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Portal 2 – Preview

A lot of sequels add in more
guns, more enemy types, or more explosions, but there’s one upcoming shooter
sequel that’s adding in something else: More laughs.  The first Portal
game had a few moments of dark comedy, but after a look at the first few
minutes of the sequel in a video recently released in the wake of PAX East,
it’s clear that Portal 2 is going
to be crammed full of laughs.

Once again Players will
control Chell, the protagonist from the first game.  At the start of Portal 2, the Player is taken through a simple tutorial in
which Chell explores what looks like a nice hotel room, but is actually a
cryogenic storage facility run by Aperture Science.  Next the player finds them self waking up in that same room
to discover that it is decayed and neglected.  A looong time has passed and, apparently the facility hasn’t
held up well.  Something is
obviously wrong, and soon a panicky robot name Wheatley appears asking for help.


Wheatley is your sidekick
through Portal 2, he is a “Personality Core”, a form of Artificial
Intelligence, and is voiced by British comedian Stephen Merchant.  Merchant is a frequent collaborator of
Ricky Gervais, and he’s six foot seven; as has been proven by Douglas Adams and
John Cleese, in England height is directly proportionate to comedic
talent.  No offense to Dudley
Moore. 

Merchant’s nervous,
eccentric Wheatley is much more talkative than the doomed Companion Cube, and
much friendlier that GLaDOS, the malevolent AI from the first game.  He has volumes of funny dialog; shortly
into the game, the Player’s path is blocked by a brick wall, and Wheatley
proposes a “Manual Override” of the wall. 
By which he means just ramming his way through it.  According to Valve spokesmen at PAX
East, Merchant provided far more dialogue and improvisation that the sound
editors could fit into the game.

Also present in Portal 2
will be Cave Johnson, the founder of the fictional company, Aperture Science,
which is responsible for the torturous training facility in which the games are
set.  Johnson is voiced by JK
Simmons who should be familiar as J. Jonah Jameson in the Spiderman movies,
along with many other roles. 
Johnson guides the Player through various levels with a sequence of
corporate propaganda and motivational speech about employees volunteering to
have their genes spliced with Praying Mantis DNA, then later invites them to
help fight an army of escaped mantis men.


Who is behind all of this
fun?  Well, Jay Pinkterton who
writes for National Lampoon wrote for the game, as did Erik Wolpaw and Chet
Faliszek, who wrote the first Portal game.  Their background in
gaming satire and comedy shows through strongly in the footage seen so far, and
Portal 2 looks to be one of the
funniest games of the year.

But players shouldn’t expect
a light-hearted romp.  Once again
they’ll have to fight for their lives against GLaDOS, and the only way to
survive will be by triumphing over series of deadly traps and puzzles.  Also returning from the first game is
The Rat Man, some poor test subject who has made his way through a few of
GLaDOS’ sadistic games, but found himself stuck in the facility living in the
crawlspaces.  Now demented and
hopeless, he leaves behind scrawled messages as hints for the Player.


New to the Portal series is
the much talked-about co-op mode that allows players to take control of a pair
of adorable robots named P-Body and Atlas, who assist each other with their
Portal guns in levels that can’t be completed alone.  There are also new gameplay features, like special gel which
can increase running speed, or jumping height, like a stay-on trampoline.

With a solid history of
ground-breaking gameplay behind the series, and some genuinely funny people on
board, Portal 2 looks to be a must-have for fans of the first game.

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