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Preview: Portal 2

Hey all! Like I promised a few days ago I have for your approval my preview of Portal 2. Turns out the same day I posted my SCC review here it was posted on the main site. Figures.

Anyway, since it is now off the main page (things roll through fast with such a large staff) I figured it was high time I shared it with you all.

Portal 2
Chris Davis

Make a Note

The clearest thing about 2007 is that, among the biggest triple-A titles that were released including, but not limited to, Halo 3, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Bioshock, Crysis, and God of War 2, few would have anticipated that a little tie-in title to a Valve box set release would garner such love. When the Orange Box was released that October, though home to the much anticipated Team Fortress 2 and Half-Life 2, Portal stood out far beyond either of them and gained both the love of gamers and a seat in the spotlight reserved only for a handful of games in history. The charm, puzzles, dialog, and amazingly fun gameplay was universally acclaimed in such a way that people were frothing for a sequel or, at the very least, an expansion within weeks of the game's release. Valve heard those pleas and released an expansion for the Xbox Live Arcade called Portal: Still Alive the following year that consisted of the full game and additional maps created from user generated content.

This however was simply not enough. Portal 2 was announced last month and, from all reports, it looks to be both a strong departure and a return to the familiar.

Fratricide is the Only Way

Portal 2's announcement couldn't have come in a more obscure package even if Valve tried. On March 1st Valve released a cryptic update to the PC version of Portal that "changed radio transmission frequency to comply with federal and state spectrum management regulations." While this may seem like a nonsensical update to a game that hadn't seen any significant patches since early 2009 it did drive a handful of curious Valve purists to find out what was going on. Players entered Portal for the umpteenth time and discovered that they could manipulate the radios which yielded a Morse code transmission that, when translated, implied a computer restart and a link to Aperture Science promotional video. Further investigation would yield a phone number and a large amount of ASCII images of logos and items from within Portal.

The true meaning of this strange patch was made clear two days later when Valve released another update for the title, this time adding "valuable asset retrieval." The end result: an extended ending for Portal, one in which the main character, Chell, was dragged off by a robot after GLaDOS' death who thanks her for using the party escort submission position. And thus, today, this is where we stand.

The Baked Good is a Falsification of Reality

When Chell finally destroyed GLaDOS at the end of Portal fans were eager to see what had happened in the outside world that she had been warned about. Unfortunately all we got to see was a parking lot with debris falling out of the sky before being dragged off by a "party associate" while Chell drifted into unconsciousness. What happened during that time however is anything but insignificant. As Chell reawakens once again within the building it is clear that it has been a long time since she defeated GLaDOS; several hundred years in fact. The rest of the world never rediscovered the Aperture Science facility. Whatever happened after the events of Half-Life 2's saga have long since passed and it seems that Valve has no intention of reconnecting Portal 2 with the rest of the Half-Life universe.

In the centuries after Chell's first adventure through the testing chambers and her final battle with her silicon captor the facility has not fared well. With no humans present, the once sprawling modern buildings have fallen into a state of almost irreparable damage. Many areas have had their ceilings collapse and nature is actively reclaiming everything manmade. Vines, brush, and ponds of water now occupy areas that were once clean rooms and test chambers. Formerly impenetrable walls that guided Chell on her previous linear journey are crumbling apart and exposing the vulnerable guts of the once grandiose buildings and underground chambers.

And yet, through it all, two things remain the same: Chell still lives, but so does GLaDOS.

New Friends, Old Enemies

When players got their hands on Portal, one thing was clear: it was a very lonely experience. With only GLaDOS as a vague and eventually life threatening task maker, players noticed that, other than Chell, the Aperture Science facility was a slightly unsettling place with no humans around. During development, Valve designers threw around the idea of have the player character being stalked by a "party associate" during the course of the latter half of the game after you've escaped the final test chamber. Though the idea never came to fruition, Valve did see fit to implement the idea of a more lively facility. In the game's final cinematic the game's camera took us through winding corridors and unknown sections to a large storage room filled with AI cores that came to life as the candle on the cake was blown out. These AI cores are now alive and wander the facility each with its own distinct personality and have spent the centuries expanding the underground chambers while leaving the human-created sections to rot.

After Chell awakens at the beginning of the Portal 2 she meets her first AI core named Wheatley who ops to join her on a tour of the facility. As they ascend in an elevator it suddenly stops and opens up on a very familiar place: GLaDOS' chamber, the site of the final battle hundreds of years ago. As they venture into the room however the lifeless shell of Chell's former enemy comes to life and bears down on her destroyer. "Oh, it's YOU," says the sultry voice of the GLaDOS, used after players destroyed her morality core at the end of Portal. GLaDOS is anything but happy to see you but in the end decides that the need to continue to advance science outweighs her need for revenge. "Okay, look. We both said a lot of things that you are going to regret but I think we should put our differences behind us for science. You monster."

In the Orange, Out the Blue

Portal's use of a seemingly simple transportation mechanic took on a life of its own in a way that both bended the mind and, at times, served to leave many first-time players stumped. With the test chambers destroyed at the end of the first game almost any hope of returning to the same tests have been lost. In the years that have followed that cataclysmic event GLaDOS has been actively building new chambers to send test participants through. Many of these chambers remain unfinished and players will have to avoid inadvertent missing geometry while navigating the lethal nature of each room. As the chambers are still in the process of being built, walls and surfaces can (and will) shift and actively change the nature of puzzles.

However, despite utilizing the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device from the first game, very much has changed this time around. Valve is introducing a new physics system that interacts with the portals themselves. One such example involves the use of the Vital Apparatus Vents, the air chamber system that yielded test materials such as the weighted companion cube. Now, when broken, the vents create a cone of suction that pulls anything into them. By placing a portal underneath one and then placing the other next two an object that is immovable to the player the resulting suction pulls the object free.

Another new system involves the use of paint. Previously players could only activate a portal on stationary walls and objects that were not coloured black. Valve, seemingly taking more than a few notes from indie game Tag: the Power of Paint, different colours of paint that the player uses will have different physics effects on both the player and the environment. For example, an orange paint allows Chell to run across a surface at a breakneck speed whereas a blue paint has a trampoline-like effect and makes objects bounce off the affected surface.

Weighted cubes are not the only objects in the environment that Chell will be using to progress through the test chambers. Weighted Storage Balls will function identically to that of cubes except that they only interact with floor buttons shaped like buckets. Redirection Cubes come with reflective surfaces that can redirect laser beams to awaiting vessels; think the temple puzzle sections of Resident Evil 5. Finally, Aerial Faith Plates launch the player high into the air and allow Chell to reach otherwise inaccessible parts of a level.

Android Hell

Portal's unique puzzle gameplay and the "charming" relationship between the player and GLaDOS yielded an immensely replayable experience. The only thing that many people could say was missing was cooperative play. While Narbtacular Drop, the Digipen test product that eventually became Portal, experimented with the idea of multiplayer the overall experience turned out to be a hectic and confusing one according to Valve testers. It seems that Valve has worked out the kinks this time around however and recognizes that Portal was one of the strongest non-multiplayer experiences to be had with friends.

While Chell has enough to worry about with GLaDOS intent on making sure that she makes it through the tests or die trying, players who wish to do co-op will find themselves to a logically concurrent separate campaign. Instead of placing players in the shoes of other humans two new test subjects have been jury-rigged from an AI core and a dismantled turret. These two nameless robots each have their own portal gun though the nature of four portals instead of two could potentially lead to a far more perplexing experience than players have ever dealt with. GLaDOS will spend the majority of her time monitoring Chell's progress with murderous intent but she will pop in at the end of a test chamber to insult you; it seems that she doesn't have much love for other metallic beings.

Luckily Valve is looking to make the experience less puzzling than they appear. In addition to allowing both splitscreen and online co-op, online players will have the option of a picture-in-picture screen that shows their partner's point of view. Valve will also be including a context wheel command system that will help facilitate communication between players.

Alive and Kicking

Valve's next installment in the Portal series looks to have everything a senior Portal player could possibly want: an expanded story, a rekindled "relationship" with the cynical yet hilarious GLaDOS, a full cooperative mode, and an even more fleshed out physics system. This may not be as accessible to newcomers to the Portal franchise but hey, that's what the original Portal is for. So get set for this Fall where we know that your adventures with Chell and GLaDOS is still alive; it's just a question of whether you can actually stay alive.

Anyway, that's the article folks. Per usual, if you enjoyed reading it, be sure to comment either here or on the main site itself.

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About Chris Davisone of us since 6:13 PM on 04.27.2010

Hi there! My name is Chris and I'm a writer and editor for Hooked Gamers as well as an aspiring game and tech journalist. I've been writing for years but only recently have I started to post my articles on other sites like Dtroid. I graduated from Austin Community College with an associates degree in Journalism and am currently undecided on my continued education plans. What I do know is that I enjoy writing for sites like Destructoid and, though I may not post on my Dtroid blog very often I do share articles and reviews here that won't appear on my other sites.

I can be found primarily at Hookedgamers.com and 4playerpodcast.com. I've also started up a personal blog (Slackerwerks.com) where you'll see all of my future articles posted.

You can find me most of the time on Xbox Live and occasionally on Steam under the same Gamertag. If you need to reach me I use the same ID wherever I go so please don't hesitate if you have any comments or questions you'd like to throw my way.

Thanks for stopping by!
Xbox LIVE:Slackerchan
Steam ID:Slackerchan


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