already highly ironic. Now, the two have written a game in which the player’s faithful sidekick and companion is essentially a crate. Oh, how the circle has come around.
In addition to the Weighted Companion Cube, which has become an internet phenomenon, the game also features, of all things, cake. That’s right, instead of money, power or saving the world, the protagonist’s motivation throughout the game is the promise of cake at the end. Check out this interview with Wolpaw in Rock, Paper, Shotgun to learn more about how this came about. Finally, we have the villain, the AI known as GLaDOS, and the song she sings at the end of the game that makes the entire experience unforgettable. For those who have finished the game and want to rehear the song anytime you want, you can get it here. There’s also a guide in Rock, Paper, Shotgun on how to extract all of the other sounds including the dialogue. No doubt side-splitting stuff like, “The experiment is nearing its conclusion. The Enrichment Centre is required to remind you that you will be baked and then there will be cake,” are already being used by fans as mobile phone ringtones.
All these elements add up to a perfect storm of gaming and a great reminder of the power of humour to give emotional impact even to the most mundane things. During a time when companies like EA is churning out sequel after mindless sequel of its most popular titles and making huge money by doing so, it’s refreshing to see something like come out of the left field and totally blowing your mind away.
Just remember this: the cake is a lie!!!