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GameCon '10 Ripport, Day Wun

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Dragging myself by the knuckles across Cologne’s pavements to reach my Portal 2 viewing, I reflected upon how much easier this would have been had I eaten at any point in the last four days. I had tried my best, plucking small kernels of tarry fluff from the thin carpet I had slept on. The bouncer/landlord who watched me at all times felt this was taking unfair advantage of the hotel’s facilities, and duly evicted me. I thought of calling Quintin, who had earlier talked of eating quail’s eggs by the dozen from plates made of narwhal horn. Could he spare just one egg? I thought of how he would sneer at my ragged clothes, my £3 haircut, my clear poverty. I was starving, but I could not possibly face his contempt. I dragged myself on, to Hall 7. I might not be able to eat, but I could at least see a new videogame from Valve.
My thoughts were soon distracted from my plight, though I snarled at unseen forces, either real or imagined, for presenting only a trailer.

What an absurdly good-looking game it was. It could have repeated Portal 1’s affecting sterility, but instead it’s gone for detail is all. Mysterious machinery forever hulks in the background, all brutalist silhouettes and unsettling sounds of pistons, while colour creeps stealthily all over the familiar white palette. Most notably, Aperture’s labs look alive: there’s always some motion, some extra detail in the test chambers that lend a totally different mood than Portal 1’s compelling isolation.

It’s a grand statement that Portal isn’t a small game anymore. The 10 minutes or so of (I think) mostly new footage shown at GamesCom suggested something detailed and meaty. This is, after all, Valve’s first full-size singleplayer game since Half-Life 2. It’s pretty clear they’re not treating that lightly. It’s in the mechanics as much as the look, with evident complexity to the possibilities. This isn’t really about portals. It’s about bastardising science in all manner of ridiculous ways. Hell, you’ve seen the video. You know what I mean.

The only major news from GamesCom’s Portal 2 showings (as despite my sweaty crawl across five vast conference halls to make my viewing on time, an already-public canned video was all that was on offer) is the casting of Stephen Merchant, aka the slightly more subdued and likeable Other One to Ricky Gervais’ monstrously ubiquitous smarm.

The dialogue was certainly funny, the incongruity of his regional English burr with all that cold machine slickness worked rather well… but it’s the first time in several years that I worried Valve might be losing track of how to be cool. Maybe Merchant is a bit fresher in the US, but in the UK he’s the guy who voices some irritating Barclaycard adverts. As a piece of stunt casting, I’m not convinced he isn’t to the game’s detriment. He’s too familiar. I’m not convinced it’s an ideal game for stunt casting in the first place either. But I’ll wait and see. Certainly, a blithering panicky robo-idiot is worthy contrast to GlaDOS’s faux-sweet omniscience. Again, it’s about striking a difference from the former sterility – this seems a cheerfully busy world.

Not much else to say as it’s all in the video, but my notes reveal I got quite excited during the repulsion gel bit. The globs of paint-like goo were startling in contrast to all those angles, startlingly vibrant and massive and almost organic – and another reason why people probably wouldn’t guess this game had anything to do with the Source engine if they didn’t already know it. Again: I honestly believe this is going to be a spectacular-looking game. I don’t know if Valve can draw the same audience as they could for a pure-action game, but they’ve certainly made something that people will sit up and take notice of.

That was that. Now I’m hungry. So very hungry.

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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