Portal is probably the single greatest gaming sucker punch of the last 10 years. When it released as part of The Orange Box, it didn’t even factor into the purchasing decisions of gamers who just wanted the Half-Life 2 and Team Fortress 2 content. However, once people started playing the now revered first person puzzle-platformer it quickly grew into one of the most popular bite-sized IPs of this console generation.
How do you take a game that so pleasantly surprised the gaming community at large and make a sequel with the same impact, now that it’s a known quantity? That’s the quandary that Valve’s Erik Johnson shared with us in a hands-off demonstration this week. The answers he gave to that question turned Portal 2 into my personal choice for best game of E3.
Based on the demo footage we were shown, the plot of Portal 2 seems fairly simple: GLaDOS awakens to rebuild the Aperture Science Testing Facility, and Chell is drawn back into her psychotic web. Both external and internal environments were shown in the demo, but only the internal environments were featured in the gameplay video.
Fans of the original will be glad to know that Portal‘s fabulous comedic writing and delivery looks to be back in full form. In addition to GLaDOS, we were also introduced to Wheatly, an another AI personality core who was stranded in the destruction of the original facility. Wheatly turns out to be an ally in your travels through the ruins, and the short amount of his dialogue we were treated to in the demo had the whole room laughing.
Overall, Erik was naturally squirrely about divulging more details on the story and characters, but what we were shown was enough to convince me that the humor, dialogue, and charm of Portal are – c’mon Sean, don’t use the obvious joke here; arrrrrgh, I can’t help it! – still alive.
Of course, all the laughs in the world won’t make a sequel fun to play. Of paramount importance to me going into this demo was to find out how Valve planned to tweak the gameplay to keep it fresh.
With the popularity of the first, they could have easily slapped together some new puzzles and just relied on our GLaDOS love to move units, and it would have sold a metric butt-ton. However, I’m happy to report that this is not the case with Portal 2. Our demo showed a myriad of new gameplay elements that will create all new types of puzzles and means for brutalizing meekly voiced turret bots.
The excursion funnel creates an energy tunnel that can be used to cross areas of a room. When you’re inside you can fire portals through the energy field; a thoughtful placement of portals will allow the player to extend the funnel into previously unreachable areas.
The aerial faith plate launches Chell or objects with great force into the air. A sequence that was shown with Chell using the faith plates to launch a companion cube across a dangerous area, and then trampolining right behind it looked like a fun platforming element.
The thermal discouragement beam is a heat ray that can be manipulated or bent by using cubes with prisms in them for both puzzle solving and turret bot annihilation. The pneumatic diversity vent is a suction vortex that will pull in both people and objects.
While surfaces in Portal had only 2 properties (ok for portals or portal resistant), Portal 2 includes different types of gel that adds different properties to surfaces to allow the player to solve puzzles. Repulsion Gel gives a usually solid surface some bounce, while Propulsion Gel gives a player travelling across it a massive speed burst.
Other gameplay elements were hinted at, but not shown. What we did see was enough to convince me that the puzzle aspects of the game will be both fresh and entertaining to play. Erik emphasized several times in the presentation that the Portal 2 is still intended to be a thinking player’s game. Valve’s focus is to make it so that uber-precise twitch reflexes aren’t required to successfully navigate the testing facility; the fun is in figuring out how to get through the room.
When pressed by media, Erik threw out a ball-park estimate for length. Portal 2 should be roughly twice the length of the original for the single-player campaign. Yes, I said single player. The game will also feature a separate set of 2 player co-op challenge rooms, and the puzzle implications of having two portal guns active at once have me both boggling and salivating.
Jonathan Coulton fanboys and fangirls rejoice; not only will he be contributing to the soundtrack of Portal 2, but Erik also implied that Coulton would collaborate on music within the game itself instead of just the closing credits.
A wide release window was given for Portal 2 – sometime in 2011. When pushed by a cheeky presser who jokingly asked if that was 2011 in real time or in Valve time, Erik firmly stated a 2011 release in real time. The game is set to release simultaneously on 360, PS3, PC, and Mac platforms.
When asked about post-game content, it was stated that long-term support for the game was planned, which is no surprise coming from Valve. Whether that would take the form of new challenge rooms, an expansion, or some other type of content was not made clear.
However, Erik took the question as an opportunity to reinforce the surprising announcement of the inclusion of Steamworks on the PS3 at the Sony press conference, by stating that Steamworks would be an ideal delivery method for post-game content on consoles.
In summary: yes, yes, YES. Brand new gameplay elements, great new characters, and a confirmation that the signature Portal humor is intact and smarter than ever combine to ensure that this will be a game to bank on for 2011. The only problem I see with this game is that I now have to wait until next year to play it. Valve, you monster.