PAX 10: Portal 2 Co-Op Impressions

portal-2-co-opValve must be staffed with magicians because Portal 2 looks magical.

At PAX the whole GameHounds crew got to see a live demo (no hands-on unfortunately) of the co-op campaign. You and a buddy will play as two Aperture robots. One is tall and thin and looks like it’s made out of a turret, the other is short and round, and looks like it’s made out of one of GLaDOS’ eyes. There’s so much personality in these designs. With their one eye and big shoulders, they look cute and friendly but still look like sleek machines that fit the Aperture aesthetic.

By now the co-op trailer has spread across the Internet, so you can see the robots for yourself. It’s the same trailer we saw at the beginning of the demo, and it’s worth watching for another reason as well: It’s implication of something bigger. In the co-op mode, referred to as the Cooperative Testing Initiative, GLaDOS makes a point in saying “You don’t know anything. You’re perfect,” and at the end she says, “Now it’s time for your real purpose.” Are these little guys being trained for a sinister reason? Maybe to hunt down the humans trying to escape? Does this mean the co-op story will overlap with the single-player story? This is all pure speculation, but Valve is staffed with some great storytellers as well as magicians, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the two campaigns did overlap.

As for the demo itself, we got to see two people run through a couple puzzles and show off some of the team-building mechanics. Each player has a portal gun that shoots the standard blue and orange portals. Since PAX, I’ve heard others say that one gun shoots a red and purple portal to differentiate itself, but I didn’t notice a color difference during the demo. I did notice that you can see your partner’s portals through walls, similar to how you can see outlines of your teammates through walls in Left 4 Dead, this makes it easier to keep track of who shot where.

Physics play a larger role in puzzles this time around. In the first portal you could create an infinite loop and fall forever, but this was mainly for fun. In the co-op mode these loops will be required to solve some puzzles. In the demo, one player created a loop and his partner jumped in, building up momentum as he fell forever, until the first player shot another portal at a wall and Player Two came flying out and over a deep chasm. Player Two then had to do the same thing, shooting portals from across the gap.

Of course, sometimes it can be hard to tell where you have to shoot, and that’s where the new ping tool comes in handy. Clicking in the right stick marks a specific spot for your partner, so you won’t have to spend 10 minutes saying, “Shoot over there. Lower, lower, to the right, higher. Can’t you aim? I’m quitting.” The robots can also gesture to each other with the D-pad. They can wave, hug, and dance. There actually seem to be enough tools for unspoken communication that voice chat won’t be necessary to solve puzzles, though it certainly won’t hurt either.

Death is handled in a way that makes sense and looks like it won’t ever be frustrating. Since you are a robot, you’re just rebuilt and pop back into the level at a respawn point. From a story perspective, it would be weird if two human characters had infinite respawns like this, but it makes perfect sense for robots. That’s just a little example of how Valve always manages to make its worlds feel realistic, despite the fact that you’re playing with portals.

You’ll get to play with portals yourself soon enough. Portal 2 is set for release February 9, 2011.

Portal 2
For Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Microsoft Windows
In retail stores
Available February 9, 2011

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