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Portal 2 E3 Preview

Portal, Valve's unusual puzzle game released as part of The Orange Box, was something of a shock commercial and critical success back in 2007. Taking a surprisingly simple concept, two connected portals which you can move through, and turning it into a full game was an impressive achievement. However, crafting something that was more than just a puzzle game with a rich and sinister atmosphere was truly remarkable. Continuing the story, Portal 2 adds a range of new gameplay elements, a co-operative mode and some interesting new characters.

Portal 2 Screenshots

Valve is certainly a developer that knows how to whip fans into a frenzy, aptly demonstrated by their unusual announcement of Portal 2. After subtly tweaking the ending to the original title earlier this year, the sequel follows on from Chell's apparent recapture by Aperture Science. Being placed in some form of suspended animation she is subsequently released by a new character, Wheatley, a personality core similar to those you remove from GLaDOS during the final confrontation in Portal. Wheatley seems to have the ability to roam through the facility on a series of monorail-like tracks although in the footage that we saw, he removed himself from these and was carried by Chell. The trademark humour from the series was very evident in these early scenes and it already brought to mind the sharpest lines of dialogue from the original.

Portal 2 Screenshots

Before long though, everyone's favourite psychopathic AI was accidently awakened and is still pretty bitter about Chell killing her ("I've been really busy being dead"). However, GLaDOS seems to be prepared to move on ("We can put our differences behind us. For science. You monster") although she clearly has some sort of sinister ulterior motive. With Valve being as secretive as ever during the preview, the remainder of the story is shrouded in mystery though there were hints that the Weighted Companion Cube could return.

Portal 2 Screenshots

With GLaDOS lying dormant the Aperture Science facility has fallen into extreme disrepair with vegetation and general dirt covering parts of the facility. We were shown some rather impressive footage of the various test rooms being renovated, with shiny white tiles replacing the grimy ones. Interestingly, it seems that Wheatley will be able to, at times, lead you behind the scenes of the test chambers and temporarily escape the watchful gaze of GLaDOS. In the footage we were shown, the personality core asked you to temporarily avert your gaze as he opened up one of the walls ("I can't do it while you're looking at me"). How often this occurs and what implications it has are currently unknown, but it could certainly lead to some interesting situations.

Portal 2 Screenshots

However the most exciting new additions are undoubtedly the new test chamber features which open up a lot of new gameplay possibilities. The first of these we were shown was a tractor beam, a long cylindrical blue area which has the ability to slowly move objects in one direction. While you can stand in this yourself its main use seems to be for transporting objects around the various chambers. During the demonstration portals were placed at one end of the beam and another on the floor facing upwards. This allowed the beam to move vertically from the floor, so any objects placed in it could reach the level's higher platforms. In the first test chamber that we saw, this was used to move several weighted boxes around so that they could be used to activate the pressure switches found in the first game.

Portal 2 Screenshots

The second new addition is the presence of lasers in several of the chambers, which are needed to activate certain switches. With a new type of weighted cube, with a mirror in the centre, it is possible to redirect the beam of the laser, in order to reach the required switch. This often needs to be done by guiding it through portals, but you have to be careful to avoid being hit by the beam as it will spell death. However, the hazardous beam can be turned to your advantage and used to ignite, and subsequently, explode any turrets that are in its way. The pneumatic tubes seen in the first title for transporting cubes and turrets around return, but can now be utilised. Anything placed near the end of one will be instantly sucked into it and transported along, which leads to even more ways to dispose of the turrets. Placing a portal underneath one allows you to move this destructive force throughout the level, sucking in groups of sentries at once and even removing smaller tiles from the walls. While we didn't see any use for these other than dispatching the sentry guns, their use as part of the game's puzzles is assured by the developers.

Portal 2 Screenshots

Perhaps the most radical new element is the inclusion of various liquids all of which have different effects when placed in the environment. The first of these was a Repulsion Gel, a blue liquid which propels you into the air when you jump onto it. Using momentum and the portal device, it was possible to move this gel around the level, allowing you to reach new areas. The most useful purpose of the liquid was to propel it onto portal-proof floors, which would allow you to move vertically in a location the portals were unable to reach. The second orange liquid, Propulsion Gel, allows you to move much faster and gain momentum as you run along it. During the demonstration this was used to build speed and clear a series of vicious looking spiked traps which slammed together just after Chell made it through.

Portal 2 Screenshots

These new elements all look radically different and as the demonstration drew to a close with an impressive showcase of all of them being integrated together. It was an astonishing display as both the Repulsion and Propulsion Gels were combined with other elements, sending Chell flying through a series of hazards before making an enormous leap over a chasm. Already it is clear how these different elements will be able to link together and the possibilities and combinations look set to make things rather complicated. Valve were keen to emphasise that Portal 2 will be challenging but not based on twitch aiming or having particular skill with the mouse. In the same manner as the original, the learning curve is designed to be gradual, giving you the tools and then allowing you to feel like a genius when you figure out the solution.

A co-operative mode will be included featuring two robot companions which will act as a separate story, which also features GLaDOS. Currently there aren't many details and Valve was keeping very tight lipped, but the mode is designed to be highly challenging with some exceptionally devious puzzles being created. Valve also commented that it was a lot of fun to kill your co-operative partner, which could certainly make things interesting! Disappointingly, Valve may not include the bonus challenge map packs and more difficult versions of levels as they commented that they were met with a lukewarm reception. Let us hope that they revise this decision before the release as it would be a real shame not to have some more testing maps to extend the lifespan. Although Valve did highlight that Portal 2 was a complete sequel and will be longer than the original, so these may not be necessary. With a lot of pressure from the dedicated fan community to follow up on an already outstanding game, Portal 2 is looking well on track to deliver challenging puzzles and a very dark and engaging storyline. Sadly, with a release a long way away in 2011, it will be some time before we find out if the cake is still a lie, but at GameOn we're getting some paper plates and serviettes ready now. Just in case.

evilgiraffeman | 23rd June, 2010
Angelfromabove's picture
Great preview Giraffe
Saw the E3 trailer that Sony showed and nearly peed myself with excitement when GLaDOS muttered "We can put our differences behind us. For science. You monster" lol

Hopefully the companion cube returns, I was genuinely gutted when you had to kill it lol
Some interesting new inclusions there from the sounds of things! Be intrieged to see how the new Co-Op mode is going to work.
TimmyShire's picture
Nice preview Giraffe.

When I saw this I got more excited than I should. I'm glad Portal 2 is getting it's own release, and with Valve's quality I expect it'll be an excellent game. The new features look really quite interesting. At first I was worried they might be a bit gimmicky to force in some 'newness', but the way it reacts with the Portal Gun it sounds excellent.

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