The first Portal was a complete and utter surprise to a lot of people, sneaking into their homes inside The Orange Box to deliver one of the best loved titles not just of 2007, but of the entire decade. For a game so compact it had a huge impact on gamers and created a deep hunger for another slice of that tasty Portal cake.
After quite an abrupt awakening you find yourself back inside the Aperture Science testing facility where an indeterminate amount of time has passed and the actions from the first game echo in the aesthetics around you. No more pristine white walls and minimalist test chambers; these have been replaced with broken tiles, overgrown foliage, and smashed windows.
You are guided through these opening levels by the wonderfully idiotic Wheatley, a spherical robot voiced by Stephen Merchant, who delivers such a pitch-perfect comedic performance that he nearly steals the entire show. I often found myself just watching Wheatley to see what he would say next and even went out of my way to find lines of alternative dialogue.
Wheatley may have been my favourite character but both GLaDOS and new addition Cave Johnson (CEO of Aperture Science) also bring the funnies on a regular basis and had me giggling like a Japanese school girl nearly every time they opened their mouths. These moments of hilarity are just the relief I needed after solving a puzzle and helped keep the game well-paced and my brain well-rested between levels.
You are given a short re-briefing as to how the Portal gun works (orange hole here, blue hole there, walk through one and come out of the other!) and quickly brought up to speed with increasingly difficult trials, that bring with them a whole new tub of toys to the playpen. These include Thermal Discouragement lasers, which are harmful to the player but also destroy turrets and activate switches; Excursion Funnel beams, which can carry and float the player and any object in its grasp, and Hard Light bridges, which can just be used to cross rooms but also occasionally serve as a shield against those cute little turrets’ not-so-cute bullets.
The real game-changers however are three coloured gels that each have unique properties. Once a surface is coated by the red Gel it increases the speed of any object and player moving across it; likewise the blue Gel makes surfaces and even objects incredibly bouncy, and the white Gel allows any surface coated with it to accept portals. While these aren’t as revolutionary as the portal gun was they do make for a fresh and interesting twist.
Valve’s second helping may not pack the same punch as the first, but it definitely doesn’t skimp on the good stuff. It still contains all of the ingredients that made the first game so darn tasty: a brilliant sense of humour, a well-written script, stand-out vocal performances and those famously mind-bending puzzles that just keep you wanting more.
In addition to the single player campaign there is an accompanying co-operative campaign which sees you and a friend taking control of two test robots and taking on the test chambers together. My co-op partner, as usual, was Adam and despite us starting off with the wrong shaped robots (he had the short, round one, I had the tall, egg headed one) we got off to a flying start and pretty much finished the game within two sittings. Unlike playing solo you never find yourself stumped for very long because you are both usually looking at the same puzzle in a different way. This also helps alleviate the puzzle fatigue that comes with playing Portal for too long in one go, as I sometimes found myself just following Adams instructions for a couple of chambers and then vice versa for the next couple.
What I would have liked to of seen is perhaps a more competitive element to the multiplayer, perhaps something where you are both given the same puzzle and you must solve it quicker than your opponent? This would have definitely added to the longevity of the game, because as it stands it’s only really a one-off experience. Despite this though, it is still one of my favourite games of the year so far.