Portal 2's New Toys, New Friends and Old Enemies

Portal was such a masterful, smashing success because it was short, sweet and... a surprise.

Even Valve didn't expect the puzzle game with personality to become such an overwhelming, cultural phenomenon.

And it scares Valve a little bit that they're not trying to recapture that success without two of those elements: Portal 2 when it hits next year will certainly not be a surprise and at more than twice the length of the original it won't be short either.

"Portal one was a game that created an emotional attachment stronger than any game we've ever shipped," said Erik Johnson, product manager for the upcoming Valve game. "And it kind of surprised us."

"We spent a fair amount of time thinking about what Portal 2 should and shouldn't be."

What they came up with was that it should still be a game that is deceptively driven by story and a title that makes you rethink the way you move. What it shouldn't be, they decided, was a game so hard that it isn't fun anymore.

My time with Portal 2 today kicked off with a short press briefing and a series of videos, videos that showed off what to expect from the upcoming game.

You play as Chell, the same female test subject who destroyed the computer GlaDOS in the first game. Many years have passed since your escape, but the first video shows you back in the labs, labs now overgrown with vegetation. And a GlaDOS little more than scrap metal on a broken floor.

The next video showed some of what we have in story for us with our return to the lab, a lab that now seems to be rebuilding itself. Moldy tiles are knocked loose and replaced by shining white ones. Walls push out on metal arms and slide into place. Platforms with legs march in to rebuild the floor.

The lab is rebuilding itself.

Then a voice, a very familiar voice cuts in.

"It's been a long time," GlaDOS says. "How have you been? I think we can put our differences behind us... for science... you monster."

Her voice, as always, is charming, polite.

The next scene introduces the second main character in the game: A "personality sphere" with a British accent and wavering courage.

The sphere, a metal ball with a single camera for an eye, is attached to a rail, riding through the dilapidated building. In the cut up scenes the sphere finally breaks free of the rail and you have to carry it with you, as it guides you.

At some point the sphere apparently, accidentally reawakens GlaDOS.

As the malfunctioning robot awakens it notices you.

"Oh, it's you! It's been a long time. How have you been? I've been really busy being dead... you know, after you murdered me?"

"Look we've both said a lot of things you are going to regret, but I think we can put our differences behind us for science, you monster."

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And Portal 2 isn't just about the new story, it also seems to be bringing with it plenty of new gameplay.

The Valve folks showed off a number of new features.

The excursion funnels are like tractor beams that can travel through portals. By shooting portals on different surfaces you can move the direction the tunnel is facing or moving.

The aerial faith plate's smack you up in the air in a set direction. The thermal discouragement beam redirects and refocuses laser beams through a cube. The pneumatic diversity vent is essentially a huge pneumatic tube that you can use to suck things up with.

Finally, there is the gel. Gel comes with a number of different properties, but you use it to paint a surface and change it. The repulsion gel, for instance, makes the floor bouncy while the propulsion gel increases your movement speed.

Portal 2 is due out for the Mac, PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 all on the same day, some day next year, for a "full price." And the game is as long as it takes to get you through the training arc of all of these wonderful new gameplay mechanics. That works out to about twice the length.

And this time around the game will have a full cooperative experience with two new characters, a tormented personality sphere and turrent gun mounted on robotic legs. The cooperative section will have its own story and completely separate puzzles.