I just want to start by saying I love Portal 2. Like, really love it — If I could get a civil partnership with a piece of software, Portal 2 would be it. She’s the one. Anyway, I’ll stop putting thoughts about me having intercourse with a DVD disc into your head and tell you why.
Back in 2007, Valve released Portal, a simple, unique puzzle based game, half baked in the Half Life universe. The reception was incredible; the game became a cult hit and sold a ridiculous amount of copies due to its captivating, atmospheric design with some really creative, darkly comic script writing.
Its kind of like Valve went “So you liked that eh? Well, that was just a test… “. It was the bare bones of a project that still needed to be fleshed out with backstory, characters and scale… but it was fvcking awesome.
Skip forward a few years to Portal 2 and they’ve absolutely nailed it. They’ve taken all the charm, wit and everything else we loved from the original and built on it. They haven’t just added extra maps, made the graphics a bit better or something, they’ve given it a complete blockbuster overhaul, but still staying true to its roots.
From the opening sequence and onwards, its clear that Portal 2 is a different breed from the first. This is by no means a bad thing. The “Source” code that drives everything from the first Half Life (1973?) has been updated dramatically. This gives the world a detailed, textured and almost “living” identity, rather than the flat, dated textures that we’re used to. This is no Dead Space or Fable with their beautiful, colourful sprawling vistas, but it certainly does the job. Simplicity mixed with a big budget. Portal 2 opens with the immediate introduction of your robotic spherical companion, “Wheatley” – voiced by Stephen Merchant (The Office etc), this is some of the best voice acting I’ve seen in any game. Ever. I mean, its getting to the stage when the boundaries between animated movies and games are getting blurred — this is almost a Pixar beater… witty, well timed and hilarious.Wheatley never fails to amuse and keep the fast paced stroyline chugging a long at a nice pace that lets you reflect and listen, as well as storm through the vast level design.
We are quickly reintroduced to the antagonist and Kubrick-esque omnipresent bitch that is GlaDos. You reawaken her, she wants more “testing”, and chaos ensues. Good to see her back to her evil but still extremely funny self. Without giving too much away, there’s a twist halfway through that plays even more on these excellent character dynamic — clearly Valve have had a lot of time to think about a narrative structure, and they really are the masters of story-telling.
The level design of Portal 2 really comes alive this time around; the testing facility of Aperture Science has been in slumber and disrepair for what could be decades or centuries… this is never made very clear but its part of the games mystique. Vines, plants and animals have overrun the center, while the testing rooms are glitchy, falling apart and wild with panels spewing out of walls like jack-in-the-boxes. At one point you’re thrust into the bowels of this seemingly never ending facility, and the game effortlessly transcends decades and styles as if it were BioShock one minute and GoldenEye another.
And then, of course, there’s the puzzles themselves. If you’re not familiar with the concept of Portal,
then you’re a dick and we can’t talk no more here’s a catch up: you’re provided with a Portal Gun — one trigger fires a blue portal at a wall, the other an orange. You walk through one, and come out the other. Simples. This time though, they’ve thrown some new shit into the mix. Blue and Orange Gels that respectively allow you to jump super high, or move super fast. This already adds a totally new dynamic to some puzzles, so none of this feels old or recycled. The learning curve is perfect, with the game introducing new concepts to you slowly, allowing you to progress without feeling mentally exhausted or as if the game is a chore. However, if I had one criticism of the game, it would be that it seems slightly schizophrenic, which messes with the pacing at some points. One moment you’re playing a blockbuster adventure game with robots, explosions and epic cut scenes, the next you’re back to puzzles that take hours (if you’re thick). Slightly jarring, but still epic. Once you think the game is nearly done, it kicks you right back in again and the story line gets deeper. Keep an eye out for the Aperture Science logo changes throughout, depending on which “decade” you’ve found yourself in. Nice touches like that remind you how much effort, attention to detail and dedication have gone into the title, affirming it as both an instant classic and a cult hit. I’m gonna stop typing now, as I need to go play Portal 2 on Multiplayer with a lovely Spanish weirdo who keeps requesting. I just can’t say no. I’ll let you find out the charms of multiplayer by yourself, but you’re in for a treat.
One tip: play this by yourself. You want to get fully immersed. You want to take puzzles at your own pace, rather than made to feel really really stupid when a housemate points out there’s “another step there” or something a 5 year old could do. But there’s nothing quite as satisfying as completing a tough puzzle using your portal skillz. You feel like an absolute genius — and that’s where Valve has succeeded the most. And my Teacher said I was bad at science…
Roll on Half Life 3….