The aptly named Perpetual Testing Initiative is the latest work from Valve; offering a rather easy to use, much sought after level editor for Portal 2 as an alternative to their more complex Hammer Editor.
After starting up your updated Steam (that’s PC/Mac only) version of Portal 2, a new option will appear in the menu: Community Test Chambers. From here, you’re able to download created test chambers via the Steam Workshop, or create and publish one of your own.
Most importantly, the editor (and the levels) themselves fit snugly in the Portal Universe… or multiverse as the introductory video reveals, with Cave Johnson once again narrating. The Testing Initiative itself is a way of Aperture creating free, infinite test chambers with the help of the endless amount of parallel earths and Apertures.[videoyoutube]It’s a brilliant set-up, and it’s one that carries on throughout the downloaded levels, with Cave Johnson acting as the announcer for each test – there’s a lot of new voice work, including references, more backstory and the same Aperture humour and oddities that we all love. In fact, queue up your levels and it very much resembles a story; this alone should be enough to steal quite a few hours of your time.
And whilst the addition to the plot is brilliant, it’s hardly the main focus of the DLC; that lies with the test chamber creator itself, which is a very slick, very simple to use isometric editor that you’ll feel right at home with almost instantly.
All the items from Portal 2 are here: buttons, switches, bridges, water hazards, cubes, gel along with everything else in the main game’s test chambers.
These items can be dragged and dropped onto any of the walls, the floor and, with certain items, the ceiling of your test chamber in order to create a puzzle. Switches and buttons can be connected to any of the other items to perform certain tasks, such as opening the exit when pressed or held down respectively, or reversing the direction of an excursion funnel. Timers are available, too; there’s everything here you need to mimic or even better the test chambers in the main game.
It’s all in a tiled, grid-like format to make sure everything matches up, so that there’s no worrying about excursion funnels or lasers being out of place – you should be able to tell from looking at the tiles. Each individual tile can be pushed in and pulled out, or multiple tiles can be selected to shift entire sections of the test chamber.
The transition between editing and playing is sublime – hitting Tab will instantly load the level, providing you’ve ‘built’ it since the last changes. This also offers an almost effortless way to bug test: load up the level and play around with the items you’ve inserted yourself in seconds.
The presentation of the editor itself is absolutely flawless; each item has its own animation, and extrudes when right clicked, which is a very nice touch. Other little quirky animations are included, such as a heart appearing when two items are connected and then shattering when this connection is broken. You play as a 2D aperturite (the little men featured in the trailers) in a 3D environment, which is brilliantly weird, too. It’s a sublime editor, which reflects the aesthetics of Portal 2 and Aperture Science incredibly well.
I managed to put together a small and slightly challenging puzzle in no longer than a quarter of an hour. It took some more time to fix the problems, but it’s amazing how smoothly the editor works, allowing you to put together a working test chamber in no time. I added buttons, cubes, spheres, excursion funnels, lasers, repulsion gel and everything you’d want to see in a basic level, feeling very happy with my work.
After testing my test chamber, though, I noticed one thing: I had forgotten to add any portalable surfaces. Yes, I managed to completely defeat the purpose of the game Portal 2. No worries, though, I named my test chamber No Portals and it’s available on the Steam Workshop for you to try out.
All of the levels published are available directly through Steam, which integrates into the game nicely. Downloading these levels takes seconds and they’ll load straight into the game to avoid the necessity of messing about with files yourself. From there it’s just click to play and the game will work through your queue of levels, with elevator transitions in between.[drop]At the end of each test chamber, there’s the option to thumbs up or thumbs down the level, which is a nice, simple rating system that doesn’t ask for too much of your time. The levels can then be sorted in the workshop by most popular, top rated and such, along with the option to search.
Unfortunately, the editor allows only for creation of closed test chambers; there’s no adding any behind the scenes sections like in single player or co-op, or any additional customisation for that matter.
Nor can you create co-op chambers, as of yet, though Valve plan to add this functionality; it makes sense for now, with the added complexity of four portals surely taking much more time to master.
The Perpetual Testing Editor works, though, and it works very well. There’s the same feeling of accomplishment that we’ve seen before in Portal 2 as you complete a community test chamber, and an even better feeling when you manage to make a puzzle yourself. There are some great test chambers on the Workshop already, and this new DLC is absolutely a reason to revisit Aperture Laboratories. Be careful, however, it’s also a reason to never leave.
If you’ve not experienced Portal 2 yet, it’s just over £5 on Steam all weekend, and the download should include the (free) Perpetual Testing Initiative DLC.