Doing the Robot Slapstick

Had the pleasure of playing through about half of Portal 2‘s co-op mode this evening with Gordon, sitting in the same room. It’s really a lovely game, and so well designed. Plenty of “aha!” moments with the puzzles, and although I’m used to it, the scenery in the “outdoors” levels is still pretty stunning.

But the most memorable element of playing the co-op is the way it supports slapstick comedy so willingly and generously. From the very beginning, with robots that evoke Laurel and Hardy, it’s obvious that jokes are meant to be made. GLaDOS takes care of the witty, word-oriented humour, so you as the player are left, as always, with action. So off you go.

Naturally, the most hilarious element is to engineer pratfalls of various kinds of your teammate. Naturally, it’s crucial that they not be ready for their role in the process – you can’t agree on a funny scenario, you have to inflict it on each other, you have to dupe each other. And fortunately the very nature of portals presents you with this opportunity to send your teammate through unknown spatial configurations. Comedy ensues.

My personal favourite (though perhaps it’s just because I was on the giving end) was in one of those levels where you have to make two portals to bring your partner to the finishing area with you. I spent some time making the two portals and then removing the entryway just as Gordon was trying to head through so that he would repeatedly walk into the wall. Classic. The finale, of course, was then to leave the entryway, but to swap the correct exit for a portal that dropped him into the toxic liquid they have in some levels. Comedy gold, I tell you! (And just to be fair, I got “got” enough times too, particularly along the lines of being slammed repeatedly into a wall that Gordon neglected to retract in time.)

The notion of games as a platform/stage for comedy is a particularly wonderful one, and it’s rare to see a game invite it so openly and warmly. More please.

23 January 2012
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