First posted on 15 November 2012. Last updated on 15 November 2012.
The original Portal received critical acclaims when it was first released by Valve as part of The Orange Box compilation of Half-Life 2 back in 2007. The game's simple yet ingenious mix of first-person and puzzle gameplay hit a mark with many gamers and left them wanting for more. Finally, 3 years later, Valve released the sequel Portal 2, transforming the brief experience of the original game into a full epic adventure.
In Portal 2, you again take control of the mute protagonist Chell, who now finds herself being woken out of stasis by the personality core Wheatley. Wheatley informs you that Aperture Science has been left in decay and desolation since the destruction of GLaDOS by an unknown human (whom Wheatley is unaware to be Chell) many years ago. From here, you and Wheatley agree to work together in order to escape the ruin of a once functioning testing facility. However, it does not take long for the escape plan to spiral out of control. Upon entering the lair of the seemingly defunct GLaDOS, Wheatley carelessly trips a few switches and inadvertently brings the formerly deactivated artificial intelligence back online. GLaDOS immediately recognizes you and seeks revenge by forcing you to once again take part in a variety of sinister testing environments, whilst she attempts to repair the damage and destruction which the facility has sustained. As you try to survive through GLaDOS' sadistic traps, you occasionally meet up again with the charismatic and hilarious Wheatley who urges you to continue testing while he tries to devise a way to shut down the defective GLaDOS.
Like the original Portal, Valve has succeeded in crafting an excellent story with zany but lovable characters in Portal 2. The twists and turns you experience in the new story will definitely persuade you to continue to play on through to the end. This is especially true when Chell explores the previously abandoned areas in Aperture Science and learns more of the long and dark history of the company and its founder.
Visually, Portal 2 looks fantastic. The game is built using the Source game engine that Valve has been tweaking and upgrading since its debut back in 2004. Not a single part of the visuals feels lackluster or rushed, and the amount of care put into these visuals really provide additional character to an already colorful game. As you enter a new test chamber, mechanized panels and contraptions are reconstructed right before your eyes, spinning and moving seamlessly into position. The attention to details, from the confined space of the automated turret manufacturing assembly to the open vista of the abandoned junk yards, is astonishing. By far, the best part of the visuals is the lighting effect that is used to highlight the ongoing reconstruction stages of the facility.
The dialogs in Portal 2 feature some of the greatest comedy writing in any video game. Valve has also cast the perfect actors to voice the game's characters. The eccentric and arrogant billionaire Cave Johnson, who is the founder and CEO of Aperture Science, is voiced by J.K. Simmons. Wheatley is voiced by Stephen Merchant, whose ability to adlib the dialogs gives added personality to the character and gracefully makes Wheatley more believable and lovable. GLaDOS is once again voiced by Ellen McLain, who puts in a fantastic performance to expand her character that is now showing a more noticeable hatred for Chell. Even the secondary characters, such as the helpless turrets and the zany personality cores, are voiced perfectly and have their unique lovable charms. The electronic styled music in Portal 2 fits well and heightens appropriately to provide a sense of action or danger when either is present. Jonathan Coulton returns to compose the song "Want you Gone" that is played in the game's final credits and is a great follow-up to the song "Still Alive" from the original Portal. The sound effects in Portal 2 are well done. Robotic arms, girders, and plates scream and screech as they are being dragged reluctantly back into position by GLaDOS in the test chambers.
Armed with only a portal gun, you must navigate your way out of each testing environment that is filled with a myriad of obstacles. Portals come in the form of a blue portal and an orange portal. You use these portals to navigate around the environment while avoiding deadly traps and activating specific mechanisms necessary to escape. All of the core puzzle mechanics from the original Portal return in Portal 2. In addition, Portal 2 introduces a bunch of new mechanics. These additions include Hard Light Bridges (that are made from pure light in the form of a solid bridge which can be used as a means of transport), Aerial Faith Plates (that propel you high up into the air while providing opportunities to perform momentum jumps between portals), Excursion Funnels (that work like tractor beams), Thermal Discouragement Beams (that are frequently used together with Redirection Cubes to redirect the laser like beams towards particular targets), and others. There are also different colored gels that impart different physical properties to whatever surfaces on which the gels are painted. These include the White Conversion Gel that allows you to place a portal of a painted surface, the orange Propulsion Gel that gives you a speed boost, and the blue Repulsion Gel that provides you a trampoline like surface. All of these new mechanics allow for great creativity in the puzzles but do not necessarily make them harder. In fact, the puzzles in Portal 2 are generally easier to solve than those in the original Portal.
In addition to a single player mode, Portal 2 has a co-operative mode for 2 players. It is here where the game's real challenge lies, as both you and your teammate have to work together as a unit to solve a series of team based test chambers. You take control of either P-Body or Atlas, a manufactured robot designed by Aperture Science to pretest these test chambers. Both you and your teammate have portal guns, so that 4 different portals can be set down at any given time. Fortunately, the colors of the portals shot from each portal gun are tinted differently so that it is easy to tell which portals are paired. Players who decide to jump into playing the co-operative mode without first playing the single player mode need not to worry about the need to learn the game's mechanics beforehand, as the early test chambers also serve as a tutorial. Voice communication and emotes are supported by the game to help you and your teammate plan out strategies and execute them reliably.
Overall, Portal 2 is among the best video games ever made. Fans of adventure or puzzle games must not miss out on this gem of a game. The story is amazing, the graphics are great, and the gameplay is rewarding. Unfortunately, Portal 2 does not feature an Advanced Chambers mode akin to that in the original Portal. Aside from this singular criticism, the game is as close to perfect as it can possibly get. In my eyes, Portal 2 is a definite contender for the best game of the year.