“How do you expand on Portal?” “How many different test rooms can you come up with using gravity and portal physics?” “What can be created to make the sequel a full retail game instead of being a part of a value packed disc like the Orange Box?”
These were all questions people came up with when they heard about Portal 2 as they were likely to be the same questions that the developers at Valve knew would be thrown their way.
After creating a completely original and satisfying experience with the original Portal, there was tons of pressure on the developers to bring back the magic that made the original Portal so special and at the same time bring about new experiences to prove the value of making the sequel. The result is a satisfying puzzle experience that builds on what Portal set out to do but continues innovating in the way gamers must think and play in order to progress either in the solo or cooperative modes.
Broken down to its most basic sense, Portal 2 has players using a special gun from a first person perspective that shoots entry portals on select surfaces. Players can use these portals to instantaneously travel from one location to the next by walking, jumping or falling through them.
In addition, players can use these portals to transport items like the weighted Companion Cube or the Redirection Cube around test chambers as well. Various new gameplay elements such as Excursion Funnels (tractor beams), Hard Light Bridges, Repulsion gel, Propulsion gel and Conversion Gel can also be transported through the portals.
All of these new elements work great separately in creating new gameplay tasks for players to accomplish. Having to position Repulsion gel along various surfaces in order for players to bounce through levels or using the Redirection Cube to aim Thermal Discouragement laser beams at turret guns adds tons of new level possibilities to the “simple” portal concept. What is most amazing is when levels combine various combinations of these new abilities in to puzzles that are no simple feat to figure out without really thinking outside the box and understanding what the developers meant when they first said it was time for people to start thinking in portals.
New to Portal 2 is a cooperative mode, where players can join up either over split screen or online and solve puzzles that no single person could accomplish alone. These puzzles include a whole new level of timing and depth as some require twitch timing abilities and some creative thinking to coordinate four portals at once.
The developers were also very aware that not all players would have microphones and included tools for players to communicate specific instructions to their companion. The result is the most unique multiplayer puzzle experience seen to date. Sometimes, the most fun comes from a solution beginning to crumble out from underneath a player and the moments of chaos following it as turrets are unleashed, portals accidentally close, light bridges or excursion funnels disappear and the two robots fall to their deaths.
When people hear about a puzzle game, story is almost always the secondary concern. Portal 2 is the exception however as the driving force to progress in the game doesn’t solely come from the curiosity to see what puzzle lies beyond the next testing chamber. While most games are forced to rely on either being driven by gameplay or by story, Portal 2 may be the best example of a perfect fifty-fifty split in enjoyment of the two.
During Portal (Spoiler for those who haven’t played it yet), players took the role of Chell and escaped the lunacy of a heartless computer core named GLaDOS who was using them to test the abilities of humans with the Portal Gun “in the name of science.” Players who completed the game would escape GLaDOS’s death traps and eventually “kill” her. Portal 2 starts off with players again in the role of Chell being awoken in what looks like a motel room by another core named Wheatley. Players quickly find out they are in a storage crate in the middle of the Aperture Science Facility as it begins collapsing. With Wheatley’s help, the players survive only to accidentally reawaken GLaDOS as they try and escape the facility. This results in Chell being dropped back in the testing facility where they are constantly mocked by GLaDOS as they complete tests, including GLaDOS’s newfound infatuation with backhandedly calling the player fat and insinuating they are a terrible person for trying to kill her in the first game.
Along the way, players experience a whole new side of GLaDOS, delve further into Wheatley and why he was created and eventually find out about the history of Aperture Science and its CEO Cave Johnson. What is amazing is the level of depth that these characters all receive as the origins of GLaDOS and Wheatley are revealed and the mindset behind the Aperture testing facility comes in to view. Additional characters are revealed, if only momentarily like the malfunctioning Turret Guns or a corrupted CPU core similar to that of GLaDOS and Wheatley who is obsessed with space.
In the cooperative campaign, there is not as much of an emphasis on story as in the single player game but it is still ever-present. Upon seeing how well players work together, GLaDOS quickly begins planting seeds of dissent with various “Can you believe Blue would say that about you Orange?” type comments.
The dialogue writing in Portal 2 is some of the best and most creative of any game on the market today. The personalities of GLaDOS and Wheatley specifically will be remembered by players with some of the most memorable game quotes of the year. Even out of context, gamers will be tossing these out to each other to laugh out loud results. Hearing an eerily calm female computer spout lines like, “We’re a lot alike, you and I. You tested me. I tested you. You killed me. I—oh, no, wait. I guess I haven’t killed you yet. Well. Food for thought.” or the machismo fueled Cave Johnson saying, “Oh, in case you get covered in that Repulsion Gel, here’s some advice the lab boys gave me: [sound of rustling pages] “Do not get covered in the Repulsion Gel.” We haven’t entirely nailed down what element it is yet, but I’ll tell you this: It’s a lively one and it does not like the human skeleton,” makes for laugh out loud moments throughout the entire experience, even when a player’s life is at risk from GLaDOS’s traps.
There is a drastic improvement in the visuals of Portal 2 over its predecessor. That’s not saying that the original Portal wasn’t a good looking game. On the contrary, it had a very strong presentation visually but it’s greatest weakness is that the environments were very sterile. With most events taking place inside Test Chambers, the repetitive lab design worked for Portal. Now, years later, Portal 2 has a whole new life to it. With the ruins of the original GLaDOS chamber being overrun with foliage to the original, now abandoned, facilities of Cave Johnson’s Aperture Science facilities there is a definitive evolution to the game.
The environments also feel alive as they change right in front of the player. As GLaDOS is rebuilding the entire facility, sometimes Chell progresses faster than she can keep up. Other times, various panels are left in disrepair as GLaDOS is more focused by producing death traps and hurling insults than making sure the labs look aesthetically pleasing.
The voice cast of Portal 2 is perfect. GLaDOS, Wheatley, Cave and the supporting cast nail every line of dialogue given to them with spot on delivery, timing and emotion. As mentioned before, there are tons of great quotes throughout a player’s journey through Portal 2 but none of them would be anywhere near as impactful if not for the perfect voice acting in the game.
In the short time since its release, Portal 2 has already shown itself to be one of the definitive gameplay experiences of 2011. There is a welcomed familiarity to it for Portal players alongside completely new experiences due to new in game technologies and the impressively executed cooperative concept. While most developers force in basic multiplayer concepts like deathmatch, Portal 2 turns them on their head with a completely separate campaign to the game’s single player mode.
Again, the thought provoking gameplay isn’t the sole driving force behind the greatness of Portal 2. The storyline and amazing dialogue expertly blend in to deliver the first title of the year that deserves to be called the “total package”. If you are the type who wants to mindlessly gun down opponents, this is not the game for you. However, if you want a game that provides something new and will actually encourage you to think your way through, then you need to put Portal 2 on the very top of your stack of games to play.