Not only is Portal 2 faithful to the original, but also takes some concepts from its predecessor and improves upon them in clever new ways.
When the original Portal came out in 2007 as part of The Orange Box compilation, the first-person puzzler caught the world by surprise. After all, everyone thought that the game was going to be a short title that was included to fill up space on the DVD. In the end, Portal ended up being the best game of the compilation and since its release, Valve’s puzzler has appeared on dozens upon dozens of “Best Games of All Time” lists. Portal 2 came out as a stand-alone, full-priced title and needless to say, this sequel had big shoes to fill. Luckily, not only is Portal 2 faithful to the original, but also takes some concepts from its predecessor and improves upon them in clever new ways.
The first surprising thing about Portal 2 is how different it’s to its predecessor in terms of structure. There are still elevator rides between test chambers and each of those rides represents a short loading time. Additionally, you still drop cubes on giant buttons, place portals on plain surfaces and solve light puzzles. But despite what the initial moments of Portal 2 might suggest, this game isn’t as linear as its predecessor. As a consequence, the process of solving puzzles feels more organic than mechanic. This time around, levels are much more varied than those of the original Portal, since some environments are covered in vegetation and the new test chambers are more than a simple combination of white and gray tiles.
In a sense, it seems like Portal was an experiment (a really fortunate and successful experiment for that matter) and Portal 2 is the full realization of that experiment. Also, if you feel like the original Portal left a lot of unanswered questions, not only will this sequel clear most of your doubts, but this sequel also expands the Portal universe making it richer and more elaborate.
So what can you expect in terms of story? In Portal 2, you assume the role of Chell, a female test subject who needs to escape from a labyrinthine facility, using the Portal Gun. Apart from GlaDOS (the sentient and homicidal operating system who insists you’re adopted,) Portal 2 introduces a new character called Wheatley. Like GlaDOS, Wheatley (who’s voiced by English actor Stephen Merchant) is a robotic companion who uses some clever and amusing lines. Wheatley is a great addition to the Portal series, since the character is witty, talkative, humorous and remarkably expressive.
Apart from being bigger in scope and having sharp writing, Portal 2 has some new elements and mechanics. Some of the new puzzles involve manipulating laser beams, bridges made of light and different gels (some of these gels will let you run faster, bounce or place portals on any surface.) But while the game’s constantly introducing new mechanics, at no point do you participate in an overt or traditional tutorial. In fact, Portal 2 manages to convey the most convoluted of instructions through visual aids and implied instructions. This is a fantastic way of explaining what you’re supposed to do, since the game gives the illusion of self-discovery.
One of Portal 2’s best qualities is that the game rarely stagnates. Seldom will you find yourself doing the same thing over and over, and once you’ve mastered a mechanic, a new one comes into play and the game encourages you to combine both mechanics in a creative new way. On top of that, every mechanic makes sense from a story perspective. Portal 2 sheds more light on Aperture Science as a company and the people behind its inventions, such as the gels, turrets, test chambers, portal gun and so on. Portal 2 is a cohesive package and each one of its elements is exactly where it should be.
Apart from the single-player campaign, Portal 2 features a level editor and a cooperative campaign. The level editor can be accessed through the Steam Workshop, where you can create, share and download levels. Overall, the robust editor is a fantastic idea that expands the core concept of the game exponentially. As of this review, there are thousands of user-created levels and that number increases on a daily basis, which means that there will be no shortage of test chambers any time soon.
In the two-player cooperative campaign, one player assumes the role of Atlas and the other player plays as P-Body, two bipedal robots who need to navigate various test chambers together. To solve puzzles, you need to communicate with your partner. Luckily, Portal 2 offers that in spades: you can communicate via gestures, voice or traditional chat. At first, coop mode seems like Portal with another player, but since this time around you work with two sets of portals instead of one, this adds another level of complexity. Finding the solution to puzzles is already eminently satisfying, but when you see the solution before your coop buddy does, Portal 2 quickly becomes the perfect way to ruin a relationship.
Portal 2 is everything you’d expect from a sequel to Portal and much more. The core concepts are all here, but varied level design, a richer narrative, new characters, fantastic voice acting, a robust level editor, entertaining new mechanics, memorable moments and an eminently satisfying coop campaign make Portal 2 one of Valve’s best titles to date.