Portal 2 Preview

Like all great mornings, waking up in the new living quarters at Aperture Laboratories begins with rigorous exercise. Look up, look down, and jump. Mandatory fitness and wellness exercise: passed with flying colors. Apparently fitness isn't as important as they let on at Aperture. focalbox Even when it attempts to teach you the most basic mechanics of a first-person title, Portal 2 applies a thick layer of slapstick. For the uninitiated: Portal 2 is the sequel to 2007's mind-bending teleportation puzzle game that was a critical, commercial, and cult hit. It was a game that birthed multiple internet memes and made people fall head over heels in love with a cube. The original was also an isolated experience, feeding players witty banter between the silent protagonist, Chell, and the disembodied voice of an intelligence system named GLaDOS. These characters return in Portal 2; however, a supporting cast has been fleshed out to join them. Well, flesh is definitely the wrong word. The new gameplay I saw featured the first few minutes of the game. The protagonist wakes to take the aforementioned fitness and wellness test on her fiftieth day of "suspension" at the Aperture Science Extended Relation Center. Following the test, Chell is sent back to bed. When she wakes again, her pristine wood-paneled room has now become coated with darkness and grime. This, according to a calm computerized male voice, is her 9,999,999+ day in hibernation. Clearly, something has gone awry. This sets up her introduction to a character publisher/developer Valve has revealed in the past: Wheatly. This small eyeball-looking character is voiced by the delightful Stephen Merchant (Extras). It's easy to become immediately enamoured with Wheatly. Though Chell is still a silent hero, Wheatly manages to have complete conversations with her. Really, what you learn is that--if you let him--Wheatly will ramble on for ages. "Please prepare for emergency evacuation," the calm voice from the room warns. Letting out a shriek, Wheatly begs for you to remain calm and just prepare--he will get you out of there, he promises. BOOM video 6173 "Most test subjects do experience some cognitive deterioration after a few months," Wheatly tells Chell. "Now, you've been under for quite a lot longer and it's not out of the question that you have a very minor case of... serious brain damage." In order to test for this minor case of serious brain damage, Wheatly asks Chell to speak. Press Space to talk the game flashes. Chell jumps. "Okay, what you're doing there is jumping. You just... you just jumped," Wheatly explains. The crowd of PAX East 2011 attendees in the small, stuffy room explode with laughter. To make things "easy," Wheatly asks Chell to utter a single word. "Say apple," he asks. Nothing happens. The screen flashes for the player to press the space bar again; however, remaining still leads Wheatly to ramble on for minutes, begging to hear the single word. "We actually cut that short in this demo," a Valve rep told the crowd. "He can go on forever." Unfortunately, the player doesn't have "forever" as the entire complex is being destroyed due to a a reactor core meltdown. Wheatly attempts to move the room from its current location in order to save Chell from certain death, explaining that he's in some hot water for allowing the destruction to occur--killing the rest of the test subjects. "Whose fault do you think it's going to be when management comes down here and finds 10,000 flipping vegetables?" he yells. The player is then sent on a whirlwind tour of the crumbling structure Chell has been holed up in. The world around her is in shambles, everything is being destroyed, Wheatly won't stop talking, and it's all hilarious. The situation calms slightly as Wheatly attempts to drop Chell's holding cell onto a docking station. After crashing the mostly destroyed wireframe of the room into the wall, Wheatly announces that he was wrong. It's not a docking station, after all. It's just a wall. "I'm going to attempt a manual override of the wall," he yells and begins rocking the cell into the wall attempting to break through.

Puzzles are far more intricate in Portal 2.

Later, the demo shifts to a point in the game where players are introduced to another new character: Cave Johnson. Johnson--unlike any other character in the series--is an actual person; however, his appearance is just another voice within the complex at Aperture. Johnson, voiced by J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man), is the founder and president of Aperture Laboratories. His interaction works similar to that of GLaDOS from the original title, putting Chell through a range of tests. In the gameplay I saw, Johnson introduces Chell to one of Portal 2's new mechanics: the repulsion gel--a blue substance and repels the quiet character when she comes into contact with it. "You get the gel," Johnson's voice-over tells Chell, referring to a deep pit covered in the blue sludge. "The last sonuva gun got blue paint!" he laughs. "All joking aside, that did happen. Broke both his legs." There are dozens of moments included in the demo that I haven't mentioned. As you can gather from this preview, the focus at PAX East 2011 wasn't gameplay but the characters. One Valve rep labeled it as a sequence of "character moments." There may be fear that Portal 2's story cannot hit the same mark it did when the original game launched in 2007. The original game's story and dialog was a genuine surprise. At least from what I've now seen, Portal 2 is attacking from the same humorous plateau. It looks and sounds great. Now, let's just get it on store shelves to confirm the entire package is a worthy successor to the original smash hit. Portal 2 launches for the PC, Mac, PS3, and Xbox 360 on April 19.