The first Portal was an unexpectedly standout experience, a first-person puzzler with a scathingly funny sense of humor and no small amount of new ideas. Valve is looking to improve upon the successes of the too-brief original with a more complete experience for the second go-round. Portal 2 offers more in every way: more play mechanics, more characters, more environments, and, perhaps most importantly, more humor.
Electronic Arts offered a peek at what's coming earlier this week during its annual Swing Into Spring preview event held in New York City. The demo was engineered to show off a number of different puzzle mechanics, but the most memorable bit -- the game's opening five or so minutes -- featured very little play at all. Needless to say, beware of SPOILERS AHEAD.
It all starts in what appears to be a crummy, cramped hotel room. A disembodied voice feeds you basic tutorial instructions, asking you to look up and down, find a point on the wall, look at it, and so on. What you're doing amounts to a lesson in the game's controls, but there's genuine funny at play here. At one point, the game even asks you to press A to "appreciate the art."
The tutorial ends with you going to bed, waking up some time later to find that your motel room has deteriorated into a rundown state. Something has happened. Moments after waking up you meet Wheatley (voiced by Stephen Merchant), a robotic orb with the voice of a dry-witted Brit. Your new friend also runs through some basic control calisthenics, culminating in him asking you to say "apple." An A button prompt appears on the screen, and, of course, you jump when you press it. Wheatley is miffed. The gist of his response? Maybe talking isn't so important after all.
An in-game cutscene ensues, which ultimately leads to your escape from the motel room, all while Wheatley keeps going with his sarcasm-laced running commentary. The demo jumped around after that, highlighting some of the new puzzle mechanics, but the humor remains a constant. "Remember when I was talking before about smelly garbage standing around and being useless," GLaDOS remarks in her trademark monotone at one point. "I was talking about you." The sense of humor is definitely alive and well.
As much as EA probably meant to showcase some of the play mechanics in the demo, the return of the previous game's wonderful personality is what was most up front. The puzzles are back, with new twists like "faith plates," which launch you to specific destinations every time you run over one. In addition to using gravity and strategically placed portals to build your jump momentum, you'll also now find yourself contending at times with puzzles that involve properly timing your actions as you hurtle through the air.
Like its predecessor, Portal 2 comes off as an unapologetically weird game. Fanfolk are going to love it. You can look for the game in stores for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Microsoft Windows, and Mac OS X starting April 18.