There has been some excellent symmetry between my first year of college and my last. When I was a freshman, I remember being really excited to play Halo 3, Assassin’s Creed and The Orange Box, which included the runaway hit Portal. As a senior, I’ve gotten to play Halo: Reach, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and now Portal 2 and they’ve all yet to disappoint. Like so many other things have.
While the first Portal ended in a way that certainly suggested a sequel, I never thought it would come. I thought the only successor to that amazing game would be references to portals or Aperture Science in Half Life 2: Episode 3. Instead, Valve decided to get back into that dark domain, greatly expanding its scope and narrative, along with introducing new gameplay mechanics that make the already trippy series a full on mind-bender.
To talk much about the story of Portal 2 is to deprive you of one of the great joys in gaming, so I’ll just say this game picks up were the first one left off. You’ve been in storage at Aperture Science ever since you killed the evil GLaDOS and you’re woken up by a delightful new robot friend Wheatley (Stephen Merchant) who helps you once again try to escape. Along the way you’ll learn more about the history of Aperture Science and its eccentric founder, Cave Johnson (J.K. Simmons). The story is fun to watch unfold around you in that classic Valve style, and this is easily one of the funniest games I’ve played.
You can’t afford to just think with portals this time around, the game has changed. Now you have to worry about lasers, light bridges, various types of goo and even anti-gravitational fields. If you’ve watched the trailers for Portal 2, it all looks super complex. In reality, the game does such a good job of slowly introducing these mechanics that things never seem truly daunting. Instead, you’ll just feel like the smartest little boy in the world when you figure these out on your own.
Of course, you’re not on your own in all of Portal 2. There’s an entire second campaign for two players to work their way through. In coop, you play as two lovable robots GLaDOS built to do the testing that was too dangerous for humans. Valve did a great job including in game functionality for countdowns and pointing out stuff to your partner, but for maximum enjoyment, make sure you both have mics.
It’s obvious the Source Engine is getting old. Portal 2 looks surprisingly great, but no one is going to say it’s an amazing game, graphically speaking. The worst part is the load times, which are too frequent and too long (at least on the PS3 version). But all that really means is that I liked Portal 2 so much that it really bothered me those few seconds I couldn’t spend playing it.