Previews

Portal 2 gameplay preview

Valve walks us through the cleverest game around...

"I think we can put our differences behind us. For science. You monster."

The comely-yet-creepy tones of GlaDOS might be warm, tender even - but they don't half send a chill down your spine.

The last time we heard her voice, she tried to terminate us - in the sweetest possible way, you understand. And following a two-year hiatus, she's more deceptively intimidating than ever.

Our re-introduction to our monotone mistress comes at E3, as Valve walks us through the new elements that gamers will face in Portal 2.

First, the setting. Valve didn't give too much away in our sneak peek, but what is clear is that you're back as Chell - and back at Aperture Sciences. Only, this is an Aperture Sciences that has been disregarded to the point of overgrown.

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The architecture is in disrepair - with recalcitrant weeds clinging to both the floor and the drably decorated mechanics you remember from the first game.

Look closer, and you'll see tiles have fallen away from the walls and ceilings - and that metallic walkways have fallen on their pivot. Broken electric cables fizz with menace as they hang perilously from the roof.

We're quickly introduced to a new character, Wheatley; a wildly optimistic metallic orb ("personality sphere"), whose affable attitude is quickly given away by an accent that's more Aldershot than automaton. ("I know we're in danger, but this is amaaazing!")

We'd say it was obvious that Wheatley is to become your buddy - a male partner in a knockabout adventure that will inevitably unfold into something of a cross-human bromance. But this is Valve. And it's hard to trust anyone - nay, anything - in a world those double-crossing blighters have created.

Nevertheless, there are early signs that Wheatley's going to crack a few smiles - not least when he pauses to download from a data port and tells you that he "can't do it if you're watching".

He also threatens to prove pretty useful - especially when he starts promising he can lead us to the "sealed off place"; the place "they didn't want nobody to find".

Valve's rep then begins to talk us through the game's new gadgets. The good news? They're universally ingenious. The bad news? You know for a fact they're going to be tested to the full with some devilish puzzles.

The first gizmo we're introduced to is the Excursion Funnel - a tractor beam that can move cubes, objects or your good self to unobtainable areas. Next up is the Aerial Faith Plate; a powerful launch pad that propels you flying into the air when landed on. As with the first game, the higher the height you jump on it from, the higher trajectory you'll achieve.

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We're then shown the Thermal Discouragement Beam (yes, these names are very Valve), which brings Portal 2 closer to a traditional FPS than anything seen in the first game. You can use the beam to destroy droids by pushing it through mirrored cubes to attack hard-to-reach foes or turrets. The lifeless berks then omit a heart-vibrating "it burns" slogan. You'd almost feel sorry for them - if they didn't cause such frustration last time round.

Then it's time to move into the real gems in your armoury. Pneumatic Diversity Vents are massive tubes that suck pretty much everything in their path. A couple of carefully placed portals and, voilą; instant carnage.

Aim right, and tiles fly off walls, panels are uprooted from flooring and, of course, peaky laser-firing enemy bots are whisked away from their stations, yelping as they go.

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