GlaDOS, you have to concede, was a bitch; sentient AI turned overlord, her initially dulcit, pre-set script quickly became devious, malicious, murderous. But therein lay the thrill, Portal was not just about innovation and discovery, it was about human against machine and overcoming physical limitation, and it was, by all accounts, a breathtakingly smart game. Yes, meme-overkill has dulled the experience a little, but that début headlong rush into your first wormhole was a delicious one that nobody can take away, no matter how many times they try to tell you the cake is (not) a lie.
It’s with a sense of wonderment that I look forward to the next game in the series. For something that was originally packaged up alongside Half Life 2 in the Orange Box as a side-project the first Portal outshone its counterparts with ease, and now that the fully-fledged sequel is on its way (it’s due in April) anticipation of what might be in store for returning player character Chell is reaching fever pitch for anyone with a passing interest in Valve’s output.
For starters, we can expect more of a story: Personality Spheres will carry the exposition, with Wheatley the first such orb that Chell will meet. Indeed, the Stephen Merchant-voiced character will awaken Chell, her starter surroundings unfamiliar but hotel-like as the game gets going. Before long, though, and once the player has realised the enormity of the situation, you’ll be back within the bizarrely homely white and silver of the Aperture Labs testing rooms, once again tasked with a number of increasingly tricky puzzles, and once again at the apparent mercy of a very much (still) alive GlaDOS.
Not that you’ll be restricted to just the Portal Gun again – Valve, taking influence (and employees) from Digipen project ‘Tag: The Power of Paint’ (a free PC-based download) have look further afield for the structure of each chamber, introducing at least two special properties to certain surfaces in the form of gels: propulsion (which increases Chell’s running speed) and repulsion (which acts as a very rubbery jumping material). These gels will initially feel like paint, but you’ll quickly discover that they’re very much physical manifestations, and can be thrown through portals and applied to more than just walls and floors.[boxout]Indeed, the player can also expect to meet more than just Cubes and Turrets, with Redirection Cubes, Aerial Faith Plates and Spherical Storage Balls mixing up the puzzle elements. And the environment won’t be nearly as pristine as you might have expected, with years of decay and foliage slowly taking over the facility giving the game a distinctive look: it’s still Aperture, but it’s old, fading and overgrown, especially as you navigate away from the usually sterile surroundings of the test areas. All of which will still carry that elusive Valve quality: you’ll feel like it’s only you in the world that’s managed to solve each problem.
So, as the single player game evolves in all areas, it’s in multiplayer that the series finds the biggest jumps: Portal 2 will feature a co-operative mode for two players, each taking the form of a highly characterised robot, and story-wise inspired by the Left 4 Dead titles, which promoted great teamwork and plenty of replayability. Each robot has their own Portal Gun (and corresponding portal colours) and thus each chamber in co-op will require at least four different coloured shots to get through, preventing a dominating single player taking too much control and ensuring that both get a fair slice of the action.
I, personally, can’t wait for this. With Erik Wolpaw returning on writing duties (and joined by Left 4 Dead’s Chet Faliszek) I’m expecting something very special indeed, and it’s a sentiment echoed by everyone here, the game’s our number six most anticipated release of the year. Here’s to April.