Earlier this weekend, we reviewed Portal 2, the sequel to the best-selling Valve game Portal. However, the single-player campaign mode that introduces several new characters, tons of new puzzle elements, and nine full chapters of gameplay isn’t the end of Valve’s highly-anticipated follow-up game. Portal 2 also introduces a whole new segment of the game: co-op mode, which requires two team mates to navigate puzzles in tandem that neither can solve alone. This side game is every bit as creative and complex as single player Portal 2. So let’s get into it.
In our first Portal 2 review, we covered much of the new puzzle elements, but co-op mode introduces a few new features specifically to deal with the problem of communication between teammates. As with all Steam games, voice and text chat are still available, but when dealing with the 3-dimensions-spanning, physics-bending world of portals, describing exactly what you want a teammate to do can become cumbersome. Which is why Valve introduced two new mechanisms for communication: gestures and pings.
Gestures enable you to make your robot wave, dance, tease, high-five, or play games with your partner. Gestures have little practical purpose in the game, outside of a few key situations, however they can be helpful in communicating to your partner that they’re doing well or to convey a sense of camaraderie. It may seem like it’s a pointless idea, and perhaps it is, but being able to convey a sense of teamwork through the simple gestures actually manages to help foster the relationship between you and your partner. It’s an interesting and frankly very welcome twist.
On a more practical level, you have pings. You can use pings to indicate to your partner where they should go, where they should place a portal, and even ping a countdown timer for when you and your partner need to coordinate movements that require precise timing. Each of these three pings has their own indicator, and will hover over wherever you point them to, meaning your partner should generally have a pretty clear idea of what you want them to do and where you want them to do it. It’s not a perfect system, but the game would be tons more difficult without it.
P-Body and Atlas
We get a brief glimpse of these two characters in the single player campaign, but here they’re the focus. Built by GLaDOS to test, these two robots can be destroyed and rebuilt without a problem. One of the primary benefits of this is that your character can die in a level and be spawned without restarting. In fact, unlike in both Portal 1 and 2’s single player campaign, where you almost always have a way to get back to where you need to be, many times in co-op mode, you may find yourself stranded where the only (or at least the easiest) way to get to where you need to be is to jump into a bottomless pit or pool of deadly liquid and get respawned at the beginning of the level.
P-Body and Atlas provide a sort of Beavis and Butthead or Jay and Silent Bob style of humor to the game. Neither speak English (or any human language for that matter), but both are inherently goofy, drawing the ire of GLaDOS who will frequently make divisive comments. Much of the co-op testing mode is training, though there is a small subplot that may or may not lead to a potential storyline for another sequel, but I’ll leave you to discover that on your own.
Finding a Partner
Portal 2, like most steam games, has deep integration with your Steam account, allowing you to easily chat with or request to play with any of your Steam friends who are online. If none are available, you can also choose to be paired up with a random partner online, though this will be met with mixed results. The first time I attempted to join a game with a random partner, I found myself on the business end of an endless series of fart noises being made into my partners’ microphone. Subsequent attempts were not so obnoxious, however, so don’t be afraid to try it out.
Additionally, Xbox and PS3 gamers can choose to play co-op mode on a split screen if they have two controllers, obviating the need for online game play. Unfortunately, while it appears this is technically possible on a PC, it does not seem to be an officially supported method and requires more technical hacking than a passive gamer might prefer. Not to mention, it requires a secondary controller to be hooked up to your computer, so depending on your available hardware and technical skill level, it may be more trouble than it’s worth.
As we said in the main Portal 2 review, this game is fun, plain and simple. Co-op mode allows you to share the experience of your Portal gaming with friends outside of simply quoting lines to each other, and not only does it allow you to play together, but the mode brings together plenty of communication methods that make it more than mere silent puzzle solving. It makes it a shared, emotional experience. So, grab a friend and a portal gun and go check out the other half of Portal 2.