Portal 2: Play it… For Science

“I think we should put our differences behind us. For science. You monster.”

Let’s start from the beginning.  The original Portal was released in 2007, as part of Valve’s hugely successful multi-game bundle, The Orange Box.  For those of you who have never played the first Portal, do yourself a favor and find a copy.  It should be fairly cheap these days, and it was a good bargain back in 2007 as it is.  I will be mentioning some minor spoilers here to sum up the first game.  If you haven’t played it and want a completely unspoiled experience go play the game before reading on.  Unfortunately, for the uninitiated, Portal 2 is a direct continuation of the first game’s story so any plot details in EITHER game may totally ruin the first game for those who haven’t played it.

Get used to seeing things that defy the normal laws of physics

Portal is the story of Chell, a woman who is a test subject for Aperture Science.  Chell is tasked with completing tests for a homicidal AI named GLaDOS who loves to use humans as guinea pigs in the name of advancing science.  She uses a portal gun to defy the laws of phyics and solve GLaDOS’ tests.  Without getting too involved, Portal ends with Chell besting GLaDOS and the user is left believing that she will escape this science hell.  Portal was a fairly short experience, but it had some really funny dialog, clever puzzles, and was proof that a first person puzzle game could be wildly successful.

Portal 2 has the burden of trying to live up to its predecessor and I can say with resounding confidence that it far exceeds every standard and expectation that the first game set.  The game starts off with the player once again controlling Chell, after waking up from a very long period of suspended animation.  It would seem that she never actually escaped Aperture Laboratories.  However you quickly learn that the facility you were forced to test in during the first game has fallen into a state of ruin, and a spherical AI robot named Wheatley is going to help you break out of the place.  Wheatley helps you retrieve a portal gun and you begin solving more portal-based puzzles as you attempt to escape the testing facility.  During your early adventures you accidentally reawaken GLaDOS and as you can imagine she is not happy with you.  I will stop discussing the plot here, because the game’s story is one of its biggest selling points and anything beyond this will just lessen the excitement of revealing the plot as you play.

GLaDOS is back, and boy, is she displeased with you!

Instead of spoiling all the surprises Valve has for you, let’s talk about the gameplay a bit.  Portal 2 builds upon all of the creative puzzles from the first game.  You essentially will be using portals to reach areas unreachable by normal means.  All of the techniques you utilized then will translate well into the new experience.  If you are unfamiliar with these techniques there is a great tutorial section at the start to help you learn how to properly utilize your portal gun.  Portal 2 also adds some new gadgets to use, as well as new environmental hazards, and manages to keep the experience feeling fresh for the duration.  None of the puzzles had me stumped to the point where I couldn’t eventually solve them on my own.  The game has a very gentle learning curve and once you have a few test rooms under your belt you will relish in your awesome portal placing abilities.

One of the biggest highlights of Portal was the quirky humor.  Portal 2 has made sure that this aspect has translated over, and has improved upon it.  Whereas Portal’s only interactions mostly only came from GLaDOS, there are now multiple characters to interact with.  The writers have really done a great job giving each character in the Aperture labs great personality.  Stephen Merchant voices Wheatley with comical expertise, and Ellen McLain’s GLaDOS has retained her biting sarcasm and deadpan delivery.  Nolan North’s minor role as the Adventure Core is a must listen as well.  I spend a good deal of the game chuckling and laughing out loud due to the performances of the voice actors. I found myself waiting for characters to finish their dialog before proceeding.  I spent a lot of time just standing there and appreciating all the effort Valve put into the writing.  It is truly a joy to experience every bit of the dialog that the writers crammed into this game.

On top of the single player story, Valve managed to develop a fully separate Co-op experience for you to enjoy with a friend.  As I had purchased this on PS3 I have yet to try the Co-op mode.  The great PSN outage of 2011 is only now being resolved, and my PC copy and online partners were unavailable to me as a result.  I am sure that the gameplay in this mode is just as satisfying as the single player experience though, and hope to try it soon.

Many puzzles involve boxes, buttons, lasers, and of course, portals!

The last feature I want to discuss is the decision of valve to put in developer commentary in the game.  I am a video game developer myself so I found the ability to play through the game and hear Valve comment on various aspects of the creation of the game to be fascinating.  For those that may not be familiar with game development, listening to these commentaries as you play through a second time will really make you appreciate all the hard work, creativity, and genius that Valve has put into this game.

As I stated before, Portal 2 has improved upon every aspect of the original.  From the graphics, to the depth of story, Valve has made the game well worth the wait. After finishing the game the only complaint I had was that it was over, despite it taking a decent amount of time to finish.  I can only hope that the adventures of Chell are not quite over and that a sequel is in the works.  Pick this up on Xbox 360, PS3, PC, or Mac and you will quickly see that the game is full of charm and humor, and is nearly impossible to put down.

JAMIE spent a good deal of time contemplating the practical uses of a portal gun while playing this game.  He is somewhat disappointed that this technology is probably not ever going to exist, because not having to walk to the bathroom would save him several minutes every week.  He would likely spend that time playing more video games and thus writing more reviews! GET ON IT SCIENTISTS…

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