Portal 2's "Cooperative Testing Initiative" pits a pair of lovable robots, P-body and Atlas, against 40-plus GLaDOS-designed test chambers. As you can only really experience the joy of solving each puzzle once, choose your co-op partner carefully - playing with someone who already knows the solutions is no fun.
The cooperation in Portal 2's cooperative mode is actual cooperation - that is, it's not one of those "co-op modes" which only entails running next to each other through what might as well be a single-player experience. How do you traverse a gap? Send your partner into an infinite falling loop, then launch her out of a wall. How do you reach an isolated platform at the center of a pit? Simultaneously launch yourselves over opposite sides of the gap and collide mid-air. If you're playing online, a mic is a necessity, though you're also able to mark spots you want your partner to shoot a portal, in case verbal explanation isn't doing the trick.
The little mechanical testers can access the mode's five zones through a spacious hub room, which also displays a few stats (fun fact: my robotic avatar has taken over 20,000 steps). After a brief tutorial to orient the players to cooperative thinking, the test chambers quickly become baffling. If you're not confident with your portal puzzle solving skills, play the single player, which features a much gentler learning curve, before tackling the co-op.
Above: The hub
Once my co-op partner and I were an hour-or-so into the Cooperative Testing Initiative, our awareness of time ceased almost entirely. It was only at around 4 a.m., when the fog of exhaustion made "thinking with portals" nearly impossible, that we called it quits... only to resume the game ten minutes after waking up again.
Though you can't truly die in the mode (when destroyed, the robots are reassembled and ejected from a tube) there are plenty of opportunities for you and your partner to smash, crush drop, and otherwise mangle each other, making trust - or lack of it - a major factor. It's up to you how trustworthy to be, but you can always apologize with one of the characters' Pixar-esque emotes, such as a hug or high-five. Or, if your bumbling companion just stepped off an edge and fell into the void, a belly laugh may be more appropriate. The emotes can even be used to taunt GLaDOS together through her security cameras.
In the end, you can't help but to establish a fist-bump worthy bond with your partner. When the logical leap required to solve a puzzle "clicked" simultaneously for both of us, we excitedly rushed to make the physical leaps to the exit door, and never forgot virtually high-five each other before continuing to GLaDOS' next chamber.
Together, Portal 2's single-player and cooperative modes are massive...just not in length. You can easily complete both portions in a weekend, assuming you don't plan to do too much else. Metaphorically, though, it's massive as shit. You'll be propelled through a titanic, amorphous facility as it actively rebuilds itself. Everything is alive, even the music, which comes and goes as the science gets done, as if the facility is breathing out digital sighs. It's a huge production.
And really, how long would you want it to be? Portal was short for a reason, and to justify its stand-alone release, Portal 2 needed to be longer, but I'm glad it isn't too long. Making it longer would have come at the expense of its structure and pacing, increasing fatigue and diluting the experience.
So whatever, good pacing, neat set pieces, that's all cool, but is it really worth $60, you dumb over-hyped editor? Well, first of all, I don't appreciate the tone you read that last part in, but that is a good question, and it took a long time for the blinking cursor on my screen to tell me the answer, which is an anti-climactic "yes."
If I were reviewing Portal 2 strictly as an entertainment product which ended when you beat it, then I may be more skeptical. But even then, I can easily say that I think playing through Portal 2 is as valuable as, say, seeing six really good movies for $60 (a generously low estimation). I can also say that I've spent $60 on dates at lackluster restaurants and forgotten about the expense the next day - not because I'm rich, but because I've accepted the cost of luxuries and entertainment. I wouldn't recommend those restaurants to anyone, but Portal 2 'aint a bland casserole, it's a helluva good production, if not a long one.
Above: Not a casserole
Of course, I'm not reviewing Portal 2 with a categorically utilitarian mindset - I also have to consider its value as a creative invention, and based on what I've already written, I think it's clear how I feel about that. Valve has, again, produced a landmark for the medium which won't fade out of view for some time.
Sure, whatever, but aren't you just a typical Valve fanboy, you typical Valve fanboy? Again, watch it with the tone of your internal voice. And yes, I'm a fan of Valve, because Valve has a history of making great games. That doesn't mean I'm not open to disappointment, and I did approach Portal 2 with the concern that it would lose too much of what made Portal great. It did lose some of it, but it made up for it in ways that worked. And if you're wondering, no, the ending doesn't outdo "Still Alive," but again, what could have? Even so, Coulton's words are still stuck in my head, days later...
Portal? Yes and no. Like I said, how could it be, really? Portal's experience can't be repeated, but the new, different experience of Portal 2 is still fantastic, even if not the same surprise revelation.
Half-Life 2? Yes. What? I know that Half-Life is un-fugging-touchable, but to me, Portal 2 is better paced, contains more interesting characters, is more thought-provoking, more mentally challenging, and far more original. I can fight masked soldiers any day, but what happens in Portal only happens in Portal. Half-Life 2 is great, and may be revered, but I believe that Valve has gotten better at making games since then. Is that so crazy?
Limbo? Yes. It's a weird, completely unfair comparison, I know. Limbo didn't strive to be anything that Portal is, and the reverse is true for Portal. But they are both unique puzzle-platformers, are they not? And I did have to include at least one non-Valve game in these comparisons, didn't I? What can you compare to Portal? Halo? Psh, that shit is too pedestrian to deserve comparison (I mean that facetiously... but not really). So there you go, Portal 2 is better than Limbo, not that anyone was asking. But they're both great.
Portal 2 couldn't be Portal, but it's the next best thing. It's a longer, funnier, more emotional plummet through Aperture's perplexing laboratory, and its meticulous detail, perfect pacing, and kinetic, mind-expanding puzzles make it a blazingly memorable experience. It's so damn memorable, already feel nostalgic about it.
Apr 21, 2011