Four years ago, Portal set the video game industry ablaze with its originality and brain-teasing concepts. I was skeptical Valve could deliver a proper sequel to what was essentially a 3D flash game in 2007’s The Orange Box, but the second I loaded up the single-player and reflected on Chell's morning exercises, I knew I was in for something special. Never have I been more glad to be proven wrong. Portal 2 constructs a charming universe, using its predecessor's unique foundation to deliver the most refined and polished physics-based experience of this console generation.
After an unknown period of time comatose, Chell wakes up to encounter a panicky AI core named Wheatley. Together with her fidgety, skittish robot companion, Chell strives to escape the imprisonment of Aperture Science Labs one more time. Predictably, things don’t go as planned, resulting in GLaDOS reawakened from her dormant state. With the malevolent head of Aperture resuming control of the facility, gamers will be put through their paces once again as they attempt to avoid the frequent perils that plague each test chamber. Without giving away any spoilers, what ensues is one of the most enticing stories that Valve has ever crafted, despite some major foreseeable plot twists.
GLaDOS is not happy that you killed her, you monster.
The scale of Portal 2’s puzzles has indeed been ramped up. The first Portal focused solely on navigating small test chambers before building towards the crescendo of GLaDOS' downfall. Solutions now consist of continuously flinging yourself hundreds of yards through the air to your next objective. Players will also utilize more of the surrounding environment to progress from room to room, particularly later on when journeying through the depths of post-World War II Old Aperture Science, a compound strikingly reminiscent of Rapture, totalitarian founder included. The graphics, except for Wheatley's elaborate animations, are unlikely to win any critic awards, but the simple color palette of white, grey, and blue hues is easy on the eyes, contrary to games such as Bulletstorm and Killzone 3 that assault your vision with a euphoria of color.
Accompanying a new set of environments, a host of fresh gameplay options allow players to further bend the laws of physics to their wills. With innovative features ranging from light bridges, gravity tunnels, and laser beams, to propulsion, repulsion, and conversion gels, the developers provide a variety of ways to challenge the brain while still maintaining the rewarding fun of the previous Portal. A healthy aim assist makes lining up precise shots less stressful and helps streamline the whole experience when playing with a controller, but the pleasure of solving the harder experiments resonates in full effect as each completed trial brings Chell closer to the jaw-dropping finale.
Watch your head! Repulsion gel has a nasty habit of launching Chell to new heights.
The voice acting is yet another step above the original. In the first Portal, GLaDOS would occasionally break up the tension produced by your brain aneurysms with humorous insults. In Portal 2, though, I regret to say that GLaDOS has the least amusing banter relative to the portrayals of J.K. Simmons as Cave Johnson and Stephen Merchant as Wheatley. Valve's masterminds supply the eccentric CEO and oddball personality core with the most hilarious and captivating commentary in the developer's history. I often found myself stopping mid-puzzle to listen to any dialogue provided by the two, and the creative conversations that occur during the direst of situations help lighten the overall mood.
If the single-player stretches your brain to its limit, indulge in a completely separate cooperative campaign with one of your friends. Filling the roles of two unlucky test bots called Atlas and P-body, players must work together to overcome some of GLaDOS’ most devious test chambers. The co-op works best when using a headset, but for those unfortunate few without a mic, Valve has cleverly implemented a ping tool to coordinate portal placement with your teammate. The co-op campaign remains spoiler-free too, so you need not worry about uncovering any significant single-player plot details. If I do have one complaint, it’s that playing with random people online can get rather frustrating, especially when they drop a platform out from under you or teleport you into the nearest water hazard for the sake of an amusing YouTube clip. But I cannot hold Valve accountable for the immaturity of the online community.
Wheatley's charisma, remarks, and lack of intelligence make him one of my favorite characters to grace the television screen.
Simply put, Portal 2 is an incredible adventure. While manipulating portals may not have the immediate impact of the first iteration, Portal 2 improves on its predecessor in every aspect. The single-player is four times longer and equally tasking, and a wholly individual co-op campaign will tease not only your brain, but your friend's as well. Light bridges, excursion funnels, and a variety of gels tickle your neurons as the solution dances blatantly in front of you, all while insults voiced by the likes of GLaDOS and Wheatley breathe life into the metallic automatons. Although you won’t find any new cult-hit memes like “The cake is a lie,” don’t be surprised to discover dialogue taking precedent over the puzzles at hand. Valve has forged a superb experience that everyone should enjoy, and besides, where else can you find a game that calls spheres “edgeless safety cubes”?
Publisher: Valve Software
Developer: Valve Software
Release Date: April 19, 2011
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign) 1-2 (Cooperative)
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC, Mac