Reviews

A Prospective Glance At Portal 2

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Portal. Portal. Portal. It’s been three excruciatingly long years since Aperture Science put us through our paces for the sake of science, but in true Valve signature style, the sequel has been snatched from our anxious grasp thanks to a delay pushing any test chamber frolics we have in store forward into 2011. But like a cute yet marvelously ingenious, game-award-touting puppy we can’t stay mad at them, but we can frivolously speculate! Now that Gabe Newell has somewhat nervously announced that Portal 2 is headed to the PS3, there’s no excuse for missing this assuredly brilliant title and with the entire Orange Box package available for £20 on Steam, you should tuck your tail between your legs and be thoroughly ashamed of yourself if you haven’t played the critically acclaimed original!

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So what do we know about Portal 2 so far? Well we know for sure that our main characters, Chell and the irreverent GLaDoS will make a triumphant return. It’s supposed to be set hundreds of years after the original, when a detached and now independent personality core called Wheatley re-awakens Chell from stasis in the hope she will help him out of the now overgrown and neglected enrichment center. Chell must travel through the facility into different sections under control of various personality cores, as GLaDoS begins to rebuild the center and further test her counterpart. So Valve has advanced the narrative considerably, while maintaining the dynamic between the main characters that made it so successful in the first place.

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True to their subject matter, Valve began the Portal 2 campaign with nuggets of esoteric messages embedded in updates to the original game and more recently, have released full gameplay demonstrations, detailing a number of new features, but Eric Johnsons’ description of the approach to the sequel leads to me to believe we haven’t heard the half of it. Johnson was adamant that Portal 2 would once again set out to achieve what he understood to be the original’s greatest strength: surprise. And hell, Portal was a surprise, for everyone, Valve bundled it with the Orange Box as a safety net, and no one saw the ending coming or expected the unique interplay between GLaDoS and the player. Needless to say, the creators want this sequel to have the same impact, perhaps an even greater one, now that they’ve got the capacity of a full retail title to play with.

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What can we conjecture in terms of the story? Because aside from a brief introduction, it’s understandably been kept under-wraps, as we were whisked away to see gameplay features. One may theorize the latter sections of the game will introduce the player to the outside world or at least more of the research center that’s off limits to test subjects. One of the almost eerie, aspects of the original was the complete lack of any other human presence, something we’re not used to in first person shooters. This device may be turned on its head, to toy with us. Will we find other test subjects or someone searching the ruins of the Aperture Science? Who ruddy knows? Anyone invested in the Half-Life saga will be intrigued to see if there are any links with episode two or three, pertaining to the Borealis. We could see both franchises interlace more tightly providing deeper back stories for each other if not advancing the main narrative threads.

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We also know next to nothing about our protagonist, Chell, leaving yet another wide gap in Portal’s lore to be explored. GLaDoS tells us “You are not a good person. You know that, right? Good people don’t end up here.” in the original as justification for a fiery death, as opposed to a gleeful celebration, so it’s plausible that we might see Chell discover more about her background, perhaps hack into the Enrichment Center’s records. Now that Valve have a full game length to flesh out, we’re likely to see a lot more depth in the narrative to pace the gameplay, as the flinging of yourself through numerous portals will need to be appropriately broken up. Portal 2’s story could stray in so many directions that speculating is enjoyable but ultimately futile. However, with such an expanse of lore to fill out, from origins to context within the Half-Life universe, you can bet that it will be unpredictable in its culmination and progression.

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And cake? Nope. Nine. Nil. Erik Wolpaw, co-writer on Portal 2 told Gama we will not see the return of the notorious meme concerning the veracity of the promise of a certain sponge-formed dessert. “If you thought you were sick of the memes, I was sick of it way ahead of you.” The man has a point, it’s old and every kid and his mum are rolling off cake jokes nowadays; and no doubt Wolpaw and his team will once again bring their outstandingly quirky writing to the table, and continue to pull out pearls of hilarity in keeping with the idiosyncratic humour they’ve carved out for themselves.

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Now that we’ve established what we don’t know about the main narrative, there’s plenty of gameplay we know equally little about. But thanks to the E3 videos, we’ve got a pretty clear idea the direction Portal 2’s headed: more of the same little test chambers with added layers of complexity to keep things fresh, all which utilize the portal gun in some fashion. The Thermal Discouragement Beam will require the manipulation of a hazardous light beam to solve conundrums as well as act as a makeshift weapon and the aptly named Aerial Faith Plates help to negate any dissatisfactory inertia along with repulsion gel and propulsion gel, which can be thrown through portals as large globules, to help you jump farther and move faster, respectively.

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These are just a few awesome additions and the videos (below) show the full array of comically labeled testing pieces, all of which show a marked effort from Valve to capitalize on the fantastic physics of the Source engine within the Portal series. It’s also going to be really interesting seeing Chell interact with the decaying Enrichment Center, no doubt meaning certain test chambers won’t be as simple or safe (as safe as machine-gun-laiden robots can be) as originally intended, and will require some lateral thinking. I only feel sorry for those who have to playtest the full-length game, as it seems Valve employ a rigorous testing method, akin to Aperture Science’s, ensuring the answers to puzzles are neither overt nor too baffling.

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But it isn’t all just about refining and expanding on the established Enrichment Center escapades; Portal 2 has a completely new supplementary experience to debut, something that was widely requested by the community and that’s Co-op. Thinking with portals is purportedly going to a lot tougher with a companion, as you’d imagine. The characters designed for co-op are a modified sentry bot and personality core, complete with portal gun-yielding appendages. The reason behind this casting is apparently that having considered that this would be the first time you could see the horrific deaths of companions upon failure, by crushing or some equally gruesome end, the team figured they’d spare test subjects such sights in favour of the more comic demises of loveable robots. It’s unconfirmed how these two chaps will fit into the story but I’d be very surprised if they didn’t pop up in the singleplayer at some point, if only as a brief cameo. The potential for co-op is even more incomprehendable and put together with the cavalcade of new features and you’ve got a sure winner.

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Thankfully, we are safe in the knowledge that Portal 2 is in the steady and talented hands of Eric Johnson. And although Valve have a tentative relationship with release dates, they have never squandered a good IP. Aperture Science’ test chambers will open once again sometime in early 2011 filled with brand new chances to hurl yourself off of ledges, but until then I’ll keep you up to date on any related news and you’ve always got the sweet but short original. The Enrichment Center reminds you that your copy of Portal will never threaten to stab you and, in fact, cannot speak.

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Portal 2 Indepth

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Propulsion Gel

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Repulsion Gel

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Meet Wheatley!

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Excursion Funnel

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Aerial Faith Platform

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Thermal Discouragement Beams

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Pneumatic Diversity Vent

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E3 Gameplay Trailer

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July 14th, 2010
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News

Weekly News Round-Up 8/3/10

The ApocalyPS3


This week much raging did take place, because for an entire day, the Playstation Network became unavailable to users of any PS3 that was not a slim version, due to an internal clock error, aptly dubbed the “apocalyPS3”. Apparently these consoles registered 2010 as a leap year and thus rage quitted on themselves, rendering many PSN trophy-enabled games unplayable. The issue apparently resolved itself, according to the official Playstation blog, without an update needed and it has been reported that some users lost trophies and even saved game files – we feel for you folks! Many cynics and conspiracy theorists were quick to rise up and claim it was a secret plan by Sony, initiated in order to force people to buy the new slim version of the PS3. While this is clearly crazy talk, from malleable metal headwear enthusiasts, there are increasing doubts as to whether Sony can continue to compete with other online gaming services/marketplaces. Either way, Hitler isn’t a fan.

Insanity Ward

On March 1st, after a slew of rumours and reports of security turning up at Infinity Ward and other such things, it was discovered, first via a Facebook update reading “Jason West is drinking. Also, no longer employed.” That the aforementioned co-founder of Infinity Ward was let go by Activision, the parent company, and shortly after Vince Zampella, the CEO suffered the same fate. Activision announced that it was taking the franchise in a new direction. Apparently the two heads were talking to other companies, looking to take their own direction with Call of Duty, as the contract between the two companies is due to expire this autumn. Naturally Activision, and it’s head Bobby Kotick didn’t want them messing around with their gold mine and promptly fired them on grounds of breach of contract due to insurbordination– at least that’s the reason they give. The craziness didn’t stop there however, Zampella and West bit back, filing a lawsuit claiming Activision simply did it in order to avoid paying them the (what clearly must be) substantial royalties from MW2. Since then, it has been reported that Activision are now frantically searching for documents linking the two with EA.

Activision are clearly looking to go the mile with CoD, having already announced a non-FPS version to be released by newly founded Sledgehammer games, the next instalment to be developed by Treyarch and another “unkown” developer to make yet another. Activision Publishing CEO Mike Griffith wrote in an internal memo, which was leaked, that Infinity Ward was still essential to the franchise, so we’re just gonna have to wait and see how this whole thing plays out. Personally I find it hard to believe that the heads of Infinity Ward deserved such a fate; the landscape could have been a whole lot different if they had smoothly transitioned to a company they felt more comfortable with. Unfortunately, it looks as though Activision are going to drive a once great franchise into the ground by overselling and bastardizing it.

Portal 2

Thank the lord, more and more Portal 2 news has been leaked recently; Yes, the eagerly awaited sequel to the genius little 2007 game, is in full swing for a reported Christmas release this year. Amongst a whole host of other tid-bits, it’s been discovered the unique puzzle game will have multiplayer coop which could make for some very complicated and intricate sections, and looks to be a standalone title, meaning an even more fleshed out game hopefully – awesomeness. If you want to read the rest of the spoiler-filled details, look here.

Recently Valve updated the original game, with some audio files, some encoded, some are morse code, which players could listen to via the radios in certain sections through a mini game. These files sent many fans on a treasure hunt ending in a series of images. Along with other confusing information, Valve also updated the ending sequence, you can see that here. Personally, I cannot wait – I’ve found Valve rarely disappoint and you’ve got to give it to them for constructing such complex little games for its hardcore fans. And oh yes, in other Valve news, Steam is officially coming to the Mac, presumably along with TF2, Half Life 2 etc so rejoice!

Tax Breaks

Last week Shadow Arts minister Ed Vaizey MP, restated that the Tories, if elected would seriously look at fiscal support for the UK games industry, stressing the importance of the industry in the current business landscape. He explained that the industry needs the help that any other industry does, and that’s tax and regulation reduction. He went on to say that other countries do indeed receive active support from their governments so much of the UK’s talent is being bled to other countries and thus it’s his “absolutely number one priority” to “level the playing field”. This comes shortly after Brown, the Prime Minister promised to look help support the industry in much the same way, after praising its importance in terms of the global industry. Although this appears to be a case of everyone jumping on the bandwagon prior to an election, it’s still nice to see that this is something they reckon it’s worth lying about; at least it’s a little more of the recognition the industry deserves.

And Finally…

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 was released this week, and being a fan of the franchise since Battlefield 2, I’m loving the hell out it – it’s a whole lot more strategic and the environments are beautiful and literally, explosive. Anywho, if you want to pick it up, but are stuck in your stubborn noob-tubing Modern Warfare 2 ways, take a look at this video and get yourself in the right mindset! Oh, and Not-so-weekly picks on Tuesday!


March 7th, 2010
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