Valve Corporation’s cult-following puzzle-platform game released in 2007 continues in the long-awaited sequel, Portal 2, released on PC, MAC, Xbox 360 and PS3. With two playing modes, two sets of characters and two stories, gamers should prepare themselves for hours of fun, sarcasm and infinite loops!
What’s It About?
A new aspect added to the immensely popular physics-based puzzle game is the introduction of a co-op mode in addition to the traditional single player. This opens a new facet of gameplay by requiring teamwork while concentrating on the specific goal of maneuvering through each test. This can be quite frustrating if your partner in science would rather send you to the depths of poisonous fluid instead of focusing on the task at hand. However, with an equal understanding of moving science forward, the experience can bring vast enjoyment and improved teamwork.
Each mode of play has a story line unique to the characters involved, which will be discussed with as little spoilers as possible. Much like the story in Portal, co-op follows a team duo of robots, Atlas (the spherical, blue one) and P-body (the elongated, orange one) as they complete five sets of test chambers, introducing some of the many new testing elements this sequel has to offer. What was normally a simple “get yourself from point A to point B using high-tech portal gun” is now complicated by the fact that both robots must reach point B if they expect the door to open. Also, with each bot wielding its own portal gun, the solution to each puzzle may or may not become increasingly complex. Why are you, with the aid of a friend, working to complete these tests? Only by experience shall the answer be revealed to you.
In single player mode, you once again take the form of Chell, waking up in what appears to be a cheap hotel room. This brief exercise provides a short review of basic controls before you are told to go back to sleep. Unfortunately, the next time you wake up, many, many years have passed, and the room looks aged and dilapidated. Enter an unknown personality core, Wheatley, voiced by Stephan Merchant who is best known for his work in the BBC original The Office. Wheatley acts as your guide to evacuating the facility since it is nearing a state of collapse.
However, he isn’t very bright, despite the fact that he is a computer core, and accidently awakens GLaDOS when attempting to locate an escape pod for Chell. Introductions are short and Wheatley encourages Chell to run. No longer is your task to escape, but to destroy the tools of death wielded by the awakened antagonist. This includes disabling the turret manufacturing plants, which introduces us to the defective turrets, a small, but hilarious new character. Trust me, I spent 10-15 minutes at various spots along the assembly line just to hear their various amusing anecdotes.
Anyways, through a series of bizarre events and twists, the player is literally dropped on the old grounds of Aperture Science Enterprises, the name of Aperture Labs at its creation in the 1950’s. It is here that you are introduced to Cave Johnson (voiced by J.K. Simmons), the founder of Aperture Science, through his pre-recorded instructions heard throughout the old testing areas. It doesn’t take long for the player to figure out where GLaDOS acquired her dazzling compassion for test subjects through Cave’s limitless instructions for all the new testing elements found in these ancient grounds.
In addition to Victory Lifts, Heavy Duty Super-Colliding Super Buttons and Weighted Storage Cubes, Valve provided a vast array of new tools to aid the player with solving the test chambers. The first pair of testing elements are part of a group called Mobility Gels, which were originally marketed as pre-meal dieting aids. The first is called Propulsion Gel, which is used to increase the velocity of your character, was marketed as a substance that increases the velocity of eaten food until it moves so fast that the body can’t absorb any calories. The second is called Repulsion Gel, which provides the player with bouncing qualities (much like Flubber), and how high you fly is equal to how far you fell onto the gel-covered surface. There is one more gel, but it is not considered a mobility gel. Conversion gel, which is only found in the single player mode, can be coated on any surface and give it the proper qualities on which to hold a portal. During the story mode where you encounter it, Cave describes the main ingredient of this mystical substance, but this reviewer refuses to reveal such important information.
Another important element added to the game is Aerial Faith Plates, which spring the character at a predetermined direction with very useful momentum. There are also Thermal Discouragement Beams (or lasers), which are to be directed into their respectable receptacle or you can finally enact revenge upon those diabolical turrets. Another mobility-based component is in the form of Excursion Funnel, which is basically a churning funnel of liquid asbestos that carries characters, turrets, cubes and many others in the direction it is flowing. There are nearby buttons that can change the flow direction, which will need to be understood for solving some of the co-op tests. Also added are Discouragement Redirection Cubes, which help you direct the lasers to their intended goal, and Edgeless Safety Cubes, which are basically spheres that can be used to activate sphere-friendly receptacles. In addition to such threats to your life as toxic liquid, turrets and the abyss, you could also run the risk of point deduction or death with large crushers (often with a field of spikes like in Sonic the Hedgehog) and the lasers mentioned earlier, if you’re not paying attention while redirecting them. With this long list of improvements for testing and increased amount of risk involved, you’re sure to experience challenging, yet amusing and mind-bending tasks.
Why Should I Care?
Portal put Valve on the map for mainstream gaming. Sure, there were many who knew them for the Half-life series, but upon the release of the physics-based puzzle game, everyone knew the small company from Washington that brought us the sarcastic, malicious words of the Aperture Labs caretaker. Portal 2 takes it to the next level by including both types of gameplay enjoyed in its predecessor. Those who enjoyed the puzzle-solving aspect of the Enrichment Center before escape can still get their fix through co-op as well as the added bonus of aid from a friend which will tweak the complexity of the test. Those gamers who got a kick out of the story line and breaking free of the normal testing procedures can continue the story of Chell and GLaDOS in single player.
For those achievement enthusiasts, the developers included an interesting list of tasks to complete, both in single player and co-op. During the isolated gameplay, most of the feats involve finding a specific area or object amongst the testing grounds, often pertaining to elements involved in the story line. Of course, there are a few where simply getting through the story like normal warrants completion. As for co-op, there are a few that mirror Portal’s challenge mode list, such as completing a test with only 5 portals total or completing the test within a set number of seconds. Some also require that you play with different people as your partner, which means you could encounter a different solution for tests you’ve already solved.
Why Is It Worth My Time and Money?
Let’s face it; the Portal series has one of the best storylines of the genre. As with Portal, Portal 2 will be enjoyable to play multiple times just to experience the story again. The new puzzles offer fresh challenges, especially with the new repulsion, propulsion and conversion gels. Along with GLaDOS and the turret guns, players can enjoy the pre-recorded instructions of Cave Johnson the founder of Aperture Science, Wheatley with his English accent, and the defective turrets in the Turret Building and Distribution Center.
As for co-op mode, the fun is in the team-building and cooperation aspect of working with your partner in science. There may be occurrences of frustration and cursing due to what seems to be an impossible task, but your droid partner will be an excellent source of new ideas for how best to solve the test. In my own experience with co-op mode, you can’t let the difficulty of the puzzles cause friction between the team. They don’t call it co-op for nothing; you really will need to cooperate with the other player to complete this mode.
Now I’m sure many people are going to look at the price and question Valve’s reasons for charging consumers $49.99 for the sequel of a game that was originally one of five games for the same price. For those who didn’t know, Valve was unsure about the reaction gamers would have to Portal and so it was included in the compilation The Orange Box as a sort of safety net in case it bombed. Of course, the opposite happened and everyone loved the short, but extremely entertaining game.
For the sequel, Valve made the single player mode much longer and more in depth as well as added the co-op mode. As excellent as the story is and as well managed as co-op is, this game is very much worth the increased price tag compared to Portal. However, if you are still skeptical, Valve plans to produce and distribute downloadable content for Portal 2, including additional new test chambers and a challenge mode similar to its predecessor. They also announced that the PC version will have downloadable tools for making your own test chambers. You will only be able to make the tests on Windows systems, but all platforms available for the game will have access to the user-made levels. PS3 will be provided the content via Steamworks.