Portal 2

By Sean McQuillan

Developer: Valve Corporation

Publisher: Valve Corporation

Distributor: Valve Corporation (Online), Electronic Arts (Retail)

Platform: PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3

Genre: Puzzle-Platform, Science Fiction

Modes: Single-Player, Cooperative


Rating:  5/5  First Prize in Potato Science!

 Portal 1’s silent protagonist, Chell,  wakes up to find herself back in the bowels of Aperture Science.  She has been in stasis for many years as the facility has succumbed to encroaching nature without GLaDOS to maintain the facility.  She is greeted by a personality core, Wheatley, and must work to escape the facility together.  Along the way GLaDOS is reawakened, and testing can begin anew.  Chell must escape a new and deadly set of puzzles and obstacles that will take her from the bowels of the facility, to a final showdown with the psychotic intelligence running the tests.

With this second outing into the world of Aperture Science, Valve takes every opportunity to flesh out the world and its characters.  While we had GLaDOS as our main source of interaction in Portal 1, this game introduces us to Wheatley, a bumbling and endearing construct helping you escape. Cave Johnson is also introduced as the eccentric founder of Aperture Science.    The voice acting in Portal 1 by GLaDOS’ voice actress Ellen McLain was beautifully enchanting, and Portal 2 doesn’t disappoint.  Ellen is back as GLaDOS and the turrets, but we also get wonderful performances from Stephen Merchant (Wheatley), and J.K. Simmons (Cave Johnson) who many would know as J. Jonah Jameson from the original Spiderman movies.  While there’s no shortage of amazing lines from all of them through the game, you’ll find yourself wishing there was more.

The wonderful Aesthetic of Portal 1, with the well polished test tracks, and the abandoned industrial areas behind the scenes, gave the game as much characterization as its voice acting.  With Portal 2 we see it really come alive. From the lowest levels where we see Aperture’s humble beginnings to the madcap testing tracks as the facility becomes unstable; we see an organic facility that shapes and molds its story over time.

The platforming sections the coined the phrase “Thinking with Portals” was perfect in Portal 1, it’s hard to think where they could go from there.  The guys at Valve brought in the team from Independent Games Festival-winning DigiPen student project Tag: The Power of Paint to incorporate their game’s paint mechanics into these new gels.  While these 3 new gels are a blast to play with, especially the orange Propulsion gel, the Valve team were no slouches themselves.  Introducing Faith plates, Light bridges, Thermal Discouragement Beams, and the gravity defying Excursion Tunnels, Portal 2 is at no shortage of new and interesting ways to challenge the player.

While the campaign mode is certainly a rich experience, the Co-op play is the perfect complement to it.  With the introduction of the not quite silent protagonists Atlas and P-body, you’ll go through quite a gauntlet of puzzles strictly designed for two people.  It’s an exercise in trust and often good-hearted frustration.  While the puzzles are great, the experience is also related to the main storyline, with the most engaging moments coming when the pair have to go “off the rails” and into the facility’s abandoned areas.  While it can be frustrating to replay this mode with someone who hasn’t solved the puzzles, with the new Authoring Tools you can look forward to new puzzles from the community.

If you are  wondering if Jonathan Coulton, the wonderful Singer/Songwriter behind Portal 1’s “Still Alive”, has a new entry for this outing, the answer is a happy Yes. There’s also another great bonus to be had for those who complete the Story mode.  You’ll just have to beat it and see.

With cake, companion cubes, wonderfully dark humor, and the wonder of picking up your first portal gun, it’s hard for a sequel to catch the same magic as the first Portal game.  Luckily Valve succeeds masterfully and fans of the first game should all love this new chapter in the Aperture Science story.