“Oh, it’s you. It’s been a long time.”
I couldn’t agree with GLaDOS any more. Nearly three-and-a-half years since the original Portal stole the spotlight from Half Life 2: Episode 2 in Valve’s The Orange Box, the madness induced by GLaDOS and her brutal test chambers is upon us once again. After a series of delays, Portal 2 was finally unleashed on the craven masses two weeks ago.
The wait was totally worth it. Portal 2 improves upon its predecessor in every way imaginable. GLaDOS, voiced one again by the deceptively pleasant Ellen McClain, returns to exact vengeance on Chell (the player character) for murdering her at the end of Portal. Those of you who have completed Portal anytime last year will know that Valve revised the ending to include a scene that shows Chell being dragged back inside Aperture Science’s headquarters, after assuming the “Party Escort Position.” Chell has been in deep stasis ever since. Portal 2 begins hundreds of years after the ending of the original Portal and the Aperture Science Labs are in ruins.
The player is awakened from stasis by Wheatley, a personality core (small, mobile computer with a, you guessed it, personality). Wheatley is voiced quite expertly by the hilarious Stephen Merchant who, for starters, is one of the co-creators of the original, BBC version of The Office. This talkative little bot guides Chell to, what he assumes to be, escape. In doing so, Wheatley accidentally awakens GLaDOS who promises revenge on the player as she thrusts Chell into a new-and-improved series of complex puzzles.
Along the way, the player will interact with the disembodied voice of Cave Johnson, the founder of Aperture Science, voiced by the talented J.K. Simmons (a prolific character actor responsible for, among many other roles, giving life to J. Jonah Jameson in Sam Raimi’s Spiderman franchise). Players will also interact with turrets and other personality cores, brought to life by Nolan North (Desmond Miles from the Assassin’s Creed franchise and Nathan Drake from the Uncharted franchise – among many other voice credits).
McClain, Merchant, Simmons, and North all deliver incredibly unforgettable performances. They breathe a uniquely human element into an already hilarious script. No line is a throw-away and the game is insanely quotable. Portal 2 took the dark, murderous humor from its predecessor and developed a full-range of conversations and speeches that are an absolute pleasure to experience.
Portal 2 also received a graphics facelift. The Aperture Science Labs are now mostly covered with plant life and malfunctioning equipment but they have never looked better. Valve uses vibrant, powerful color tones and crisp character models and environments to deliver an all-around gorgeous game.
The basic gameplay mechanics are the same: you possess the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device, which shoots blue and orange portals. You use these two portals to solve challenges that run a full range of difficulty, from hilariously simple to aggravatingly difficult. Valve introduced some new mechanics for certain chambers that add some incredibly difficult elements: the Excursion Field (a tractor beam-like funnel that allows the user to transport objects as well as themselves across great distances) , the Redirection Cube (which allows you to manipulate the flow of a laser beam) and the Gels (which I won’t spoil here). Old favorites such as turrets and storage cubes return as well to add complexity to Portal 2’s testing chambers.
Portal 2 doubles its offerings from the last outing: players can engage in both single player and co-op modes now.
The single player, though a bit short (my first run-through took between seven and eight hours), is incredibly fun and very challenging. The story is fantastic and there are plot twists at every corner. You’ll learn more about the history of Aperture Science as you progress through the game, which is just as fascinating as the main story. The puzzles are most difficult for the middle portion of the game, mostly due to their incredibly large scale. By the end, players will be racing through the final chambers in a mad dash to see how it all ends. The ending is incredibly fulfilling and is one of the best I’ve seen in recent gaming memory.
The co-op exists outside of the story (that is, playing through multiplayer before you play the single player will not spoil the story for you). Players team up with a friend (or can be randomly matched online) to control P-Body and Atlas,
each of whom possess a portal gun that fires two unique portals. A player’s portals link together, which means a player controlling Atlas cannot shoot one portal and hope to emerge from one of P-Body’s portals. The co-op challenges also incorporate all of the Aperture Science devices and products listed above. The co-op experience (which also took my partner and I between seven and eight hours on our first play through) is one of the most enjoyable multiplayer campaigns I’ve played in a long time. My partner and I had an incredibly fun time playing through the game together. We probably spent more time laughing at the hilarious ways we devised to “accidentally” kill each other than we did solving puzzles, but that’s where the fun is.
The only drawback to Portal 2 is the lack of replay value. Certainly, you can play through the game again with the developer commentary, or do achievement runs, but neither offers much of a change to the core experience. Valve plans on expanding the co-op experience with DLC in the future (though specifics haven’t been released yet). Additional test chambers and challenge modes, whether added to the single player or multi-player campaigns, will really give this game high replay value and extend its staying power in your game library. Regardless, Portal 2 is an incredibly enjoyable gaming experience that I heartily recommend to any gamer. It’s easy to pick up, the game play is enjoyable, and the story and dialogue will entertain you to no end.