The cake may have been a lie in the first portal, but in the sequel it is the pure, delicious truth. And at the same time one of the most creatively challenging sequels a game developer can do to himself. For while the predecessor was still a small, fine, surprising puzzle snack, Valve Portal 2 has been developed as a full-priced game in its own right, with a good twelve hours of story and a new co-op multiplayer mode.
The beloved low-budget indie has been stretched to blockbuster format — sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it turned out surprisingly well. Portal 2 builds on the foundation of its predecessor with some brilliant new puzzle elements, sends us through a variety of tricky test rooms, gives us a glimpse of the outside world, and explains the story of Aperture Science with some story twists.
Getting Started: All Beginnings are Easy
Published in 2007 as part of the Orange Box, the portal was a test chamber game in which we fiddled through a series of rooms in the role of the human guinea pig Chell under the watchful eye of the artificial intelligence GLaDOS.
Of central importance was the use of the portal cannon, a wormhole-generating device from the laboratories of Aperture Science, a company based in the Half-Life Story universe. It can be used to create portals on certain surfaces, through which one can walk, fall or use them as pass-throughs for other objects. Portal-hopping gains real appeal through realistic physics. By falling deeply into a portal, we collect enough momentum to shoot out at the other wormhole end with enough karacho and thus skip gaping chasms. These basic principles are quickly taught to beginners in the first rooms of Portal 2, before further components are added, which are assembled into ever more breathtaking puzzle constructs as the game progresses. This wrests awe even from portal pros.
The story: GLaDOS returns
All the puzzling and tinkering is held together by a story divided into ten chapters, which provides a good rhythm of play. Although there is no shortage of puzzle testing chambers, Portal 2 interrupts this with action events and even a trip outside the sterile laboratories. The Portal Odyssey begins with an abrupt awakening from a stasis deep sleep – with a few centuries delay.
Aperture Science is deserted and in an advanced state of decay. Wheatley, the droid responsible for the well-being of the guinea pigs, offers himself as an escape agent. The neurotically nervous, hectically muttering robot guides us through the first light puzzle rooms, where we quickly capture our only tool, the portal cannon. Then Wheatley looks for a shortcut to get us out of the building faster, accidentally blowing a few fuses too many. The result: GLaDOS is resurrected – that eerie artificial intelligence that we thought we had defeated at the end of the previous game. And which is incredibly resentful: It wants to test us for the rest of our lives!
The campaign: long and versatile
But don’t worry, there’s nothing long and monotonous about portal 2. Although GLaDOS serves us 22 new test rooms, “almost like in old times” and enriched with first additional puzzle elements, the twisty story has surprises in store.
A story twist in the middle of the game is combined with a welcome two-chapter change of environment. Escaping the test chambers, we explore Aperture Science’s industrial and research facilities. They may be deserted, but the voice of the past is Aperture founder Cave Johnson, known from the invention commercials, whose voice recordings play when we enter a new area – a touch of Bioshock. Johnson not only makes all kinds of more or less funny tumour humour remarks about experiments and experimental side effects; through his monologues we also learn how Aperture Science came under the control of computer intelligence in the first place. This makes the previously rather abstract portal universe a little more tangible. As pleasant as the vastness of these “outside levels” is to the eye, they do have one drawback: there are a few places where discovering the next destination or exit degenerates into a search game. By pressing the middle mouse button we can zoom in to see some portal placement areas hidden in the distance. This is not impossible, but it is a bit laborious.