Previews

Portal

Hands-on: 360 version taken for a spin

At a drink-fuelled Electronic Arts GDC party last week we managed to get our first hands-on experience with the Xbox 360 version of Portal, and the transformation from PC to console has gone smoother than expected.

Graphically the game looks just as good - if not better - than its PC counterpart, which has us excited to see how well the rest of the Orange Box package performs.

The 360 edition sports some lovely hi-res textures and lighting effects with a solid framerate, which is probably to be expected considering the environments consist solely of sterile, but artistically pleasing lab rooms.

The 360 demo offers completely different puzzles than the PC taster we tapped last year mostly those that require us to vertically scale the game's white Half-Life labs.

This was our first encounter with the head-spinning manoeuvre that has us jumping vertically downwards into an entrance portal, causing us to shoot forwards out of the exit strategically placed on the wall. This least motion sickness-friendly of tactics is used to traverse large camps in the environment, and cause on-lookers to feel sick and leave.

Despite being somewhat accustomed to our good old mouse and keyboard setup Portal admittedly works very well on the Xbox 360 controller. Triggers are used for the entrance and exit portals and jump is assigned to the left shoulder button. The joysticks have been tuned to just the right sweet spot and allow us to navigate the environment and hit the mark without slipping around, or feel like we're maneuvering a large car. Which is nice.

As always the game's entertaining female voice-over is still spouting out her dialogue at will, instructing me to fling objects through space, belting out her fondness for me and the odd electricity-surging malfunction which seems to suggest further plot developments later in the game.

What's impressive is how the Source engine refuses to break a sweat even when arsing around with portals is literally turning the game world on its head. Infinitely scrolling through vertical portals to the point where the sound effect has become and endless whoosh still results in a solid framerate, though the same stability probably can't be said for our heads - and guts.

For once the console versions look set to live up the PC original, and in Portal's case the couch and joypad experience feels ideal for its slow-paced, puzzle-solving gameplay.

Finishing off the rather short demo we're still left craving more, and pondering what kind of mental end-game puzzles and plot developments Portal has in store.

Polishing work is on-going at Valve and we're expecting a flipping good time when Portal arrives, alongside HL2: Episode Two and Team Fortress 2 at the end of the year.

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