The Orange Box E3 2007 Preshow Hands-On - Portal

Now we're playing with Portal!

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The value-stuffed The Orange Box will arrive with quite a bit of content for almost every kind of gamer. Fans of single-player shooters can dive into Half-Life 2: Episode Two, the next chapter in the trilogy of episodes that continue the famed Half-Life saga. Then there's Team Fortress 2, which is quite possibly the next big multiplayer action game from the creators of Counter-Strike. We've already had a chance to play those two portions of The Orange Box recently, but we finally got some updated hands-on time with Portal, the mind-bending puzzle game that completes the package.

Portal is a first-person puzzle game where you, armed with your whiz-bang portal gun, have to navigate through a series of rooms. The goal in each room is simple: reach the exit. However, often the exit is in an incredibly inaccessible place, like a landing three floors above you, with no ladder or stairs to reach it. Not to worry, because you've got your portal gun, and it can open two kinds of dimensional portals: orange and blue. The colors don't really matter, because if you step into the orange portal you'll emerge out of the blue one, and vice versa. So all you have to do is figure out how to make these portals work for you. However, there are some rules with the portal gun. Portals can't be opened in mid-air; you have to open them against a surface, and not just any surface. There are certain surfaces that are resistant to portals, so you have to recognize what those look like.

Click to enlarge!
Click to enlarge!

The E3 demo showcases a handful of levels from the game, ranging from the first one, which is incredibly simple, to an intermediate one that requires some thinking. The easiest puzzle requires you to get an energy ball to land into a special receptacle that will power the lift that will get you to the exit. However, the energy emitter is firing these balls at the ceiling, where they dissipate. No problem, just open a portal directly over the emitter, and another directly over the receptacle, and the ball will shoot through the portal and emerge out the other to land in the receptacle. It's that simple. Of course, it only gets progressively harder from there. The most challenging level that we played involved trying to reach an exit several landings above the entrance. Getting there isn't particularly tough, but the challenge involves a button that opens the gate blocking the exit. If you stand on the button, the gate opens, but as soon as you move off of the button, it closes. But there is a box on a level, and if you use portals you can figure out a way to get it to rest on top of the button. It's pretty easy to get disoriented as you're tumbling about in these environments. Thankfully, there are little guides to help orient you, like the faces of dice embedded on the walls and floors, indicating what level you're on. (A single dot for the first floor, two dots for the second floor, and so on.)

Portal looks to be an interesting distraction, and from what we've been told, it'll pretty much be that. Valve says that depending on how well you adapt to portal thinking, you can get through the entire affair in three or four hours, though it's also possible to stretch that to five or six depending on your puzzle-solving skills. Of course, considering that Portal is like an extra bonus in an already impressive package, that makes sense. Portal does have a cool sense of style to it, and it looks good because it's using the Source engine. All in all, we can't wait till we get a chance to play with Portal again.

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