What began as a last minute add-on to Valve’s game bundle, “The Orange Box” back in 2007, has finally risen to glory and been given the full retail treatment. “Portal 2” is the sequel to the cult hit that helped define the puzzle shooter genre and it has everything that made the first game such a hit; mind-bending puzzles, quirky humor and memorable characters.
Players reprise the role of Chell, a mute protagonist that is being captive in Aperture Laborites and been forced to undergo tests involving a portal gun, a device that allows for two joining portals to be placed on almost any surface. Many years after Chell’s failed escape attempt from the first game, a likeable, yet moronic robotic personality core named Wheatley awakens Chell from stasis and attempts to aid in their escape, only to inadvertently reactivate the Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System (GLADOS), the antagonist from the first game.
Thankfully “Portal 2” doesn’t take place entirely inside crisp, clean testing chambers. The entire facility has deteriorated from years of neglect and local vegetation has taken over large parts of Aperture. This provides for a nice color contrast and helps to tantalize Chell’s desired freedom. After an unexpected plot twist, players are thrown from the modern laborites and wind up in Aperture’s gritty, historical underbelly. Here more of the game’s backstory is revealed through pre-recorded messages delivered by the CEO and founder of Aperture, Cave Johnson (voiced by J.K. Simmons a.k.a. J. Jonah Jameson from the Spider-Man movies).
While the game primarily featured the portal gun and cubes for triggering switches, “Portal 2” expands the player’s arsenal of puzzle solving tools with new additions such as: light bridges, bouncing and acceleration gels and suspended particle tunnels. Valve’s dedication to “Portal 2”s development is shown through the removal of a proposed wall-clinging gel, which was shown to make players sick during beta testing, along with developer commentary that can be found throughout various parts of the game. All of these elements are fully manipulable with the portal gun and allow for a multitude of creative solutions. These elements are introduced in increments in the earlier levels, giving players a feel for the game play before the crazier (and deadlier) levels unfold.
While there is no traditional multiplayer support in “Portal 2,” there is a separate co-operative campaign, which contains a completely separate storyline and unique test chambers that can only be solved with clear player communication. This mode can be played either locally or online. Owners of a Playstation 3 will be happy to know that they can play online with both PC and Mac players. Xbox 360 owners are sadly out of luck. Also the purchase of console copy of the game unlocks a computer copy for downloading, no repaying necessary, for enjoying “Portal 2” on-the-go.
With the promise of DLC likely to include more advanced puzzles and challenges such as a limited number of portals that can be fired, “Portal 2” can be re-enjoyed in the months to come. It goes to show that games, like the people who design them, can be both smart and fun.