Every now and then a game will come from out of nowhere, based entirely on a novel idea that had never been previously imagined, let alone put into practice. The first portal was just such a game.
I remember the first time I ever saw portal, round at a friend’s house with a few beers and the orange box. Eventually, we got bored of team fortress 2 and – deciding that Half Life 2 wasn’t exactly a party starter – we booted up some random puzzler tacked onto the compilation to fill up empty disk space…
…HOW WRONG WE WERE!!!
Thinking back now, Portal is honestly my favourite game in that pack. Though it probably didn’t last any more than about 4-6 hours, the game simply oozed charm and was so simple and original that I almost didn’t believe that someone got a developer to even make it!
Simplicity and dark humour were the game’s backbone and heart respectively. Despite this, by the end of it I wasn’t expecting a sequel because they had surely done all they could with it, right?…
Valve managed to pull off one of the most impressive things that a developer can do to a game’s sequel; it managed to add an enormous amount of complexity and depth whilst maintaining the core mechanics and not overcomplicating the thing.
So there are new and interesting ways to interact with the environment, allowing you to do things that were impossible in the previous game. Speed gel allows you to zoom around and make impossible gaps; bounce gel allows you to get up to places previously unreachable and portal-surface gel allows you to make almost anything a portal-friendly surface. Anti-gravity beams move you or a companion in whatever direction you might point it.
In addition, the environment is vibrant, interesting and mobile. The world moves around you and you get to see more than just testing chambers.
All of this serves to make puzzles harder and the game last longer but still the basic left-right click portals remain the sole mechanic. Slick, simple and brilliant.
The story is not only a match for the original’s, but it surpasses it significantly in my opinion. It maintains the charm and the dark humour of the first Portal, whilst adding real flavour and epic plot.
Without spoiling anything for you, you play the last test subject left, who has been woken after a VERY long sleep by a rogue and fairly cheerful robot called Wheatley. It seems to want to keep you alive. This robot is voiced by Stephen Merchant and while this annoyed me at first (I tend not to like recognising voices… kind of ruins the premise of a character to me), but once I blocked the existence of Mr Merchant out of my head and brainwashed myself into believing that the voice truly was Wheatley’s the voice acting was very ably performed by… err… who was it again?
So it’s the usual drill, solve puzzles to survive some potentially lethal tests and you get… cake? Maybe. The further you move through, the more insane the challenges and the darker the humour.
The Co-Op game (yes, I’m only just up to that) is fantastic. If you have a friend, badger him/her until they submit and get the game. They managed to pack plenty of humour into this too and it’s not only an enormous amount of fun, it’s also really tricky in parts.
One bit of advice I can give you for the co-op is that headsets are essential. Though there is an in-game communication system using the keyboard, it can be clunky at times and there are times when timing has to be so precise that it just doesn’t cut it.
Finally, a fairly recent addition is the steam workshop. You can make your own test chambers (both solo ones and co-op ones) and share it with your friends, enemies and everyone else for that matter! You can complete test chambers made by anyone on steam, and there are entire custom campaigns on there made by people with far too much time on their hands (…I’m making one too).
The test-chamber creator is really easy to use and very flexible indeed. In fact, some of the chambers I’ve played have been really deviously tricky… there are some real sadists out there.
This means that the game has the potential for unlimited gameplay; a truly limitless variety of test chambers that you can continue to solve forever.
The first Portal game’s weakness was that once you’d completed it, you knew the solution to every level. Portal 2’s campaign is so vast, it has an entire coop campaign to add to that and it has the community adding to it every day. It is a truly impressive improvement and a game that every PC gamer should own (especially when it can be gotten for a fiver on sale!).
Rating: 10 companion cubes out of 10