Back in 2007 the original Portal game was first released as part of a compilation known as The Orange Box. Then it was later offered as a downloadable standalone title for PCs and consoles. And even though it was short, Portal’s wry humor and mind-bending puzzle delights earned high praise.
The original world of Portal was a futuristic testing facility in which you played as a female character who had to match her spatial-logic wits against a robotic “guide” that tossed ever harder challenges in her direction. After all its ingenious human vs. computer twisting and turning, however, Portal left players with a lot more questions than answers. Portal 2 attempts to fill in the blanks while offering up a whole new batch of Promethean-level reasoning puzzles to wrangle with.
Playing as the same jumpsuit-clad gal as before, here you wake up after a lengthy stint in suspended animation and find that the Aperture Science testing facility has begun to crumble around you. After besting her computer nemesis GLaDOS in the first game, it appears that our heroine is now all alone in the massive complex that’s limping along on a few volts of remaining power. But fear not, a medicine ball-shaped robotic helper named Wheatley slides in on a rail and offers to team up and find a way out of this crumbling mess. It’s quickly evident, however, that your well-meaning-but-inept robo-pal is about as useful as an ear in your back pocket. So you’ll have to create your own way out through the testing zones and rubble with a handy-dandy “Aperture Science Handheld Device,” or portal gun for short.
Once again, then, it’s off to the puzzle-solving races. (By yourself or with a partner. This new game allows for cooperative play—after you make it through the main campaign.) As with the original game, the portal gun can place two large oval portals—one orange and one blue—on certain cream-colored surfaces throughout the facility. The portals serve as a set of teleporting in-and-out doors that can transport you from A to B or A to J, depending on where you set them. But the portal-friendly surfaces can sometimes be on the ceiling, a distant wall, or at the bottom of a debris-strewn ravine. So the challenge is to figure out how best to navigate the seemingly impassable obstacles.
The first few levels start off as simple warm-ups. But then things get interesting as you have to think not only about where to place a portal but how to use the physics of a given situation to your advantage. For example, getting from a high ledge to a distant platform may seem impossible until you realize that by placing a portal behind you and another on the ground some twenty stories down can be the answer: Jumping through the hole from down below builds up a speedy momentum that then shoots you like a cannon out through the upper portal and over to the platform. It’s a fabulous game mechanic that quickly gets you thinking in the language of portals and nonlinear solutions.
And as those challenges set your brain to humming, the witty script gives your funny bone a workout, too. Amidst all the dilapidated structures, malfunctioning robots and physics-bending environs, Wheatley’s bumbling commentary and the facility’s prerecorded messages deliver humorous insights into what Aperture Science is all about and how it began in the first place. Oh, and GLaDOS shows up again, too, with all her signature sarcastic malice fully intact.
A Few Puzzling Additions
Negative nitpicks are few and far between. Some of the challenges feature lasers and bullet-blasting robotic turrets, but there’s no gore on display. Too much exposure to a deadly laser blast, for instance, only results in a fade-to-black screen and a chance to back up and give it another shot. And while playing in pairs, you sometimes see your virtual buddy hit a trap and crumble into electronic scraps—only to be quickly regenerated.
In fact, the only real drawbacks show up once or twice in some totally unnecessary dialogue bits: A couple of times the barb-tossing prerecorded spokesman spits out “d‑‑n” or “h‑‑‑.”
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.