There are few games worth beating in a single sitting; the original Portal was one of them. The game was fun yet challenging, original yet well developed, and the deadpan humor brought on by the AI “GlaDOS” made it one of the most memorable games of 2007.
Since then, gamers have had a field day creating their own mods and diabolically hard test chambers, “Still Alive” became a regular song on many playlists, and phrases like “ the cake is a lie” have become commonplace. The short story and intriguing ending left gamers wanting more though, and after seeing the first glimpses of the sequel they have been chomping the bit for a chance to continue Chell’s story.
To be honest, I was worried that the sequel would somehow fall short of its predecessor; that, because of its large commercial release, the humor would be played up more or the difficulty would be more casual in an attempt to make the game more approachable to newcomers. However, after playing through the single player campaign I realized that I was an idiot to ever doubt developer Valve’s ability to produce a quality game.
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Developer: Valve Corporation
Publisher: Valve Corporation
After defeating GLaDOS and escaping the facility in the first game, you are woken up by a robotic voice that wants to guide you through a few cognitive tests. You notice immediately that you are in a room that resembles a simple motel room. A picture of a ship hangs on the wall, the voice tells you to go look at it, “this…is art” the voice tells you before ordering you to go back to your bed. Several hundred years later, you wake in same room, but it is in a state of deep decay and neglect, you’ve been in stasis for a very long time. A personality core named Wheatley (voiced by Stephen Merchant) bangs at the door, the facility is in a state of ruin and he needs your help to escape. During this part, you and Wheatley work through a few test chambers and sneak past an offline GLaDOS to get to the escape pod. You both make it to the pod and everything is going fine until the wrong switch(es) is flipped, and instead of escaping GLaDOS is accidentally brought back online. You, and Wheatley are brought right to her, “it’s been a long time” she says, “How have you been?” After she disposes of Wheatley, GLaDOS sends you right back to testing…forever.
This part makes up about the first third of the game. You run through tests and try to formulate a plan for escape while GLaDOS mocks you and cleans/repairs the facility. A lot more happens, but the plot developments are simply too good to give away or tease at on any level. I will say that the story is satisfying and offers up a good deal background info on Aperture Laboratories, its founder Cave Johnson, and the origins of GLaDOS.
From a graphical standpoint, Portal 2 looks good. Running on the ever-advancing Source Engine, Portal 2 features debris-ridden test chambers, areas overtaken by foliage, and vast chasms that attest to how large the Aperture facility really is. Updated lighting, plant and debris physics, and draw distancing also contribute to the beauty of the game.
The game boasts some welcome additions to the gameplay such as an on-screen indicator to keep track of your last-shot portals, a zoom button, and an array of toys that keep the experience fresh. Of these, the different gels that could be painted on the environment were the most notable addition, because they made the overall gameplay quicker and allowed the size of the test chamber to increase ten-fold.
The humor in Portal 2 is fantastic, smart, and well timed. GLaDOS’s mockingly deadpan remarks are right on par with the original game, Wheatley’s dimwitted charm is…well…charming, and former CEO of Aperture, Cave Johnson’s remarks will stick with you long after the game is over.
When it came time to try out the co-op campaign I shuddered at the thought of finding a random player online and went split screen with a friend instead. The campaign features two robots named Atlas and P-body who work through various test chambers while GLaDOS remarks on how ridiculous humans are. Several gameplay tweaks have been made to make the co-op experience more fun including markers that set to indicate where a player needs to be or where a portal needs to be placed and a few different emotes like “high-fiving” and playing rock paper scissors. To my surprise, the co-op campaign also features a coherent story that could allude to the next chapter of the franchise.
As much as I enjoyed the game, a few bits annoyed me. Load screens occur between each area, and depending on how fast you move through chambers, can seem very frequent. I also through that the difficulty stagnates in the last quarter of the single-player campaign (after all the new gameplay features have been introduced).
Portal 2 is everything a video game sequel should be. It took the addictive game play mechanics from the original, polished them, and gave modders a number of new tools that can be eventually used to build ever mare sadistic test chambers. It also further developed the humor that made so many people fall in love with the original, developed the lore of Aperture Science, and gave players the fleshed out story they deserved.