E3 2010: Portal 2 Preview
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 05:32pm 21/06/10 | Comments
AusGamers sat in on a Valve-run session showing off elements of their much anticipated Portal 2 at this year's E3. Read on for our full thoughts...
Annoyingly, it took me ages to pick up Portal. I was too into the Half-Life 2 episodes to really care, and the few levels I played, while awesome in their own right, just made it feel like an advanced puzzle game with no ultimate direction. I wanted more meat to its story, and more variety in its visuals. Then one day a little more than a year back, I actually sat down to play through it. Holy shit.
I've hated myself ever since for being so blase about a product because of its initial face-value. First impressions do last, and while I saw the error of my ways and am now a true convert, I'm glad that it looks like Valve have somewhat taken the approach of really digging their heels in with the first portion of Portal 2.
At E3 we were shown a hands-off demo of the game in action, with a bit of an intro as to what, and where, things take place. If you played right through to the end of Portal, you'll know that you essentially put GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System) out of her hilarious misery by destroying her personality spheres. It has apparently been hundreds of years since your last confrontation with GLaDOS, and you've been awakened from stasis by a personality sphere named Wheatley (if you missed it, a patch released when they announced Portal 2 changed the end to show Chell being dragged away, presumably to stasis).
Wheatley isn't the only personality sphere you'll come across in the game, but he's the first and he'll guide you - with great comedic scripting - through the game's tutorial, and in the process, is also responsible for awakening GLaDOS who accuses you of murdering her. Now she attempts to rebuild the Aperture Science Labs while you attempt to escape.
According to Valve, the game is going to be a proper stand-alone product with a much lengthier single-player campaign, a stronger narrative and will also include its own stand-alone co-operative mode, giving us more bang for our buck.
The portal gun reappears in the game and you can once again create an entry and exit point portal. However, there are new gameplay tools thrown in to expand puzzle-solving this time around, and each adds a definitive element to the overall progressive structure of levels and puzzles. The first of these we're shown is called an "Excursion Tunnel", and basically what they are, are tractor beams you can move through, or you can send items through. You can put these on various surfaces and use them in conjunction with portals; if you're falling and place one on a wall, it'll catch you and move you through it, obviously opening up puzzle progression in a fundamentally new way.
This is but one new tool though, as we were also shown the "Aerial Faith Plate", which is essentially a spring-board you can move about (ala regular cubes), along with the "Pneumatic Diversity Vent" which is a massive suction vent you can use to rip tiles from walls to reveal new passages, or rid a room full of sentry guns. There are also new impediments throughout, including the "Thermal Discouragement Beam" - a high-impact laser that'll burn your face off, though it will also be needed to complete certain puzzles, thus arming you with the task of utilising new prism crates to redirect the beam. There are also giant spiked pads that smash together in unison along a specific path like some futuristic gauntlet, requiring you to not only time your movement along the path, but also fully explore the momentum-generating possibilities of yet another new gameplay element, gels.
We were only shown two gels, but it's highly likely we'll be seeing more. The second we were shown is relative to the aforementioned "gauntlet". It's a "Propulsion Gel" which you can 'paint' specific areas with (they actually splatter like paint and move through portals as globules of tangible mass). The basic idea is you slide on the gel and it speeds up your momentum which, when you couple that momentum with the potential portal-generated momentum capable in the first game, means you'll be sliding at a very high velocity through such insane gauntlets as described above, and beyond.
The second gel is the "Repulsion Gel" and acts as a kind of trampoline, not too dissimilar to the "Aerial Faith Plate", but its physical application, in that you can literally paint a surface with it, means there's a combination of both horizontal and vertical points of use allowing for vertical gameplay along ground-based stuff.
That was the basic run-down of some of the new gameplay elements introduced, and it was fully demonstrated in a short video showing all of them being used in varying combinations to navigate insane new labs and traps (let's face it, GLaDOS is exacting revenger this time around), which ultimately hurt my head. "We want people to feel smart while playing this," came a quote from Valve after the demonstration was concluded, not helping my esteem after seeing the possible combinations.
Still, in a gaming world where companies are increasingly reaching for the casual, mainstream gamer - the sort of person whose gaming skill-set would send them running at the sight of even the first Portal, we can be thankful there is a team out there like Valve who recognise the core element of gaming. The hardcore element. And aren't afraid to not only embrace it, but assume we will too (the actual tutorial is probably not even the first few steps in Portal 2, but rather the entirety of the original Portal).
The game looks fantastic in a visual sense. We'll be seeing less sterile environments this time around too, thanks to the centuries of neglect at Aperture, but this should definitely make for a much more engaging Portal experience with just as much heart and character as the first (we saw this in spades during our demo). All that's required to play is a degree in theoretical physics and a Companion Cube.
This was AusGamers' Game of the Show.