by Chris Davis
previewed on PC
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.
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.