Great moments in PC gaming: That time Valve released three new games on the same day

The Orange Box
(Image credit: Valve)

Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.

The Orange Box

The cover of The Orange Box

(Image credit: Valve)

Developer: Valve
Year: 2007

Imagine a major game developer releasing three new games not just in the same year but on the same ding dong dang day. And not just any old three games! One was the next chapter in one of the biggest singleplayer shooter series of all time, another was a sequel to one of the most beloved multiplayer shooters of all time, plus we got a completely new first-person game that looked different to anything we'd ever seen before. 

That was the scene way back in October 2007 when Valve released The Orange Box containing Half-Life 2: Episode 2, Team Fortress 2, and Portal. (Technically it was five games because it also included Half-Life 2 and Episode 1, as if everyone didn't already own them.) 

It's genuinely hard to imagine anything like The Orange Box happening again in gaming, ever. It'd be like Ubisoft releasing a new Assassin's Creed, Far Cry, and The Division game on the same day, or Blizzard giving us Hearthstone 2, StarCraft 3, and a Diablo 4 expansion all at once.

It just wouldn't happen that way. No one wants the launch of their game to be overshadowed by another game coming out on the same day, and yet Valve willingly smooshed all three of its big releases shoulder-to-shoulder and shoved them into our PCs at the same time. Bizarre yet beautiful.

I'm not 100% sure which of the three games I played first. Along with tons of other people I pre-purchased The Orange Box, which let me play Team Fortress 2 about a month early, so my real choice was whether to play Portal before finishing the second episode of Half-Life 2. I suspect I jumped into Portal first, because it just looked so damn cool in the trailers Valve showed before launch, and I do know I played it all in a single sitting. It was short and sweet, taking only a few hours, after which I immediately played it again because those few hours left me wanting more. 

I'm pretty sure I played Portal all the way through three times in just that first week, and since then I've probably played it a half-dozen more times. Meanwhile, I'd go on to play about 500 hours of Team Fortress 2 over the next couple years. For just two of its three games, The Orange Box was one hell of a deal.

I do remember feeling a little less enthusiastic about Half-Life 2: Episode 2. There was a lot of bug-killing in underground tunnels, which was a bit lame. The driving was fine but there was so much stopping and getting out that it felt a little weird to even have a car at times. A big focus was on Alyx's journey, and I was already a bit miffed that she could do so much more cool stuff than Gordon could, like kicking zombies, bashing them with her shotgun, and climbing buildings. I remember being confused as to why Valve thought it would be fun to let me watch her do that stuff rather than letting me do it myself. I guess we know why Alyx eventually got her own game.

(Image credit: Valve)

We also had no idea then that Gordon Freeman's story would receive such an unceremonious ending. Half-Life 2: Episode 3 simply never arrived, signaling the start of Valve's bizarre aversion to the number 3. We never got a Team Fortress 3 or a Half-Life 3 or a Portal 3, either. Or a Left 4 Dead 3. Or a Dota 3. 

And we definitely never got three new games from the same developer on the same day again, and I'm sure we never will. The Orange Box was a true anomaly.

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.