While reuniting with your "old friend" Glados, she informs you that “it’s been a long time” and... she's not kidding. The Aperture Science Facility clearly needs a bit of maintenance since you were last there. Being left in a state of ruin, the locale has changed drastically enough so that re-visiting this universe feels unlike a retread of Portal. The once pristine and sterile testing chambers are now hosting a lot of greenery and nature’s other elements. Further down, entire sections have crumbled and fallen, making the already labyrinth-like facility even more difficult to get around - but it’s the new undiscovered areas that are really great to explore and also serve as a time-capsule of Aperture’s history. This will come as a great delight to fans who really want to study everything about the Portal universe, right down to the office’s bulletin boards.
The story of Portal 2 is where this game really shines so to spoil anything would take away some of its lustre. What I can tell you is that you will definitely be laughing due to the new addition of Wheatley - the quintessential comic-relief - with his nervous, barmy ramblings. Voiced by Stephen Merchant, with his unadulterated British accent, it is quite an odd choice for playing a personality orb - but he surprisingly adds much character to the game. J. K. Simmons is also among the new cast as Aperture Science’s founder and CEO Cave Johnson, a no-nonsense, enterprising tycoon. Although he does a very funny and entertaining performance, it’s disappointing that by the end of the game you’re left wanting more of him. And the Portal series wouldn’t be what it is without Glados, who is as vitriolic as ever. She hasn’t forgotten what you did to her, and with her sharp quips she’s not going to let you forget it any time soon. While all three are funny with their different styles of humour, they all provide pensive moments throughout the longer three-act campaign that really give the story some needed weight. You’ll be laughing from start to finish, but that doesn’t mean some moments won’t be emotional.
The basic portal mechanics haven’t changed; fire two portals from your trusty portal gun and jump through one to come out of the other. What makes this a puzzle game is using this mechanic to get through a chamber or area that is devilishly designed to test your ingenuity. With this being a fully fledged sequel, the puzzles have been amped up significantly with the addition of more ‘testing conditions’. To name a few, they include: aerial faith plates, hard light bridges, thermal discouragement beams and, of course, the 'pièce de résistance' being the gels. To describe these gels as anything but inspired (maybe even divinely) is to underrate how they have added a whole new dimension to the already fine puzzle mechanics. One in particular is called the ‘propulsion gel’: when covered on any surface, it allows the player to bounce off it and is used in some of the most fun chambers. While ideas such as these are brilliant on their own, the real achievement by Valve here is the way they combine them all to test your lateral thinking.
Portal’s level design was greatly focused on teaching the basic skills needed to complete each puzzle; the game never forced you into chamber that you were unprepared for. Although to be fair, the original was smaller in scope and had very little puzzle elements in comparison to this Triple-A title. And so despite introducing a large number of new gizmos to work with, you’ll never be overwhelmed thanks to a level design that has been refined into an art. In the same light, Portal 2 never handholds to make the solution obvious, meaning that to solve each puzzle you have to earn it. This can be done through some trial and error, giving you ample opportunity to experiment so you can get that eureka moment. The point is that the solution is not given on a silver platter, and it is satisfying that this perfect balance has been carried over from the original because, after solving each puzzle, I honestly felt smart - and so will you.
This time around you can team up with a friend and tackle the new co-op campaign. Together, you play as P-body and Atlas, two very animated droids who are emotive, funny and - dare I say - cute. Now with four portals at yours and your companion’s disposal, the puzzles have shifted into high gear. They're more elaborate and inventive, meaning that you’re going to have to put your brains together to solve them. Make no mistake; teamwork is essential becuase one doing all the work won't get you anywhere. So to communicate with your partner, you’re given a nifty indicator menu which can be used to select and place down visual icons for your partner to see. They include icons that indicate where to look, where to place down a portal and a short countdown for when timing is necessary. Nothing, however, beats directly talking to your partner through online chat. Like the original Portal, the campaign is short but brilliant, and will surely keep you coming back with future DLC.
This game is not a technical marvel by any stretch of the imagination. What do you expect with the game’s engine being Source, which is now seven years into its prime? Lucky for Valve they don’t have to render an enormous, finely detailed open-world but instead a smaller, linear game. Despite the graphical limitation, the visuals are still crisp and more than just pretty to look at. The game's art style, in fact, favours a quasi-plasticine texture rather than gritty photo-like realism in order to achieve a whimsical look which fits the game’s tone. Portal 2 won’t stress your graphics card; it instead offers a rich, fleshed-out world.
I would like to do more than just briefly mention that the music is stellar. If the sci-fi genre could be in the medium of music, the score of Portal 2 would be it. The soundtrack’s synthesiser beat and electronic sound just on its own evokes science-fiction exploration and adventure. Throughout the campaign, it plays in the background at opportune times for a great effect that will often arrest you. More importantly, however, is how music is incorporated into the gameplay. Some puzzles, to be solved, require preparatory steps, like the setting up of a line of dominoes ready to be knocked down. While this is going on, the music builds as you progress, similar to how music was used in Shadow of the Colossus. Thus, by having this dynamic music, the buzz of setting everything in place swells until you’re finally up to the final step, and you trigger a chain reaction. Also, depending on what type of motion you are in, a specific tune is overlayed over the music stream for the added adrenaline rush. All games should use music like this in some form or another because this is what modern video games are all about; an interactive experience.Portal 2 is, for all intents and purposes, a perfect sequel, in that it delivers exactly what a sequel should. It’s not just a rehash of the original; it’s taken what Portal did so well, and improved upon it. The puzzles are more fun and elaborate, with many new elements that will test you. With this, the Portal universe has welcomed more charming personalities to make you laugh and really leave on impression on you. If you thought that this game was unnecessary, that it won’t offer anything like the original Portal did, think again.