Portal 2: Portal Harder

Hype is one of those things you can’t get away from. There is always that movie, or TV show that one cannot wait to see begin or continue for whatever reason.

When it comes to hype, I like to refer to the infallible logic of Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw.

It makes the logical sense to be pessimistic

Any questions? Now it may be presumptuous to take the word of an Anglo-Australian prick just because he has a yellow background and a sweet hat, but I honestly can’t see how he’s wrong. But in spite of this, I can’t help but be caught up in the hype virus.

I grew up around games, and I’ve been relatively fortunate, in that I didn’t have a very large library. I was lucky if I got a new game around Christmas. So when it came to being blinded by nostalgia and fandom, I didn’t really see a lot of it at an early age so it’s not really a problem for me. I mean ignoring Sliders and 24. (Goddammit! Why’d they cancel Sliders on a cliffhanger!? It’s bullshit!) I guess I get a nostalgic rush when it comes to platformers. But that has nothing to do with the characters or the various franchises, and more to do with it just being good gameplay. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

There are few games that I really love, Myst, Freelancer, Half-Life and Portal, and since I see no new sequels coming out for any of the other games…unfortunately I’m resigned to talking about Portal 2.

Now, Portal 2 is still several months away, plus I’ve already written about my thoughts on the matter. But considering how much hype and anticipation is flying around this title like a colony of angry bees, I think it’s appropriate to take a look at the latest information regarding Portal 2.

Like any sequel, it could be good, or it could be bad. Don’t believe me? Look at Myst III or V. Two sequels that were terrible, worse than their predecessors. Just because the original was great, does not mean the sequels will be.

However, considering this is Valve, we could give them the benefit of the doubt. Then again Cyan was responsible for Myst V.

Okay, let’s look at this objectively. What makes a good sequel? New technology with new gameplay mechanics, and a storyline that refers to the original without attempting to suck it off. Valve have already shot themselves in the foot regarding this by integrating that retcon I mentioned last time. Changing the ending so you can have a sequel is, possibly the worst thing they could have done.

However, on the other side of the coin, word is there will be no references to cake. THANK FUCK FOR THAT! I’m sorry fan boys and girls, but the more you make references to the cake being a lie, the less funny it gets. The cake got old years ago and is now a maggot infested mush. So stop it.

On the flip side however is Jonathan Coulton’s contribution to the soundtrack. You know Coulton, the composer of the grandiose finale song to the original Portal, Still Alive. Apparently they are going to bring him back to compose multiple songs for Portal 2. Excuse me while I remain skeptical.

Now don’t get me wrong, I do like Coulton’s work. I’m not what one might call a fan, but I do like his work. However, the idea of integrating around three different songs, probably around the same style as Still Alive, might get old quickly.

Just because people loved the quirky song from the first game doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to do it several times in the sequel. However, maybe I’m wrong, maybe it will work out. But I doubt it.

But the storyline itself, so far, seems to be quite intriguing…if a little mysterious.

The big thing (to me) is Wheatley. We knew about GLaDOS’ resurrection and the distant future setting in the early days. We also knew about Wheatley, but what we knew was very little. Now we know he has a British accent! WOOT! Love British. I wish I was British. I like what Jimmy Carr once said, “Technically I don’t have an accent, I’m English, this is just how things sound when they’re pronounced properly.”

Ah…why do I keep doing that? Anyway, the character seems a lot more interesting because he’s British. I originally thought he’d sound more robotic, but a more human voice seems more appropriate for an ally, it makes him easier to sympathize with. Not that I’m prejudiced or anything.

When Wheatley’s voice was first introduced it got rave reviews. People loved it, and hoped that it would stay. Turns out it was only a placeholder by Valve employee, Richard Lord, and some new asshole would be replacing him. Thankfully that asshole turned out to be British comedian, Stephen Merchant. Funny man, responsible for The Office, and I am thankful they got a well-known comedian for the role.

Unfortunately, considering this is Portal, I have a feeling Wheatley will go the way of the companion cube so he doesn’t get in the way of the puzzles. I hope not, because that would be terrible. Way worse than the companion cube’s death because Wheatley actually fucking talks.

What really interests me about Portal 2 is the new areas of the Enrichment Centre we’ll get to explore. Including the manufacturing areas. Where the turrets and Weighted Storage Cubes are created. I’m curious if we’ll get to see if the Companion Cube had anything in it.

Next are the new gameplay mechanics.

The Excursion Tunnel, Aerial Faith Plate and Thermal Discouragement Beams are all quite interesting additions to Chell’s puzzle solving arsenal.

The Thermal Discouragement Beam works great as a weapon. I mean finally! We can attack the turrets without completely disintegrating them, and with the puzzles, it works as a more advanced version of the High Energy Pellet. I’m liking it.

Though my big problem is with the Faith Plates. They seem to simply toss you around without much control, how that’ll work with the puzzles I’m not sure. However Valve since released a new video showing how the Plates can be used to solve puzzles.

Yeah, still not impressed.

MORE MECHANICS!

The Pneumatic Diversity Vent and the Gels add some new complexities. I’m liking the Diversity Vent, adding new physics to the game is awesome. It makes sense when you think about it. Why wouldn’t vacuum and wind translate through the Portal?

Next is the Gels. I don’t know if they belong. It’s odd seeing them there. In reality the concept was taken from another game, Tag: The Power of Paint when Valve took on the development team. Sort of slamming two games together, Tag: The Power of Paint and Narbacular Drop. (Narbacular Drop is the game that inspired Portal.) Though considering both are puzzle games, maybe it’s a good fit. I’ll have to wait and see.

One thing that bugs me is how the gels interact with the portals. I was under the impression that the portal would open on the wall under the gel, if the gel is on a wall. Therefore when you open a portal on a gel soaked platform, the gel would start bleeding through the other portal. You get what I’m saying right? So when you close the portal, it would leave behind a bare circle where the gel once was. That doesn’t happen. Which I can buy, but another problem is the lack of a major physics problem. The law of conservation of matter. Which is well demonstrated in this newer video of the Repulsion Gel.

Notice when the character first enters the test chamber, the far wall is continually blasted with gel. So why isn’t the puddle of gel growing? You’d think it would as more gel is added…spill over. It should also drip down when it’s sprayed on the walls. It really challenges my suspension of disbelief.

Along with the whole mechanic of a substance that mysteriously works the way these things do. I guess the Propulsion Gel is made out of some type of greese…or Teflon… Though that wouldn’t work because you wouldn’t be able to move yourself forward if there was no friction. Then there is the Repulsion Gel, which can be easily explained as being Flubber. So there you go, moving on!

Actually, I don’t care, it’s a science fiction, I can dig it. But it is worth a mention that it violates the laws of physics. I thought this was all for science!

But what I do like about the gels, is how it interacts with other things…not walls. I love that the turrets covered in Repulsion Gel bounce around like rubber balls, and how one can use the Excursion Tunnels to manipulate the Gels. Interesting way of doing things. I wonder what would happen if you soaked a turret or cube with Propulsion Gel. That would be interesting. You set them down and they zoom to the left for some odd reason.

Next is the design of the older objects in the arsenal. The new Vital Apparatus Vents and Weighted Storage Cubes are looking good, and in the case of the cube, a lot more functional. The cube itself indicates if it’s in the right location, which is definitely a positive development, though I don’t know if it’s necessary. Who knows, maybe it is for certain puzzles.

Then there is the Emancipation Grid. They seem to have gone walkabout, oddly enough. Apparently replaced with marked doors which reset the Portal Gun when you pass through them. I can dig it. Though this is probably only for demonstration purposes and when the final game is released the Emancipation Grids will make a return.

Next is the biggest advancement to Portal 2: Co-op!

This is something that I love, and at the same time loathe. First the love.

Fucking sweet. A great application of the concept. Plus the robots look quite animated. I remember reading that one is supposed to be masculine, and the other feminine. I don’t see that. To me, they look more like Bert and Ernie.

I’m really liking this, the co-op mode will also have quick respawning, which is good for a puzzle game. It means it’s not the end if your partner bites it. Also, a full on story. Kinda making Portal 2, two games in one.

So I’m excited to play it but there is one thing I loathe about it. It’s co-op.

Thankfully Valve released Portal for free (for a while) so people can test it out and get ready for Portal 2 co-op.

Interesting, hopefully it grew the Portal community. But here’s my issue, it’s difficult to find people to co-op with.

Back in the day, when you talked co-op, you were talking split-screen with a friend. You were in the same room, you could invite them over and you would be playing the game together, likely both for the first time.

Now things are a little more complicated. For the online multiplayer co-op, you will need both players to own a copy, and so they may be at different levels because they might have played some of the co-op levels with another friend already. In a standard action-based first person shooter this is rarely a problem. But with Portal, like any puzzler, a lot of the fun comes from solving the level gradually. If your partner already played through the levels and rushes on ahead, telling you how to solve the levels without giving you time to try to figure it out on your own, it would take all satisfaction away. Like reading a walkthrough, it spoils the game. Now because it’s co-op it’s likely that one of you will figure out how to solve the level, telling the other what to do, but it’s likely that it won’t constantly be the same person taking all the fun away, assuming the levels are new to each of you.

That is what I’m getting at. If you want to play Portal 2 co-op properly, you’re best off to have a partner to start with who never played it before, that way it’s new to both of you.

If I hesitate in buying the game, it’s likely any partner I find would have already played through the levels once, knowing how to beat them, without letting me solve it on my own. Which would be annoying to say the least.

I still haven’t found a partner to play Half-Life: Decay, another co-op title released with the PS2 version of Half-Life 1 and more recently ported to the PC. Because while there is a way to play it single player, with the AI controlling the other character, the AI is useless in most circumstances. So given that, it’s unlikely I will find a partner for Portal 2 anytime soon.

So this is my most important point. Want to get the most out of Portal 2 when it comes out? You’re best to find a partner now! Like I’m doing. Any volunteers, leave a comment. I’m likely to buy it opening week but it doesn’t mean I need to play the co-op immediately. So even if you don’t want to buy it immediately after it’s released, I can wait. I’m very flexible. Also, it would be fun if we ended up playing it together in the same room over the LAN. Easier to communicate. But I really don’t care. I just need a proper partner.

God, I hope that didn’t sound like a personal ad. But in a way it kinda is. All those planning on getting Portal 2 needs to find a partner ASAP, myself included, before everyone else completes the game causing the co-op to be ruined for the new guys. As I said in my Myst Online piece having a puzzle solved for you removes all satisfaction. It is all but mandatory to find a Portal partner quickly.

Anyone available? I’ll let you choose the robot, Bert or Ernie, I don’t care.

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