When the first Portal came out in 2007, it was a phenomenon. Even though video games have long been able to allow us to perform all sorts of imaginable stunts including flying a jetfighter, travel through time, and construct an entire theme park; nothing is as satisfying as teleporting from one place to another at whim. The portal gun was indeed the most exciting concept that has happened in video gaming in recent years, and Valve has outdone themselves again.
If there was only one thing to complain about Portal, its gameplay was too short, making it feels more like an awe-inspiring demo at a tech conference.
Portal 2 eventually launched in 2011 to make up for its predecessor’s brief campaign mode. Having had four years between releases, one would expect Valve to come up with something revolutionary yet again, much like the gravity gun in Half-Life 2. To my slight disappointment, Portal 2 is just a more polished version of the first one. Still as perfect as ever, but it should have been the original’s original rather than a sequel.
In this new iteration, player once again relives the character of Chell, the silent protagonist who has to survive her way through series of endless testing by GLaDOS, our all-time favourite video game villain that we love to love. A pleasant addition in Portal 2 is Wheatley, a chatty mechanical sphere that later becomes the player’s comrade and comic relief. Contrary to GLaDOS’s endearingly homicidal and sarcastic personality, Wheatley is that fun guy (or thing) you would want to invite to your bowling night, even if he’s a little dumb. As one of the developers puts it, he’s “part-human, part-machine, all eye and no brain”.
Sadly, the beloved Companion Cube doesn’t make a comeback.
The game started off the same way Portal 1 did, with a lot of handholding to guide the players through the mechanics of the game. While this is necessary for people who have never played Portal 1, it gets a bit repetitive for people who had. Thankfully the gameplay was long enough to get me out of the same old, white marbled lab rooms. I actually breathe a sigh of relief when I escaped of the tutorial part of the game.
Aside from the richer visual assets, Portal 2 introduces various new atmospheres to explore in the game. ‘Explore’ might not really be the most appropriate word, however, since most of the level designs are very linear, there is no way one could get lost in reaching each checkpoint. Yet I really appreciate the vastness that is portrayed in the background. There was one area where I could observe an infinite bottom, a place that can’t be interacted with but is appreciated nevertheless.
One little thing to nitpick – there is no way to interact with non-mission critical objects in the game. One can pick up and throw a radio, clipboard, or security camera, but that’s about it. Far from being a killer feature, but just something that is nice to have, especially considering Max Payne in 2001 allowed me to flush the toilet, buy a soda, and turn on a vibrating bed.
Valve being Valve, the storytelling of Portal 2 is at its finest. Once again, Ellen McLain delivered the voice of GLaDOS with style. GLaDOS is actually a game character I feel the closest to, as compared to any character in other games, mostly because she was talking to me throughout the entire game. While Stephen Merchant as Wheatley with his thick English accent made the storyline a lot livelier.
Finished with a fitting score and cold humor, Portal 2 has all the ingredients for a solid game experience.
Following the tradition, Portal 2 features a Developer Commentary mode that can be unlocked. Being graced to hear the voice of Gaben Newell is one thing, but this mode also takes the player into all the efforts of developing the game and how each decision are made. Truly fascinating.
I have yet to try the co-op mode, which many touted as the biggest addition to the series. But even with that, Portal 2 feels like what Portal 1 should have been. I might seem to be overly critical here, but really there is nothing else to pick with the series. It is ground breaking and so well-designed when a lot of other games don’t even get ‘strafe-right’, right.
Portal 2 has topped the list of games that are too important to miss out, and while it is a running joke that Valve can’t count to three, one can still hope.