Like many people, I really, really enjoyed the hell out of Portal. That early trailer, "there's a hole in the sky through which things can fly"? I showed that to a bunch of my friends and I remember watching it with my brothers thinking, "holy crap, we have to get this game." Portal was a unique gaming experience filled with puzzles and dark humour, and I had a blast playing through it. But it was more than a game, and that was the problem. It became this sort of pop-culture thing, with people making cake jokes and singing "Still Alive." It got old. A friend of mine says that Portal was appropriated by hipsters. I don't know if I go that far, but I will admit that I lost interest in Portal and didn't care for Portal 2 when I heard it was announced. The Gel videos didn't make me more enthusiastic, either. I didn't know what they'd do with the story, and I wasn't looking forward to it. And I couldn't give a fraction of a crap about the two robots on the front of the box. Not to mention that whole potato thing. The hell was that about, anyway? A friend gifted me Portal 2 for my birthday via Steam. He was excited and looked forward to the co-op. When I saw the the trailer that featured a ponytailed white girl in an orange jumpsuit, that's when my interest was grabbed. So when release day came around, I installed it, kept my expectations low, and jumped in. We started with the co-op. Portal 2 has two different campaigns - a co-op one with two comic relief robots, and the main singleplayer game which reunite Portal protagonist Chell with the malevolent GLaDOS. The co-op game has the two robots working their way through a series of testchambers in what's left of the Aperture Science Enrichment Center while GLaDOS drops hate on them. To facilitate co-op play, players have several useful functions available to them, such as a countdown timer to coordinate switch pulls and the ability to point things out for your partner, such as objects to interact with or places to put portals. Working together is the name of the game, so I don't know how much fun you'd have jumping into games online with random people. I know I would just dick around and try to troll people, constantly doing the high-five animation until they'd ragequit. I'm playing with a friend of mine while voice chatting with him so I can't complain, but if I didn't have anyone to play with, I'd rather have a computer-controller partner than be forced to find a human one online. I imagine the co-op campaign is a sizable chunk of the game, and it would suck to miss out on a big piece of a game you've paid for. Co-op play is a lot of fun. Trying to solve puzzles with your friends and throwing them around through holes in spacetime is a blast. And you guys can have your characters perform various emotes while GLaDOS makes fun of you. Annoyingly, though, when the robots reach the end of a challenge, you have to watch the same animation of them being dismantled, over and over again. It's not long, it just gets old having to watch it repeatedly. Couldn't they just jump into tubes and slide down instead? The frequent dismantling animations are followed by loading screens, of which you will see many. Loading does not take long, but it happens very often. Then again, the first Portal game had a lot of loading, too, and took longer to load than this new game does. While the two robots are off screwing around, Chell's the star of the singleplayer game. I think it's great that they did not try to cram a needless second character into the main story to follow Chell around for the co-op. Many other co-op games feel that way in singleplayer, like you're stuck with an expressionless NPC that is useless, a liability, or a combination of both. Portal 2's singleplayer doesn't have any of that tacked-on co-op leftover crap. Chell is alone. Again. Naturally. Though never alone enough, it seems - some old friends are back to play. Portal 2's first moments, while still showcasing the first game's dark humour, made me feel very uneasy. That doesn't happen often in games. It wasn't just dark, it was creepy, and the Half-Life universe's trademark player-being-left-in-dark feeling is there. I once again (if not as usual) found myself wondering just what the hell was going on - and what the hell had happened. Part of what made Portal so memorable (to me, anyway) was the novelty. It felt very fresh and different. The experience of exploring Aperture for the first time, of creating your first portals, of completing your first "fling"... You can only have them once. You can't recreate those moments. If they'd made Portal 2 nothing but some more testchambers (wouldn't be the first time they'd release an expansion pack as a sequel...), it would feel stale and uninspired. You've explored Aperture before. Some new catapults and gel won't make it feel different. Luckily, Aperture IS different this time. The decay is palpable, with vegetation everywhere and the once-white walls tarnished and faded. Disrepair is an understatement. Things are different, and even the tutorial level is interesting enough, reminding you of the the basics while presenting the new derelict Science Center. Dark comedy is one thing, but this is more. This is just plain dark! Storywise, I've just reunited with an old friend, so to speak, and the heat is turning up. You'll know what I mean when you get there. Another change I'd like to mention is the new Chell model they've used. Last time, Chell didn't look so good. She appeared tired, with sunken eyes, gaunt cheeks, and messy hair. So she didn't look like a centrefold. Big deal. Being a human lab rat is hard, okay? Anyway, if the first minute or two of Portal 2 is any indication, Chell's really caught up on her beauty sleep. Now, she's removed the upper part of her orange jumpsuit (possibly to suggest that Aperture has less control over her?), revealing a white Aperture-logo tank top. Her face looks healthier than ever, her lips are fuller... Unf! Maybe now people will stop complaining about how bad she looked in the first Portal. Portal 2 is not without its issues, though. From the main menu, the first thing I clicked on was the the last thing on the list (something about robots) and was presented with a TF2-like equipment screen for the co-op robots. You can unlocks parts of them by playing the game, or, of course, by buying them. It's hats all over again. Considering these are cosmetic-only upgrades that will mainly only be seen by the person you're playing co-op with, an item shop really seems silly to me. And there was some fine print about PS3 players not being able to see the custom items, or something. I don't know; I wasn't paying attention. Some people have also complained about the console-game feel of Portal 2, and I can see where they're coming from. The FOV is tiny (you can hardly even see the portal gun when you're carrying an item), there's a big "controller" option in the Options menu, and when you save, a message tells you not to turn off your console. The hell? At least mouse acceleration is off by default. I wasn't interested in Portal 2 when I installed it today. But after seeing what's happened to the Aperture Science Center and knowing that Chell is back as the protagonist (and that an old friend of hers has woken up, too), I'm going to keep playing for sure. If you need some motivation, the Extras option of the Main Menu has the fun trailers to watch and the "Portal 2: Lab Rat" comic to read. Plus some movie trailer thing.
EDIT: some more things I forgot to mention. Portals will appear as glowing rings which you can see through walls, sort of like some objects/characters in TF2 and L4D, which is pretty handy. Puzzles this time aren't just a matter of cube-buttoning and ball-socketing. There are new features like lasers, gels, catapults, bridges made of hard light, and probably more. The explanation for why Chell doesn't talk is plausible, and if true, makes me feel even worse for the character. Poor Chelly... And I'm kind of confused as to how GLaDOS can simply just reboot and literally pull herself together. She was shot at with missiles last time and had parts of her torn off and incinerated. Didn't that make her stop functioning properly at the end of the last Portal? Maybe there's something else going on here. Must investigate further!