Portal was gaming's undisputed surprise hit of 2007 and the brainchild of a student group recruited by Valve from The DigiPen Institute. Recruited for their imaginative work on a game called Narbacular Drop, the design team was granted the opportunity to build a small game using Valve's copious resources and test the market's waters by having it featured in a then-upcoming bundle pack, The Orange Box. The product was an atmospheric and dark comedy forcing players through a series of egregious scientific experiments, where the only way to survive was by punching holes in space and turning physics into a plaything. Featured along such gaming giants as Half Life 2 and Team Fortress 2, few expected the attention Portal quickly garnered. It was widely praised as a favorite on The Orange Box and won several game-of-the-year titles. The only complaint, it seemed, was that the game was too short. Now, nearly four years later, the test is over and the Portal franchise has graduated from the science fair.
From the moment the main menu fills the screen, it is clear that Portal 2 is to be something different, something greater. An undetermined amount of time has passed since the ending of Portal and you awaken in a deteriorated bedroom, and a sense of colossal scale quickly permeates the experience as you make your escape through the vast network of Aperture Laboratories. Guided by an awkward little robot, Wheatley, with the temperament of a nervous Ricky Gervais, the comedy is in full swing from the first line of spoken dialogue. It doesn't take long for the infamous GLaDOS to be thrown into the mix, creating a wonderful comedic dynamic with Wheatley that persists through the game's fantastic and silly finale. In every respect, it's immediately clear that Valve has upped the ante.
The Aperture facilities stretch on for miles both downward and outward.
For many of us, myself included, a longer Portal game was all we asked for, but Portal 2 offers much more than just that. A slew of new features has been added, each creating an entirely new element within the central puzzle-solving dynamic of the game. These new tasks include, but are not limited to, laser refraction and the manipulation of several gels, each with their own physical properties. These new puzzle pieces compliment the environmental puzzles perfectly and allow the player to enjoy playing with physics even more. If you loved vaulting yourself through multiple portals via conserved momentum, then you'll love the new tricks you can play when dealing with the blue gel that behaves like Flubber.
Pictured: Puzzle-solving in Portal 2
As I mentioned before, the scale of Portal 2 is leaps and bounds above that of the original. But what of the presentation as a whole? I would be lying if I said that I didn't notice some added sharpness in Portal 2's graphics, but, for a series that already looked great, this is hardly a selling point. Things really stand out when you notice the attention given to fluid dynamics. The effect of liquids flying out of pipes and splattering on surfaces is captivating; watching them fly out of portals that you've strategically placed is even better. Without a doubt, though, Portal 2 looks its best when the pace turns frantic and you're not focusing on the graphics. Catwalk railings whiz by, machinery whirs as it works diligently all around you, structures collapse and rebuild themselves in the distance, and your peripheral vision goes hazy from the speeds you reach. Your main motivation in the Portal series is escape and these sequences really capture that feeling.
What of the true meat and potatoes of Portal, the puzzles? I'm happy to say that they are better than before, with all the added complexity from the new features, and there are plenty more of them. For the sake of avoiding any spoilers, I've chosen not to give any specific examples. Throughout your journey inside the depths of Aperture Laboratories you won't just be running a gauntlet put in front of you by GLaDOS. Your journey will take you behind the scenes, where the solution doesn't always involve placing a companion cube on a giant button. Indeed, some puzzles don't even involve the placement of portals, so you'll need your wits about you at all times.
All this and you're only halfway through! Portal 2 also features co-op with its own plot and unique areas to explore. You even get to play as two adorable little robots! Since I only have one functioning controller at the moment and the PSN is down, I haven't even been able to try the co-op campaign. If it's anywhere near as good as the main campaign, though, then you're in for a treat. I look forward to playing it with you when the PSN comes back.
The Portal team has done it again, proving that Portal can be a full-sized game. The wait is over, <subject name not found>, and it's time to resume testing. So put on your shock absorbing leg braces, pull that portal gun out of your sock drawer and get moving, those experiments aren't going to conduct themselves. Yet.
Get the researchers working on a self-solving test. For science.