E3 Demo: Portal 2

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I met with Valve today, and got a sneak peek at “Portal 2.” Before you even ask, no, they did not say anything about Episode 3. I don’t know what the deal is, either. I walked up to Erik Johnson after the video was over to press him on the subject, but he simply glanced heavenward and assured me that “ninjas” would “come out of the ceiling” if he gave the slightest indication one way or the next. I laughed. He did not. I then heard the faintest cough coming from above me, and backed slowly away.

Lots of people are angry about the continued absence of “Half Life 2′s” final chapter, but the truth is I’m just not. I have a deep affection for the series, but somehow my appetite for the second one is adequately sated. The last time I played “The Orange Box,” I’m almost positive I was thrown across a canyon in the driver’s seat of a minivan by a gigantic robot. If that doesn’t scratch your itch for a particular gaming experience, nothing will. Also, in fairness, my personal adoration of Valve gestated for many years and blossomed relatively recently, so my priorities are different. “Left 4 Dead” and “Portal” mean just as much to me as “Half Life” or “Counter Strike,” so the effects of this Gordon Freeman drought are lost on me.

Anyway, let’s move on towards what I saw of “Portal 2.” I’m going to use bullet-point format for efficiency, so you can get the maximum amount of value from what I experienced. I’m going to trend towards new things, changes, and what struck me as most exciting for fans of the original. Enjoy!

-The game takes plus hundreds of years after the first one. We’re back at Aperture Science, but now it’s overgrown with foliage and wildlife. Valve has apparently retroactively patched the ending of the original (kind of a lame move, really) so that Chell, our protagonist, didn’t escape from the labs after all. She wakes up after being held in stasis for quite some time, and soon finds herself at GladOS’ mercy yet again.

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-The dialog remains sharp as ever. The best line I heard was, “We both said things you’re going to regret.” Also, when incinerating a robot sentry with the Discouragement Beam (great name), the poor little guy called out in his familiar monotone, “Ow ow it burns.”

-There are a bunch of new game mechanics, but my favorite are the Gels. There are two that I saw: blue Repulsion Gel, and orange Propulsion Gel. These gels alter the characteristics of any surface they’re on. If the blue stuff is on the ground in front of you, stepping onto it will make the floor function like a trampoline, vaulting you into the air. The orange Propulsion Gel, meanwhile, turns your every step into a superhuman sprint until you’re practically airborne.

-There will be two-player co-op, wherein each player controls a robot with its own portal gun. Valve assured us that the two-player maps, which are completely different from the single player ones, will be vastly more complicated to compensate for the increased portal potential.

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All in all, I’m pleased with what I saw. I think “Portal 2″ will be a substantially more complex experience than the original. The big question, as the Valve reps themselves pointed out, is whether or not they can “surprise” us again. Nintendo recently succeeded to that end marvelously with “Super Mario Galaxy 2,” a game very similar to its predecessor which nonetheless ascended the ranks of greatness. I have high hopes that “Portal 2,” which is far more unique from its ancestor, will have similar success.