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Portal: Hands-on Preview

Thinking with Portals

For those not in the loop, I’ll regale you with what is know about the background of Portal.

It’s set in the Half-Life universe at around the same time as Episode Two. It’s set in a place called the Aperture Science Enrichment Centre. That’s about all that is know for sure on the background, other than a few interesting bits of trivia and rumours.

A lot of the rumours which have been floating around about the game can be dispelled through a passing glance at the game. Rumours that the player will resume the role of Adrian Shepherd from Half-Life: Opposing Force can be utterly dismissed, for example.

Originally based on the fact that Adrian is the only player character who’s fate has been unexplained or omitted since Half-Life (with the exception of the characters from Half-Life: Decay), we can now lend even further credence to the fact that the main character is not Shepherd. Instead, players will take on the role of a brand new and recurring character – an unnamed girl who is, for some reason, a test subject at the Aperture Science Enrichment Center.

Portal: Hands-on Preview Thinking with portals
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As soon as I started the game, this was the first thing I wanted to investigate – I wanted to know the identity of my character and see what she looked like. However, it’s not quite that simple because, as the game opens, the player is completely bereft of weapons and items and is instead standing in a small cell which is clearly meant for observation. There’s a toilet, a bed, a sink and lot’s of non-reflective, transparent walls. Nothing to see your reflection in.

In fact it isn't until a good 15 minutes into the game, when you've traversed the first tests successfully and picked up a version of the portal gun which is, for a time, limited to shooting a single portal (which connects to those already in the room) that you're first able to see the character. So, who is this mystery girl and what does she look like?

Although the orange jumpsuit itself isn't very revealing, it would appear that this pony-tailed brunette is an unwilling participant. We can't imagine any other reason why she'd be wearing leg braces similar to those worn by Stalkers in Half-Life 2, albeit in addition to her normal legs.

Portal: Hands-on Preview Thinking with portals
Click for full-size

We hope you have enjoyed your detention in the relaxation vault” says the same computerised voice from the games trailers, mixing the words ‘relaxation’ and ‘detention’ around from their realities. From the off it’s clear that something is dreadfully wrong with the game world – it isn’t a relaxation vault, it’s a detention cell.

The voice which accompanies the player throughout this mind-bending puzzler is hilariously well written though, using a mixture of humour, deception and vague threats to keep players on their toes at all times but also keeping them entertained. There are plenty of clever one liners tossed out by the computer as it guides you and monitors your progress throughout the tests and never does a single one of them fall flat.

“Congratulations. You, <subject name here>, must be the pride of <subject hometown here>. You are progressing very well,” said the computer in stalled, broken tones as we completed a test which we had been told was impossible because of ‘test restrictions’.

We will stop enhancing the truth in three…two…one.” The voice says, before opening the door and letting players into the next test.