Gaming's 9 most important crates

We sing the praises of gaming's unsung receptacle heroes

After painting the Crate as a nefarious monster-hider in Half-Life, Valve tried to further diminish the versatile storage unit’s reputation with their retail release of Counter-Strike at the turn of the 21st century. In the game’s bomb defusal mode, the Crate shockingly became a willing accomplice to terrorism. By crouching, one of the crafty counter-counter-terrorist ne’er-do-wells could allow an accomplice to jump on top of his head and set up the C4 on top of an honest Crate, which was too inanimate to do anything about it. Saddening.

Counter-Strike, at its peak, often had eleven billion concurrent players. Despite his team’s best efforts to shame the mighty Crate, Valve head honcho Gabe Newell frequently attributes the success of the team-based multiplayer shooter to its liberal, and often baffling, use of our beloved Crates in many of the game’s levels. They’re absolutely everywhere, often left unattended in places you really wouldn’t expect them to be. There’s also no sign of any palettes or forklift trucks, necessary items to facilitate the transport of these bulky items, so the Crates must just be sitting out in the open at all times. How did they even get there? One popular theory is that they’ve been left on this Earth, in a fashion similar to crop circle phenomena, by a curious alien race.

8. The Redundant Crate, as seen in Halo 2 (2004)

It had to happen. After riding so high for so long, it all came crashing down for the Crate with the release of Halo 2. Experts predicted it would happen after developer Bungie marginalised their role in Halo 1. They were right: Master Chief’s upgraded suit (fresh for Halo 2) meant he didn’t even need health packs anymore, and he got most of his ammo from the bodies of his fallen foes. Bungie, sadly, clearly forgot a Crate is supposed to be for life.

Sure, there were still the odd Crates here and there, including some whizzy alien ones that sparkled, but it was a very bad time to be a portable rectangular storage unit. Resorting to desperate measures, the Crates had to take any odd job they could, even going so far as to resupply useless grunts instead of mega-buff heroes. For the next few years, it would stay that way. Crates, people thought, were done for, playing a weak third-fiddle to both Chests and Barrels. These were to be dark times indeed.

9. The Gruff Commando Crate, as seen in Modern Warfare 2 (2009)

Thanks to the ginormous popularity of Halo, the second half of the decade proved to be a miserable few years for Crates. But where a simple Box might have packed it all in, the Crates stayed strong. Training, it seems, for this year’s Modern Warfare 2. Crates aren’t stupid. They know what the cool kids like, and that’s uber-popular multiplayer games. So it was decided: if the gamers weren’t going to come to the Crates, the Crates would go to the gamers.

Repackaging themselves as ‘Care Packages’, these airborne carriers of valuable cargo drop down from the skies to assist whomever is lucky enough to crack open their casing and feast on the delicious goodies inside. The mere sight of one of these hardened military Crates is enough to whip players into a mad frenzy, scrambling across the map for a chance to get their hands on potentially bigger and better instruments of destruction.

To qualify as a Care Package, a Crate has to pass rigorous sturdiness testing and score over 85% on a mental arithmetic paper. Gruelling stuff, but the results of all that hardcore training have definitely paid off. Is it these tough new Crates which enabled Modern Warfare 2 to enjoy the biggest gaming launch of all time? Probably, but I doubt we’ll ever truly know. One thing is clear: the Crate is clearly back on top form. And it’s about time.

December 8, 2009

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