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Co-op gameplay is certainly nothing new in the gaming world, however, it is very rare that it is executed as well as in Portal 2. Even taking aside what it did right, it smartly avoids several mistakes that other games do not. For me, one of these is actually supporting local coop which is getting very rare these days. Saving individual progress for the player while integrating that into a co-op session is also something that you don’t see a great deal of either. However, it isn’t these things that make the experience what it is, nor is it the superbly polished mechanics, it’s the way the game makes you feel while playing cooperatively that makes it stand out from everything else.
The main reason Portal 2 succeeds as well as it does in the coop aspect is that both players are on a level playing field. You and your partner are perfectly balanced, neither one of you is capable of something that the other is not. While that might seem obvious when you consider the mechanics of Portal, it’s how well that element is carried out for the entirety of the coop campaign that makes the experience so brilliant. There are no sections where one player is valued more than the other and it’s the ways in which the mechanics enforce this that make Portal 2’s co-op such a great experience.
I don't say this much, but awww
Due to the type of game Portal 2 is, it’s unfortunate that the same theories cannot be applied to all games regarding co-op play. Scenarios will take place in games like Halo or Gears of War where one player will naturally be better than their co-op partner in one way or another. This isn’t the issue though, the thing that makes Portal 2’s co-op experience is the feeling of a strong, but more importantly equal partnership throughout its entirety. The puzzles are at the heart of this feeling, constantly having responsibilities shifted back and forth and sharing them equally makes you bond with your partner. There’s nothing wrong with one player being more skilled than the other, as long as the lesser player still feels needed and not expendable.
For me, co-op gaming is the best kind of multiplayer experience. There’s something very rewarding about working side by side with a partner conquering an experience by constantly working together. That aspect is the main thing that is absent from the majority of other co-op experiences available today. A lot of the time when I’m playing other games cooperatively there is always that feeling of being more important than your partner or vice versa. This mostly happens when a single player experience has co-op added to it without it really enhancing the gameplay experience in a meaningful way. Sure, an extra gun in Gears of War is certainly handy in some parts but it’s always better when the second character’s presence feels indispensable.
Cooperative experiences are becoming more and more common in games these days, but most of the time there is just simply another player added into the mix. While there is nothing wrong with that approach, it works fine for Halo for example, but Portal 2 shows beyond any doubt that there is a better way to do it and that the result is definitely worth the extra effort.