One of the biggest titles of the year, Portal 2 brings us back to Aperture Science, where the story takes us through a winding plot of betrayal, survival, and… potatoes. While the game once again is a puzzle game masquerading as a first person shooter, the sequel to the surprise hit of 2007 adds enough to justify the full retail game price.
Once again, you play Chell, the unwilling test subject of Aperture Science, who finds herself several hundred years in the future after being locked in stasis. In this game, she is revealed to be either mute or brain damaged, since unlike the first game, she is directly addressed by a sympathetic character. In the first scene, she’s asked to speak – and her response is to jump. Regardless, she is joined by a bumbling morality core named Wheatley, who serves as her guide through the first half of the game. Needless to say, Wheatley (voiced by UK star Stephen Merchant) reactivates the villain GlaDOS (voiced once again by Ellen McLain), who promptly decides that it would be a good idea to “test” Chell once again. That actually comprises a meager fourth of the game, while the second half reveals a wild plot twist.
Another new character is that of Cave Johnson, voiced loopily by J.K. Williams, founder of Aperture Science and winner of the best Curtain Rod Salesman of 1943. He only appears as a pre-recorded voice, and from his babbling and definitely unscientific approach to science, Portal 2 expounds on the first game’s theme of science gone wild, experimentation for the sake of experimentation. (In one bit, Cave informs you that there was formerly an option to have your brain injected with praying mantis DNA. That experiment was over, but a fresh new one was available: killing rampant mantis-men.) The humor is less laugh-out-loud funny in Portal 2, partly because the material was already trod upon in the first game, but also because the game, despite trying to inject levity into the proceedings, is darker and, in some cases, sadder.
The game, like the first, is largely a training exercise for the final levels, in which you put all of the elements you learn to defeat the game. The first part of the game largely reintroduces veteran players to the abilities from the first game, but new elements are brought in, like cubes that redirect laser beams and various types of gels, such as Repulsion Gel that allows Chell to jump like Mario off of floors and walls. As a result, many of the levels become more Braid-like in that solutions get increasingly less obvious as they were in the first game, and seemingly hard puzzles become obvious when the solution is stumbled upon.
There is also a co-op multiplayer portion that represents half the game, and when the DLC is released, will occupy even more of the game. Unlike the single player campaign, the adventures of P-Body and Atlas are just plain hysterical. GlaDOS has a love/hate relationship with the two robots, and wants to see them succeed while at the same time wishing she could kill them. (She can’t because, well, they’re robots.) Nothing will irritate GlaDOS more than seeing either or both bots celebrating in front of her through a camera. (“I see you,” she may mutter. “I don’t care!”)
It is here in the co-op mode when the wildest, most difficult and fun puzzles will be found, as now there are four portals that will be in play (in and out portals for each robot), which allows for more complex and bizarre puzzles. New DLC is already scheduled in a few weeks, and you can bet the internet community will be more than happy to supply user-created levels as well.
If there’s an issue with Portal 2, it’s that co-op mode does not feature matchmaking. You can play local split-screen or you can play with friends online, but only those on your friend list may engage you. So, either a friend will have to join you at your machine or you’ll have to have other friends who picked the game up and play them online. The other minor quibble is that Portal 2 isn’t for everyone. Players who found the first game too tough will want to pass – it’s essentially more of the same, and more difficult.
Those small issues aside, Portal 2 is the game that fans of the first have been waiting for. More puzzles, more abilities, more humor and a bigger, more fleshed out story as well as the option to solve bigger puzzles with a friend. Portal 2 will be at the end of 2011 a contender for Game of the Year.
Jonah Falcon is a blogger for TMRzoo and GameStooge.com and covers all gaming consoles and platforms including Sony Playstation 3, Microsoft XBOX 360, Nintendo Wii, Sony PSP and computer games designed for Mac OS, Microsoft Windows and Linux operating systems. Jonah provides his readers with reviews, previews and up to date gaming industry news and rumors.