Previews

Half-Life 2 Orange Box

Flash Gordon's gonna save every one of us...

In a world where your usual new release's recommended retail price is £50 and every great leap in graphical prowess seems to lop another few hours off their length, it's a refreshing change to be able to say that Valve are being really, really good to you. Not content with remastering the PC's best ever FPS for 360, they're also packing in two supremely addictive mods in the form of bizarre but compulsive puzzler Portal and Team Fortress 2's insanely violent cartoon carnage.

And let's not forget, that's in addition to Half-Life 2 Episode 1, widely regarded by PC gamers as one of the greatest pieces of add-on ever committed to disc - and then there's the all-new Episode 2, which really is shaping up to be something special.

Let's regroup: first, the graphical leap from the PC's Episode 1 proves they're making good use of the latest hardware. Next up, well, it looks like an absolute dream to play. The gravity gun is back with a bang. We've seen Gordon Freeman legging it away from super-powerful enemies, zapping anything in sight - crates, axes, barrels, even tin baths - and then shooting it straight back at the alien as he plays the wrong role in a fatal game of Tom & Jerry. The feeling of sheer panic and improvisation is perfect as he desperately scrambles through a shack, smashing windows with crowbars and leaping through them as he second-guesses which route the superb AI takes the enemy next. And he's not just running away, but all the time desperately looking for more debris to use as ammo.

Also looking great are the vehicle sections - an area which can be a bit hit and miss in even the best FPS' (COD 3, we're looking at you). The handling looks spot-on, but what struck us was the unpredictable exhilaration in the chases. In one pursuit Freeman is legging it away from a helicopter in a dirt buggy. The level feels open and wide, like you're really choosing your own route through a huge gameworld. The buggy has to dodge bullets and bombs as Freeman weaves his route across the grass, then along a train track before an alien leaps at him and starts swiping at his face. It's spectacular yet none of it feels forced or scripted.

So that's two monster FPS' plus Portal and Team Fortress 2? Deal yourself in. You know you want to.

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