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For The Science – Thoughts On Portal 2

June 6, 2011

You’ve no doubt heard already — Portal 2 is an awesome game. I probably should have written my thoughts out long ago,  but I wanted to finish the whole game first (including the co-operation portion) before I did, and I guess late is better than never.

Upon completion of the single-player, my first thought was: Wow. Portal 2 is bigger than its predecessor in every sense — the length, the challenges, the story, the scope. They took everything that was great about the first game, made it better, and managed to do it without making me feel like I was going back over old ground. That in itself is quite a feat, considering what a brief but quintessential experience the first Portal game was. The sequel feels fresh while staying loyal to the spirit of the original, expanding upon it physics, humor, and whacky puzzle-based gameplay.

And speaking of puzzles, Portal 2’s are more fun than ever. The basics of momentum and portal mechanics remain the same, but the game throws a lot more technology at you this time around, everything from energy platforms to bouncy gels. Thanks to our deranged friend GLaDOS, the entire facility environment also comes to life, making things a lot more interesting.

That said, some of the test chambers can get pretty tricky. I was a little concerned at first, recalling some of the troubles I had from the first game. For the most part, however, I had little trouble with the puzzles in Portal 2. I don’t think they got easier, just that I may have been more familiar with the mechanics, physics and how the game “works” this time around.

Not that there weren’t other challenges to contend with. I’m mostly cool with the problem solving; given enough time, things can always be figured out. Instead, it’s needing to be quick and precise enough to fire a portal here or there or wherever at the right time that gets me. I mean, I’m not exactly Miss Coordination of the Year. That’s my problem, though, not the game’s — because in my opinion, all the puzzles were very well designed.

Still, the best part had to be the storytelling. Unlike the first game where the story had to gleaned from bits and pieces, Portal 2 has a clear beginning, middle, climax and end. Right from the explosive start, I was hooked. I enjoyed meeting Wheatley the excitable robot sphere, though I was initially a little annoyed with having a sidekick until I realized his bigger role in all of this. Between solving puzzles, I was filled in on the background of Aperture Science as well as my own character’s history. What impressed me most was how so much of the story was told through one-sided conversation, environmental cues and my own puzzle-solving driving the plot forward.

As for the co-op, arguably one of the most anticipated features of the game, I have to say: it was wild. If you played Portal 2 and enjoyed single-player, then you will probably like co-op too, where you and your teammate play as robots and continue to solve GLaDOS’s tests for the sake of science. The general idea is the same — but with two people, the puzzles are taken to a whole new level and require a very different way of thinking.

I had the pleasure of completing this portion with Blue Kae, who also suggested the neat idea that we should do a co-op review of the co-op gameplay! So here it is:

Blue Kae: I had expected the co-op game to be fun, but it turned out to be a lot more fun than I realized. Challenging in different ways than the single player, and somehow easier too. What surprised you about playing co-op?

MMOGamerChick: From the start, I knew co-op was going to be about playing together, but what I didn’t expect to see was how often we were put into situations where we had to work together…but separately. Initially, I think I was picturing something akin to a two-player platformer, where you and your partner would go everywhere together, do everything together. There were some puzzles like that, but I’d say most of them involved each person doing very different things, sometimes in different parts of the room. It made things more interesting, in my opinion. It’s still very much about the teamwork because our chances of success still depended on both people accomplishing their respective tasks, but that meant trust was also very important — especially when we couldn’t see what the other person was doing and had to rely on coordination and communication.

Okay, my turn to ask a question. What did you find was most challenging about co-op?

BK: Remembering that I was playing with someone. I mean we were chatting the whole time so I knew you were there and all, but after playing through on single player I was so used to running into a new puzzle and starting to throw portals around that it was an adjustment to remember I was playing with someone. I know there were a few times when I wiped a portal of yours out with one of mine because I wasn’t thinking.

I very much agree with your surprise about how the co-op worked. I assumed that our portals would link up instead of being separate. It was definitely more about communicating, coordinating, and trust. The spike maze comes to mind. :)

The best part was having a second person to help figure out how to solve the puzzles. I wasn’t tempted to go look at Youtube once. If/when there’s a Portal 3 are you looking forward more to single player or more co-op?

MMOGC: Both. I mean, obviously the co-op is a huge draw, but single player has its moments. And both portions were filled with humorous moments, GLaDOS doing her thing. That’s what made the whole game, I think. It would be difficult for me to say which I prefer or look forward to more.

And I totally agree with you about remembering that I was playing with someone. Though with regards to wiping out each other’s portals, I just like to think of it more as both of us being on the same page. Great minds think alike and all that!

BK: True! I think the single player had a bit more personality, maybe that’s because it stretched across two games. Did it seem to you like the single player was more about how to solve a puzzle and the co-op was more about actually doing the solution?

MMOGC: Oh yeah, definitely. I approached single-player and co-op very differently. In co-op (and I think you might have noticed this too), the first thing both of us did with a new puzzle was run in there and start exploring, playing with whatever buttons or stuff we found. I found myself “working backwards” in co-op more than I did in single-player. First find the exit, then “do” the solution.

BK: I wasn’t quite that organized about it. Mostly I was just trying to make sure that when we picked a solution that it was using all of the different parts in the puzzle.

MMOGC: Let me ask you another thing. Were you stressed at any point? ‘Cause I know I was. I kept thinking, “Oh crap oh crap oh crap, I’m going to let Blue Kae down and he’s going to think I’m an idiot.” I’m not the best when it comes to coordination and reflexes. There were several times that I botched a jump or a portal and I just felt terrible.

BK: A couple of times, definitely. I worried about getting you killed on a couple of puzzles where there was timing involved. But most of the time it was so easy to run back in, that I didn’t worry much. I can’t remember getting frustrated at all though.

MMOGC: Well, it was definitely much more enjoyable to play with a friend.

BK: I totally agree. The frustrating parts for me in the single player game were figuring out what to do next. Having someone to talk with and point out things I missed made the game much much more fun.

MMOGC: I totally carried you. Haha, just kidding.

BK: There were definitely puzzles that you just got right off that I didn’t and vice versa. There was only one puzzle, I remember, that stumped us both for a bit.

MMOGC: That part really was cool. I saw where my own weaknesses were, and was grateful when you figured stuff out that I couldn’t. I was really happy that we were able to figure everything out between us without going to outside help.

BK: Yeah, I ended up hitting Youtube twice for puzzles in the singleplayer game when it stopped being fun.

MMOGC: And fun is what it’s all about.

7 comments

  1. That’s a much more polite version of what I had intended to say about Portal 2 :P I still may go and type one out, but I had a buncha stuff to make recently so been a bit strapped for time.

    I think the multiplayer was definately more fun, but possibly easier than singleplayer. That’s a bit missleading though, hmm. I did co-op with the Misses right next to me on PS3. Possibly due to us being right next to each other, it might have been easier than online, though I did ping a portal location here and there to speed it along and vice versa. I *will* say that the multiplayer portions were vastly more polished in terms of bugs and glitches than the single player game. And those bugs and glitches in single player is (to semi-quote Ron White) what sent me into levels of pissed off I have not been in for quite some time.

    When you know how the puzzle worked the first time and did everything correctly the first time, but the game refused to acknowledge than you did the puzzle correctly the first time resulting in death… and that causes you repeat your steps, still getting you killed until you begin to rethink your options and try wacky ways to solve the puzzle until you realize you WERE in fact correct the first time but the game just screwed you over, thus wasting an hour of your time? The end result of that equation is rage, my friends. Full-on, white-knuckled, rocky mountain oyster-fueled, rage.

    Great comedy, though! Wheatley was a hoot. “I have all the cards! Ace of fours! Six full houses! …I’ve never actually played cards. Been meanin’ too.” “Ah, those were the crap turrets, weren’t they? Yeah…”

    Did you get the Good Listener achievement your first playthrough? For somereason I did XD


    • It definitely felt easier, but probably because two pairs of eyes are better than one :) When I got stuck, I could also count on Blue Kae to figure it out. And vice versa. You and the missus playing beside each other probably made things easier. Kae and I had to make do with the in-game tools like pointers and countdowns, since there was a bit of lag between our Steam chat. There were a few confuzzled moments where we kept wiping each other’s portals and explaining to each other what we were trying to do while flying through the air :P

      Luckily I experienced zero bugs during the game, single-player and co-op. PC though. Sorry to hear about the problems you had, I can imagine how frustrating it must have been, ugh.

      And I have to check to see if I got that achievement, on PC I don’t usually pay as much attention :D


      • I watched a guy on youtube named X (found him via Minecraft, no surprise there!) and watched his Let’s play just before I started playing. I got about an hour in, just about when Chapter 2 starts and Glados makes you start testing, as I didn’t want too much to get ruined and I really like both the game and his reactions. He’s much more animated than myself, well, at least when playing games ^_^

        I beat it. Twice. (Suggestion: Do *not* play though again just to hear the dev commentary. Google it or something; anything. There are maybe fifteen within the entire game, and four are in the first room you start in, and three-ish are in the boss battle. After awhile I was worried the game turned off the option in-between levels they were really THAT sparce. Don’t waste your time >.<) Then I beat it Co-op with the Misses. Then I watched and listened him play the game, and while he got caught up on a few things, he didn't have the massive issues I did with those particular areas in the game. (He did have similar issues, but not for the same reason.)

        You did mention a very vaild point, though. I didn't think about playing it on a console vs PC and the potential issues that could have caused. Hmm. My younger cousin is going to come over and he's interested in playing it… Then I'll have X's playthrough *and* a direct comparison on the same console I played on's playthrough to base my review on! Huzzah! I has a plan!

        Thanx ^_^


      • Haha, yeah I’m not big on commentaries anyway. I’ll do what you suggested and google them. Thanks! :D


  2. […] The co-op game took us about five or six hours to finish, across three nights. I ended up as Blue (naturally) and GC played Orange. Organized as five courses, with eight puzzles in each, there’s nearly as much humor and story in the co-op mode as there is in the single-player game. Check out GC’s review here. […]


  3. Really enjoyed this review. Good job guys :-)

    Can’t wait to play P2.


    • Hope you get a chance to play soon, I think you’ll enjoy it :)

      And glad you liked the write up. Co-op writing was a new experience for me :P



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