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Portal 2 Hands-on Preview: The Science of Fun

24 February 2011

This was a triumph. I'm making a note here: huge success. It's hard to overstate my satisfaction.

[SPOILER ALERT – Preview contains information about the end of Portal 1 and the first ten minutes of Portal 2. Skip past the next three paragraphs if you don’t want to spoil any of the narrative.]

Portal 2 kicks off in a dingy hotel room — which, as you soon find out, is actually an Aperture Science “relaxation center.” An unknown voice urgently requests entry. The door swings open and a blue-eyed robot peeks in. “Ahhhh! Oh god, you look terr—erm… good,” says Wheatley, your spherical robot rescuer.

A male-programmed “Personality Core” let loose at the end of the original Portal, Wheatley takes moral issue with guarding the 10,000 human test subjects imprisoned in the depths of Aperture Science. Restricted to a series of ceiling railings, the appendage-less Wheatley seeks to escape the facility himself. After he spots Chell in stasis, he devises a plan to detach himself and break free of the laboratory — but he needs Chell’s help.

“Say apple. Aaaapple,” says Wheatley, gauging Chell’s mental coherence after warning that she may have “a minor case of serious brain damage.” ‘X - Say Apple,’ indicates a screen prompt. You press X. Chell jumps. With an ‘I’ll have to work with what I’ve got’ tone, Wheatley decides that’s close enough and exits the room. The soundtrack kicks in with a rhythmic electronic beat as the room quakes and begins to crumble around you. Wheatley, controlling the chaos from above, smashes the room through a lab wall. You soon discover the Portal gun and set out on your quest to escape Aperture Science.

Portal 2 features a host of new gameplay elements, like gels that’ll change surface physics, suction tubes, light bridges and so on. This preview build focused on the aerial ‘faith plate.’ If you step on one of these plates, it launches you through the air. Then, if you maintain that momentum through a portal, you’ll rocket out the other side with enough speed to clear large gaps. Weighted cubes come into play, too; in the demo, I had to fly off a faith plate and catch a perennially bouncing cube at the apex my jump, landing safely on the other side with the cube in hand.

Portal 2 looks a lot like the first game, though one notable difference shines through. While Portal 1 was a sea of whites and grays, the lab has decayed significantly since then, allowing plant life to flourish in some areas. The game runs at a consistently steady clip; not once during the entire demo did I witness any frame drops or slowdown.

The first Portal was a smash success, and the fine folks at Valve look like they’ll top it with the sequel. They’ve included what made the original so superb — the mind-bending puzzles, superb presentation, and trademark humor — while creating unique single-player and cooperative campaigns, each roughly twice as long as the original puzzler. The brief slice I played left me grinning with glee, eager to jump into the full game. Luckily, I won’t have to wait too much longer: Portal 2 materializes on April 18 in North America and April 22 in Europe.

 

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