Video Games

Bullet Points: Portal 2 Co-Op

I decided to take a look — just a look — at Portal 2 co-op over the weekend, and wound up playing through the entire thing, staying up until almost 4am Saturday night. And then I did it again the last night, staying up until midnight. It’s just a hard game to stop playing before you’ve finished it: the satisfaction from solving puzzles, and the desire to see what sort of puzzle will come next, is impossible to resist.

  • First, a couple words about my co-op partner, Zompist. He’s written a bit about Portal 2 already, here and here.
  • I think we were a good team. Zomp is fun to play with, patient with all my fuck-ups, and very clever. We play a bit differently: he likes to dash around shooting portals, stepping on buttons, and trying to slather gel on every available space, whereas I tend to try to imagine what the puzzle wants from me and envision the solution before trying anything (with the exception of faith plates: I will jump on them immediately). I felt like it was a good match, and we each had a hand in coming up with solutions that worked.
  • The levels are divided among different types of tests: some focus on using the various types of goo, some focus on light bridges and tunnels, some are filled with those adorable turrets.
  • After completing one section, there’s a final level that takes place outside of the test chamber in the bowels of Aperture Science. I think these are my favorite parts, just like how I prefer the facility exploration more than the test chambers in the single-player game.
  • Valve handled communication between bots really well. You can talk to each other over voice chat, obviously, but there’s also graphic pointers you can place in the world, when you want to suggest where your partner should stand or place a portal. A combination of talking and using the pointers worked well, but I don’t think either on their own would be nearly as effective.
  • Occasionally, it feels like one player is just taking the place of a weighted cube: forced to stand motionless on a button while the other player gets to run around doing everything else. Luckily, these puzzles don’t last long, and there are a few where the button-rider is actually doing more because the button is controlling a large section of the room.
  • There’s a nice feature, whereby holding the tab button you can see through your partner’s eyes, so even when you’re split up you can see what’s going on.
  • Most of the puzzles are amazingly well constructed and satisfying to solve, even more than the single-player puzzles due to the presence of an additional portal gun. It’s a great brain workout.
  • Dying (or accidentally killing your partner) is fun. It’s funny. With the right partner, there are no hard feelings, just a laugh at the death, then another laugh as GLaDOS makes a sarcastic comment about the death. I don’t think I’ve ever played a co-op game that made getting your partner killed such an acceptable bit of business.
  • The bots are both very cute, though they approach George Lucas Star Wars prequel levels of whimsy. That’s a shade too much whimsy for my tastes.
  • For instance, Dog from Half-Life 2 is about as whimsical as I like my robots.
  • I do love the way the bots react when they slam into something, like missing a portal after stepping on a faith plate. The little electrical discharges and spazzy arm waving makes screwing up a lot of fun to watch.
  • At one point, I stepped on a faith plate, thinking one of Zomp’s portals was directly above it on the low ceiling. It wasn’t. I rebounded up and down noisily a good six or seven times. Hilarious.
  • The co-op levels are accessed though a hub, a large chamber where you can run around and pick which set of chambers you’d like to complete. This is way, way better than a typical game lobby where you sit staring at a screen, clicking options. All game lobbies should be like this: real, interactive spaces where you can muck around while waiting to get started or take a break after finishing a game.
  • I can’t help noticing just how big the hub is, and how much room there is for future co-op levels. I hope we get some co-op DLC. I think we will.
  • One annoyance with match-making: after inviting someone to co-op, you can’t leave the invite screen or the invite expires. This seems dumb. I could be doing other things while I wait, like checking out commentary or messing around in single-player or even changing my options or key bindings or whatever else.
  • I still don’t know why Valve thinks I’d want to buy stuff for co-op like hats or skins.
  • For some reason, in my settings, my music slider was set to “off.” So, I don’t know if there’s music during co-op, and I didn’t hear the song at the end.
  • There’s a nice leaderboard in the hub that shows your stats, like the number of steps you’ve taken and number of portals you’ve fired. In real time. If you run around or fire portals while in the hub, the board gets updated as you do it. Neat!

  • I don’t know what the hell “Science Collaboration Points” are, but Zomp said his board showed him receiving over 1200 of them, yet mine were a negative number. I think GLaDOS hates me. Or maybe I’m just a shitty partner. Or it’s just the game undermining me at random (this is the most likely).
  • Speaking of which, it’s fun how GLaDOS will try to pit the bots against each other, by insulting one and praising the other.
  • There’s isn’t much of a storyline to the co-op game, except a little bit thrown in at the end. But it doesn’t really need a story. It’s pure science!
  • After playing through co-op once over the weekend, we sat down last night to see how replayable the co-op experience was.
  • It’s still plenty of fun, though I felt like we were mostly trying to remember how we’d solved the chambers the first time we played, rather than trying to solve the chambers themselves.
  • It’s frightening how little I remember specifically about the puzzles from the first time. It was like two days ago. How could I forget everything already?
  • The later, more complex puzzles are easier to remember than the early, simpler ones. The ones we got stumped on during the second play-through were pretty basic — I think we were overthinking them due to how complex they get later on.
  • Our biggest issue: one simple hop from a light bridge onto a ledge at the end of one of the puzzles. I think we each missed the same jump five times. When I’d make it, he’d miss, when he’d make it, I’d miss. Flinging ourselves through multiple portals and catching boxes in mid-air: no problem. A tiny hop: major issues.
  • I’ve heard that people are playing co-op before finishing single-player. Some even recommend playing co-op first. I don’t agree. I think you should finish single-player completely before starting co-op. There aren’t any single-player spoilers in co-op, really, but I think the finding out how all the new puzzle elements work is best discovered in single-player.
  • Oh hey! Zomp has written up his side of our co-op experience, and you can read it here. I hope he says nice things about me.


  1. Avocadobride says:

    I cried a little when you left Chris…

  2. Yeah I had the same problem: I planned to only try the co-op then quickly go back to single player. I then played through all of co-op in a single night. I also (thanks to that) discovered that my co-op partner was a bit of a dick. I would tell him not to step on a button, and he would immediately do so, killing me in the process.