How are you doing? I’m a Potato…

I dunno, I was just mucking about,” says my Co-op partner as we complete one of the puzzles. We’d been playing the game together for about two hours at this point and we had been going quite well. With this puzzle, however, I found myself standing at the exit and I had no clue as to how I got there. It had something to do with an excursion funnel and a faith plate and some bouncy paint.

That’s right, I’ve been playing the co-op portion of Portal 2. My co-op partner, a good friend of mine, is currently sitting a some kind of Engineering Master Degree requiring him to be half way around the world. This induced some major lag on my side. I’m telling you now though that we got from start to finish on the co-op in 4 and a half hours, even with my horrendous lag. The only type of puzzle that I could not do no matter how hard I tried was the catching a box as it fell. As the game is hosted peer-to-peer like most console games, my mate had zero lag and was able to catch the box for me, while I pushed the button to release it. Luckily that only happens about four or five times throughout the whole thing, and getting it wrong will generally not kill you (the last one will if you take too long, bye bye floor)

There were a few audio and visual artifacts resulting from the lag, but thanks to Valves canny coding, the player-set countdown timer compensates beautifully, so timing pulling the switches, even with half a worlds worth of internet between us, still worked.

Co-operation is required, and communication is key. Voice chat is a godsend as they seem to have… misplaced… text chat (although you can still use steam-chat if you SHIFT+TAB) and the ping tool they give you (setting markers on the game world) is quite good, but is no replacement for proper communication. It gives you a finger with which to point, so when you say “Over there” you can be quite clear where ‘over there’ is (I find myself thinking back to when I’m on the phone and I still gesture with my hands, even though the person on the other end can’t see me doing it)

If you’ve not already played through the game, or read the reviews, or whatnot, I’ll tell you now that the Co-op is excellent and Single Player is sublime. They’ve entwined a lot more story in it than I thought possible, and both the single player and co-op story-lines have sequel hooks at the end, so Portal 3 could indeed go either (or both) ways. The puzzles are more complex yet paced well so you never feel like it’s impossible. Indeed, in the single player, the few rooms I was genuinely stuck on were the ones where they introduce the new Gels and just let you play with it. Especially the white gel room where you could just spray that everywhere, that room seemed to be lax on the visual cues as the solution to the puzzle was rather simple, it was just that once you’d painted everything white, well, it was a little disorienting.

In the co-op there wasn’t really any room we never really felt like we ‘got stuck’ as it were. Mostly it was figuring out what each thing did and just flinging yourself at it and hope for the best. Creating moments like the first paragraph. Death is cheap in co-op, and flinging yourself into the void and hoping for the best can end up in some hilarious failures and some unexpected successes. At the very least there were lots of griefing opportunities, but after the first two courses griefing each other got kinda boring and we found it more satisfying co-operating than sabotaging each other. Not that hilarious mistakes weren’t made. I found myself shouting obscenities frequently as for the Nth time I fired the wrong portal and dropped us both into an abyss.

And this is from two intelligent, educated, friendly people playing together with the express purpose of completing the puzzles. I’d really hate to try it with someone I didn’t know.

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