Here We Go Again
A good game series takes elements from the first (or second) game and then expands on them, making it different, but still engaging to those fans of the first. The Valve Corporation has done it again with Portal 2, a sequel to their popular first game, Portal. Developers, critics, and fans weren’t quite sure how adding any more to an already great game could make a difference, but Valve has shown that there’s still more adventures to be add within the chambers of Aperture Science.
Here, we’ll take a look at some of the Portal 2 gameplay.
A Little About Portal 2
Portal 2 picks up after the events from the first game. In that first offering, the character of Chell is ‘challenged’ by an artificial intelligence
computer named GLaDOS to complete a series of puzzles with the use of a portal gun (hence the name of the game). The puzzles usually require Chell to get from one point to another by way of making portals on surfaces that accept them. This can include shooting an entrance portal through the floor in one area in order to get an exit portal in another area.
These tests are being conducted by Aperture Science, a research facility founded and run by Cave Johnson. If this sounds familiar, it’s because this facility is mentioned in the popular game Half-Life 2 and the background of the game and characters states that Aperture has a rivalry with Black Mesa.
The original game was released in 2007 as part of the Orange Box, which contained the Half-Life 2 expansions.
In Portal 2, Chell returns to Aperture Science’s hall and must once again face off with GLaDOS in order to escape. Will fans and players finally get cake or will cake remain a lie?
User Interface/Controls (4 out of 5)
The Interface and controls for Portal 2 aren’t bad and seem to be the same for the original Portal. The main thing is using portals, which can be fired by a portal gun. You don’t get a portal gun again until you’ve gone through some of Aperture’s encompassing building and even then it isn’t a complete portal gun gun (aka the dual gun), which can be a bit disconcerting to new players.
The Interface for Portal 2 also seems to be the same from the original game - the atmosphere of the abandoned Aperture facility really seems like something from an apocalypse, which is what the game was going for. The tutorial is actually a nice integrated procedure that basically describes where your character is and what’s going on. It’s not like standard tutorials that kinda lead you by the hand, this actually is speaking to your character of Chell.
The screen isn’t littered with health or life bars like other games; there’s just the simple targeting of your portal gun. That’s it. It’s actually a very nice idea, as it gives you more of the screen to look at, meaning you have more things to take in to consideration. Such as which wall can you use in order to portal out of your current predicament?
Gameplay (5 out of 5)
Having never played Half-Life 2 or that of the original Portal, I wasn’t sure what I would be getting into. The basic premise of the game
is to use the portal gun in order to move through walls, floors, and various other objects in order to get to a new area and complete the mission that GLaDOS has set up for you.
For me, a mathematically and physics challenged individual, I found that getting to various locations was not the issue that I expected. The game obviously will have you thinking about your challenges the further you go, but for those of you who wonder how much fun you could possibly have jumping through walls, you’d be surprised. There are some levels that are quite easy, where you just need to get from one side of the room to another, but others can be tricky; on one level, I had to figure out how to get from one side of the room to the other, while avoiding a laser and deadly water.
The Portal series isn’t just about making portals; it’s about using the equipment that you find or receive with the portals to get you where you need to go. For instance, there are the companion cubes, little boxes that you can use to push down large red buttons in order to open a door or move a platform. For the first few levels, these are easy to obtain, lift, and then place on button. The further in the game you get, you are met with more difficult challenges, such as getting said cube from one side of room to where you are or catching said cube as it’s launched from a tube.
As the levels progress, you’re introduced to gels in several different colors - blue gel is a bouncy substance that you can use to propel yourself in the air; orange gel makes you speed through things, such as portals; white gel makes white walls in which to use portals. At some point in the later half of the game, you will need to use all three of these gels in combination in order to get to where you need to go.
The challenges in the game actually get exciting and not boring like you would expect.
Graphics (5 out of 5)
The graphics in the game are great, especially playing on a 360 with a good television screen resolution. It’s the game’s visuals that go a long way toward presenting a feeling of confusion and even a bit of claustrophobia.
As mentioned, it’s the little things that matter here. One thing that I personally enjoyed were all of the funny little diagrams and posters that are littered around the facility. The diagrams are very comical stick figures that are acting out what you need to do for a specific tests, but some of them that you encounter are just diagrams of some of the testing that was taking place. This, along with the voice overs that pop up occasionally (see the Sounds section) are not only interesting but can be hilarious. This is a good way to get new players into other Valve games, especially the previous Portal game and perhaps that of Half-Life.
On the next page, we’ll look at the unique sounds in the game and give the overall down low - is this game worth playing this summer?
Sounds (5 out of 5)
As a newbie coming in to the series, I have to admit that my favorite parts of the game are the sounds. Unlike traditional games, where you’d have music constantly playing in the background or the sounds of gun fire, Portal 2 has nothing. For most of the game, there’s just the dull hum of equipment depending where you are or you’ll hear nothing.
If the thought of a game that doesn’t have background noise or even music playing underneath makes you want to shy away, don’t. While Portal 2 doesn’t make a huge splash in the gaming sounds market, it does make its sounds through the voice acting. While the lead character doesn’t speak, there’s plenty of funny, quirky, and disturbing dialogue that’s going on around you.
By far, the best comes from that of Aperture Science CEO, Cave Johnson, who is voiced by JK Simmons. Even when I watched friends play the game, some of the things Cave said usually made me go “what?”. These usually pop up as you are first exploring the testing facility; this line actually made me say, “awesome!”
Those of you helping us test the repulsion gel today, just follow the blue line on the floor. Those of you who volunteered to be injected with praying mantis DNA, I’ve got some good news and some bad news: bad news is we’re postponing those tests indefinitely. Good news is we’ve got a much better test for you: fighting an army of mantis men. Pick up a rifle and follow the yellow line. You’ll know when the test starts.
Another great batch of quotes from GLaDOS, who is once again voice by Ellen McLain. Again, as someone who has not played the series or knew of the game, most of what she says at the beginning made me ask, “Why is she so mad at me?” until finally I started asking, “What is wrong with you!?”
Don’t let that “horrible person” thing discourage you. It’s just a data point. If it makes you feel any better, science has now validated your birth mother’s decision to abandon you on a doorstep.
Don’t even get me started on the Cave/GLaDOS conversation about lemons. That by far disturbed me. Hilarious, but disturbing.
There’s also the great voice talent of Stephan Merchant. If you’re fans of the Ricky Gervais Show, you’ll recognize Merchant as one of the members of the funny trio (the others being Gervais and Carl Pilkington), as well as appearing in some of Gervais' movies; he is also one of the co-writers and co-directors for the original British version of The Office. Here, he lends his voice to Wheatley, your helpful little AI friend who is first introduced after you’ve discovered where you’ve been for several years. He’s your companion and helpful sidekick until you meet your first boss.
And if those things don’t get you, you not only have some of the chatter from other AIs that are stuck in this facility with you, but as with the first game, GLaDOS leaves you a little party gift when you complete the game - a song! Interestingly enough, McLain is an accomplished opera singer who sings not only the ending songs for both games, but that of a special performance by the turrets at the end of the game.
Can I Have Cake Now? (5 out of 5)
Portal 2 is definitely a great game and something you should play during these summer months. For fans of the series, they will enjoy the challenges put forth by GLaDOS and Cave and some of the challenges that await them this time at Aperture, while still getting a kick out of the weird things that are seen and said around them.
For new players, such as myself, the game does a great job of holding your interest. Playing the game definitely made me want to learn more about the original circumstances and I not only find myself wanting to play through the first game, but also that of the related series of Half-Life (in fact, I just started playing Half-Life 2). The appeal here is the unique gameplay, which isn’t like a regular shoot em up action game, but even some of the toughest challenges will have you trying to finish before heading off to bed.
While gameplay and certainly graphics and interface are great draws, for me the voice acting is truly the star here. It’s the acting of McLain, Merchant, and Simmons that truly draw in the player and goes about telling a disjointed story of the origins of GLaDOS and the decline of Cave Johnson.
And if you still wonder about cake, don’t stress yourself thinking about it. I’m serious; visualizing the scenario while under stress actually triggers a reaction.
Image Credit: Portal 2 Logo, gameplay via author