Good news... EA had The Orange Box with them in San Francisco. The bad news is that they only opened it just a little bit. This huge Half-Life 2 package should be finding its way to store shelves later this year, but for now, they only let GameDaily try a snippet of the game during their event last night in San Francisco. But this leads us back to good news -- the trial involved trying out the new strategic Portal game.Portal consists of no first-person shooting action of any kind... unless you consider shooting portal gateways as shooting. It starts simply enough, introducing players to a pretty-easy-to-beat level where they have to place a portal strategically on the ceiling to get an energy ball to move from one activation device to another (a yellow portal sits previously place, you simply need to set up a blue reactionary portal). Once done, a ramp is activated, allowing the player to get on and reach a new section of the level.
This is just the beginning, however. The second portion introduced the dynamic of speed falling through a portal. You're required to set up a gateway leading to a higher-up ledge, but require a little bit of boost to make the jump over to the ledge. So what's a player to do? Shoot the second portion of the portal to the ground floor below, and then go careening through it with gravity on your side. With the speed-up of the fall, the player has what's necessary to reach the ledge and move on.
The third portion of the level involves a trickier scheme that will challenge gamers. We were required to shoot one portal on a leaning wall, giving a bit of a curve to a necessary jump. This required just a bit more falling speed, forcing us to set up the portal on the ground and going higher up for the fall. We eventually reached the higher level, which then made it necessary to grab an energy block and drag it to a switch. This eventually opened the door, concluding the trial level. The interesting thing about the progression is that we now had to set up both ends of the portal, both the yellow and blue gateways that essentially set up the temporary path.
It took only about a few minutes in all to complete this demo, although the final game will include much more difficult levels to complete. One EA employee said they may even take hours to solve, depending on the skill of the player at hand.
The game's graphics look good, with the frame rate very smooth (30 frames per second) and the visual effects, especially with the portals themselves, looking fantastic. The visual effect of going through this portals can be downright trippy, if a little bit disorienting. The sound is a little messed up, but it's done on purpose. A female voice barrels through the hallways as you advance through a level, with the occasional audio break-up now and then (programmed glitches, not accidental or developmental) to remind you how screwed up technology has become. Think of the voice of the computer from WarGames, but female.
Portal will be part of the Orange Box and Black Box packages when they ship later this year. Now you're playing with portals!