The first hands-on session with a game is always the crunch point. Does it match the impression I've formed so far? Is it living up to the hype? Expectations? Regular gamers hit this point whenever they get their hands on a demo, or when the game is released properly - we reviewers may be lucky in the fact that we get to see it much earlier, but there's also a danger in the sense that we are essentially playing unfinished code.
New tools, like the gels, further enhance how you tackle challenges
Still, at the EA January Showcase, we were pleasantly surprised to find a playable Portal 2 co-op demo waiting for us so we could make that transition. It was a tad disappointing when we realised that two people who knew what they were doing could complete that very same build in all of two minutes, but what can you do. Valve, as always, are playing their cards very close to their chest, so you can't really grumble too much. At the end of the day, I'm a firm believer in that something is better than nothing. Unless that something is utter cack I guess but that's a debate for another time.
The best thing about the build though was how quickly it established that the games quaint charm and humour was returning. GLaDOS, (accidentally revived by Chell after a hundred years) is back and up to her old tricks, and in the co-op mode you play as two robots who are also put through her rigorous and dangerous testing process. As we progressed through the handful of starter levels, you can hear her veiled jibes and machine wit as she comments on your progress, and we're eager to see how the co-op story unfolds.
Co-op gameplay, unsurprisingly, revolves around co-operation. Players will mainly be helping their partner progress through the level, who in turn can help you progress. Almost like a game of hop-scotch, just played at a remove. One specific example would be me planting a portal sequence to help someone traverse a insurmountable gap, only for them to flip a switch that activates a bridge that helps me traverse that same gap.
What co-op experience would be complete without the mandatory back-stabbing?
Valve have avoided getting too complicated with the portal system – there's nothing fancy like linking with each other's portals or anything – each player's portal gun's two portals can only link with each other, and so we imagine even the more complex challenges will still be broken up into stages or set-pieces. There will be complexity though - portal chains, the new tools such as gels and laser redirection cubes are included... everything that we imagine will expand on the single player and make it meaningful will be in co-op as well.
As you already know, the game has two separate story modes, one of the co-op, the other for the main story. This is a good move, as it makes the co-op experience that much more meaningful, although we doubt the co-op mode will have the same amount of dept as the single-player. The characters themselves - a sentient gun drone and personality core - only really communicate in game through expressive noises. It's one up on Chell I guess who doesn't speak at all, but we get the impression that there's a real story with Chell, whereas with these guys there's just some fun. Meaningful fun, but still just fun - time will tell on that one though.
The real question though is will the game retain the same magic of the original? Chet Faliszek, the afore mentioned writer, did speak to us a little bit about this. We personally think Portal 2 is going to be a good game, but it won't have a the same impact. That doesn't mean it's going to do worse than the original Portal or anything... there was something very abstractly special about the first game though. It's timing on the market, it's simplicity, the content... it's not something that can easily be re-created.
There are several ways to complete levels and puzzles
Let's just say Portal 2 is looking good, and we'll leave it at that. I'm sure for many of you April can't come around quick enough, but at least that leaves the studio plenty of time to get things right. We hope that Valve releases a demo, so that you guys will also be able to make the same transition we have. For now though, enjoy our coverage, you Monster. Portal 2 will be releasing simultaneously on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on April 18th in North America, and April 22nd in Europe.
Most Anticipated Feature:It's hard to point to one thing to be excited about, but we're very interested in seeing how the more advanced co-op levels pan out.