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'Orange Box' highlights videogame releases this week

SAN FRANCISCO — While attending a gaming summit recently on the Electronic Arts campus near San Francisco, journalists and game representatives had one common question: "What have you seen that you have been impressed with?"

While it's impossible to judge a game on a relatively short hands-on experience, there were a few standouts from the conference. One of these was less-hyped and viewed as a bit of a repackaging by many, but my honest answer to the above question was often, "Uh, well, Orange Box."

PC gamers know Gordon Freeman from his adventures in the action adventure shooter, "Half Life" and "Half-Life 2." Versions of the games also hit the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox with very good results and a strong following sprang up; it remains active in the bleak futuristic setting where horrorific aliens and a government conspiracy control or enslave most of humankind. The game's action but especially its mythology are a strong draw to intellectual gamers who enjoy emptying a clip into a grotesque form from time to time.

The "Orange Box" released Wednesday on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 combines Freeman's adventures from "Half-Life 2," "Half-Life 2: Episode 1, Half-Life 2: Episode 2," and unrelated content "Team Fortress 2" and "Portal." For hard-core Half-Lifers the standard price of a game for only the new material of the new Episode 2 may seem steep. Who wants to buy a game they have already played?

But Electronic Arts, perhaps with that in mind, has padded the release with some very fine content. "Team Fortress 2" is another shooting game but designed completely around head-to-head or team competition and instead of a plot presents fun, cartoon combatants with strengths and vulnerabilities that creates a pretty great combat system. Emphasis here is on the social experience while Half-Life games are a solo endeavor.

The ugly sister in all this is the new "Portal" game, a first person puzzler. It turns out to be the surprise beauty of the whole package. It leads this week's release lineup.


Videogame releases this week:

Monday, October 8

PSP

Juiced 2: Hot Import Nights

Wii

Donkey Kong Barrel Blast

Tuesday, October 9

Nintendo DS

Backyard Hockey

Bleach: The Blade of Fate

Cocoto Kart Racing

FIFA 08

Looney Tunes: Duck Amuck

Power Play Pool

Touch Detective 2 1/2

PlayStation 2

FIFA 08

Looney Tunes: ACME Arsenal

Mountain Bike Adrenaline

PlayStation 3

FIFA 08

Folklore

Sega Rally Revo

PSP

Crash of the Titans

FIFA 08

Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions

Jackass The Video Game

Sega Rally Revo

Star Wars Battlefront Renegade Squadron

World Series of Poker 2008

Xbox 360

FIFA 08

Half Life 2: The Orange Box

Looney Tunes: ACME Arsenal

Sega Rally Revo

Wii

Bleach: Shattered Blade

FIFA 08

Looney Tunes: ACME Arsenal