By: Daniel Massey
The cake is a lie. This seemingly irreverent phrase has found its way into the hearts of gamers everywhere, thanks to the charming title that is “Portal.” Originally intended as a tech demo, its publisher, Valve, decided to throw it into the now best-selling game bundle, The Orange Box, which also includes “Half Life 2” and its expansions, and the multiplayer-only “Team Fortress 2.”
The first “Portal” saw the player assuming the role of Chell, a woman who was trapped in the Aperture Science Facility (a futuristic complex that looks like it belongs in a sci-fi movie, while still remaining realistic), forced to complete puzzle-based test chambers by a faceless AI (artificial intelligence) named GLaDOS.
Long story short, the AI’s true nature is revealed, and eventually the player’s task is to escape from the facility, and GLaDOS’ numerous attempts to murder the player. Voiced by the excellent Ellen Mclain, GLaDOS continually taunts the player with sarcastic remarks.
With writing that is refreshingly clever and hilarious, you may often find yourself laughing aloud at some of the dialogue, a rare feat in the sometimes predictable gaming industry.
“Portal 2” continues in this vein, picking up 100 years after the end of the first game. Chell’s freedom was short-lived, as she was recaptured and placed in cryostatis indefinitely. In the time she was asleep, the facility was left in decay, untouched by human hands and without an active AI to maintain it.
You are awakened by Wheatley, an infinitely likeable robot who needs your help to escape, voiced by a particularly enthusiastic Stephen Merchant, who is featured on the Ricky Gervais Show.
After a sequence of events I would prefer not to spoil, GLaDOS makes her triumphant return, and you are once again forced to solve a mind-boggling variety of test chambers while simultaneously looking for an opportunity to escape.
Although the plot is extremely strong and intriguing, the gameplay is what differentiates “Portal 2” from the Halos and Call of Duties that are currently flooding the market. Although the game is in first person perspective, much like a shooter, the portal gun, the game’s only tool, is far from your average firearm. Instead of shooting bullets, it shoots two interconnected portals, which can be placed on flat surfaces with the pull of a trigger. It may seem hard to describe, but a basic example is placing a portal on a wall in front of you, and then placing the other in another room. When you walk through the portal on the wall in front of you, you come through the portal and end up in the other room.
This mechanic is the basis of the entire game, and you must solve increasingly difficult puzzles using not only the portal gun, but outside factors such as light shields, spring boards, and colored gels that make you jump higher or run faster when stepped on. There is truly no other game out there that feels like “Portal,” and its stunning originality is a breath of fresh air for gamers looking for an intelligent challenge.
The game has only two modes, a single player story mode, and a two-player co-op mode, but they are long and rich enough to make up for the lack of variety (mostly).
While the first game’s story clocked in at about three hours, “Portal 2” takes around nine hours to complete, and the story is miles better, with charming and humorous characters, and unexpected plot twists. The puzzles are quite difficult, especially in later sections, but they never feel unfair or broken. This leads to an intense sense of satisfaction upon completing a particularly challenging puzzle.
The co-op mode, while less heavy on story elements, take the puzzles to the next level, as the addition of a second player brings the possibility of four portals at once. Cooperation and coordination are musts, and it is safe to say that some of the most challenging, yet entertaining sections in gaming are featured in “Portal 2’s” multiplayer.
Although the writing and gameplay are among the best in the industry, the replay value is sadly lacking, as once you have finished both campaigns, there really isn’t anything more to do except replay them. Despite this, “Portal 2” is an early contender for Game of the Year in my book, and I definitely plan to revisit the intriguing world of Wheatley and GLaDOS once again.