Portal 2. It seems like I’m a little late to the party. I had no idea what Portal even was, until Portal 2 won a few coveted “Game of the Year” titles for 2011. That got my attention. And after playing it for the past few days, I wholeheartedly agree that this game is a masterpiece.
Here’s the basics: You’re a human, who’s held captive in this facility where robots put you through tedious puzzles and tests, just to see if you’re capable of solving them. In the first Portal, our heroine took down the evil head robot but she didn’t finish the job. This time around, they’re out for blood.
So you complete these puzzles, armed with what’s called a “Portal Gun,” which creates two holes which you can travel through, to get around obstacles. This is basically a game of puzzles, held together by a unique storyline and strangely compelling characters.
There are a thousand factors that make this game unique. The first is that there aren’t any other humans in the game (at least, that you get to interact with). There are only two other characters and both of them are robots. There’s GLaDOS, the evil machine who is setting up these puzzles and tests, and then Wheatley, a little British-accented robot who helps you navigate the challenges.
Another refreshing thing that makes this game unique (especially for consoles) is that there aren’t any villains basically. I mean that in terms of things you have to look out for. You can run freely down the dark corridors and not worry about something jumping out of you. There is an overarching enemy, but you don’t ever really fight anything. You solve puzzles. And even when you do face off against this evil robot, you use your portal gun to alter the battlefield to cause harm to them. This may look like a shooter, but it’s not. And that’s a good thing.
There are puzzles galore, but they always stay fresh and don’t ever get repetitive (for me anyways). The game constantly adds in new variables to use in solving them. Once you get the hang of using the portal gun to hop around, the game will introduce light-bridges, which you can manipulate by putting a portal in its path. Wherever you create the exit point, a bridge will now extend. By the end of the game, you’ll have a dozen different variables to keep track of and you’ll have to learn how they work together. The game reminded me of a physics-based internet game. But I love those games, so I didn’t mind.
And the level of challenge was just about perfect. There were a few puzzles I had to look up the solution for but I was able to figure out most of them, through repetition and lots of troubleshooting. It’s extremely rewarding when you finally figure out the key.
Now, there are three factors that I contribute to the success of this game. Factors that truly catapult this from what could be perceived as a downloadable or free internet puzzle game.
Compelling story. As the lone human in this story, you are trying to escape from the out-of-control GLaDOS. Her eerie auto-tuned voice follows you everywhere. It’s actually quite terrifying, as she tries to break you down mentally. As you get to the older sections of the facility, you stumble into factories where they began earlier scientific research. There are hints that something horrific has happened in the real world and you find bits and pieces that help you put this together. The story, although it sounds simple, is actually full of little surprises and twists that keep the game refreshing.
Voice talent. With only two characters in the world with you, the voice acting was integral. Wheatley, who follows you around and serves as a navigator for the first few chapters of the game, is witty and clever. He is voiced by Stephen Merchant, one of the co-creators of the UK version of “The Office.” It’s subtle and nuanced but also holds that British dry wit that I found extremely entertaining. GLaDOS is mostly autotuned but even her performance is eerie and haunting. During the closing credits, she treats you to a song (which I was actually really impressed with).
A surprise came about halfway through, when I began to hear J.K. Simmons voice over the intercoms. You may recognize him as J. Jonah Jameson from the Spiderman films or as the father from Juno. You explore abandoned research facilities and J.K. Simmons serves as the founder of the research facility who offers tidbits via prerecorded dialogue, serving up little doses of exposition about what happened to the humans that worked there and what kind of catastrophic accidents were bound to happen. I was thoroughly pleased.
Visual effects. With a game that’s so simple, it could be easy to avoid putting much effort into the visuals. But Valve did no such thing. Portal 2 is a gorgeous game. When you get to experience outdoor locations, they’re vivid and captivating. The portal effects are stunning. The robots that you encounter are full of character. It’s truly a stunning game.
I was blown away by Portal 2. It was a breath of fresh air, when every other game feels like a sequel or a clone. This game did something unique and proved that a game without bad guys could work. It’s mentally stimulating but still provides an incredibly deep story with tons of background information and lore about this world they’ve created. If you want to play a game that isn’t meant for only diehard gamers, but can truly be appreciated by anyone, I’d tell you to play Portal 2.