Sunday, May 22, 2011

Portal 2: A Triumph

Portal 2 is the long-awaited sequel to the popular 2007 video game, Portal. For those not familiar with the series, you take the role of a test subject in an abandoned laboratory run by a psychotic AI called GlaDOS. This testing involves creating portals between points in space to solve puzzles - watch the following video for a typical Portal-style puzzle.

When Valve released the first Portal in 2007, it came out of nowhere, and was released in a bundle (called the Orange Box) alongside Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and Team Fortress 2, both sequels to popular Valve titles. In all likelihood, a small experiment like the original Portal should have been overshadowed by being released with such blockbuster games. Yet of the Orange Box, Portal was the one that gained a massive following with its quirky humor and innovative, brain-warping gameplay. With Portal 2, Valve has turned their little experiment into a full-fledged game worthy of standing on its own.

Everything that made the first Portal great is intact, but now with more depth. The Excursion Funnel (made from liquid asbestos!) from the above video, for instance, acts as a slow-moving tractor beam that can be manipulated via portals, and mastering it is necessary for many of the puzzles later in the game. Also expanded in depth is the story; whereas the first game was your character struggling to survive against GlaDOS and her deadly tests, the second stands out as having a more structured narrative, exploring the history of GlaDOS, and of Aperture Laboratories itself. The addition of a new character - Wheatley - provides a deeper emotional connection that simply wasn’t present in Portal. Even the comedy, which is central to the game, finds itself kicked up a notch over the first Portal. While talking to a character who's had an unfortunate transformation into a plant: “Oh, hi. So, how are you holding up? Because I'm a potato!

I give Portal 2 a hearty 9 out of 10. I wish only that the game were longer, as I was able to finish the single-player campaign in just two sittings.

- Stephen

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