Ah GLaDOS, how I’ve missed you. Even though you’re heartlessly chucking my character through more brain-teasingly torturous rooms full of physics-based platforming conundrums...
...and even though you don’t want my character to escape from Aperture Science labs… and even though you’ve got a penchant for revenge after getting destroyed… still, I’ve missed you. A little.
For the personality of GLaDOS was one of the defining elements of the original Portal
game. Sure, the 3D first-person puzzler was outstanding for many other reasons too, but without the humourous, witty, schadenfreude-happy machine narrating your progress I don’t think the game would ever have struck a chord with the hearts of gamers around the world.
That humour is not lost in Portal 2
, you’ll be glad to hear, thanks to the dialogue of your new robotic companion Wheatley - voiced by Stephen Merchant. In the opening sequence of the game, he wonders whether you have suffered any brain trauma, and asks you to talk. That ability is ‘assigned’ to the jump button, leaving the spherical bot to say “No, what you did just there is jumping. Let’s try again. Can you say ‘apple?’ … You know what, that’s close enough.”
Your new adventure begins in an idyllic apartment suite, which suddenly gets rocked to destruction following an emergency at the facility your character is contained in. This is where Wheatley comes in to help you escape. He looks after the lives of the people living in the complex you see, but also wants you to break free with him.
For all the trouble the eyeball-bot goes to - moving the whole apartment block out of its holding space and across to the Aperture Science labs - it’s assumed you’re the sole survivor of whatever catastrophe is going on here.
And Aperture Science isn't exactly in the best of sorts since we left GLaDOS to gather dust. In fact, all you get to see in the introductory levels is a dilapidated ruined laboratory with debris, destroyed ledges and broken wall panels all over the place. Your portal gun won't work on the broken brown surfaces, so you're limited to thwacking warp holes onto parts of the rooms that look white.
Gameplay here is exactly as you remember it from the original Portal
- although it's somewhat tutorial in the sense that the orange 'out' hole is designated to a particular place, the game doesn't patronise at all. For some who may never have played Portal
before, some of these stages may take a while to wrap your head around.
The chapter serves as less of a hand-holding exercise and more of a refresher course. You'll be dropping down from ledges into portals to get the speed to chuck you across another side of the room, and using Companion Cube puzzles to activate switches just like old times.
It seems that, rather than a straightforward set of numbered floors and rooms to puzzle through, the game is told through chapters, with a selection of puzzle levels sandwiched between exploration and dialogue-heavy sequences. With the writing as good as it is, and no real cutscenes to speak of, it makes Portal 2
quite the immersive experience.
At the end of the opening chapter, I was reunited with Wheatley who had to break off from his ceiling rail in order to help me proceed. After counting to three, getting the willies, counting to one, falling off and rolling around in pain a bit, I was able to pick him up and slot him into a wall panel in order to open a secret door.
"Uh… aha… yeah, I can't do it if you're looking," a shy Wheatley tells me, asking me to turn around so he can do his unlocking business. The character is especially charming when you consider its animation is like something from a Pixar film.
A brief walk around the complex later, and Wheatley had unwittingly reactivated GLaDOS - and she was not pleased in the slightest. "Since you've gone to the trouble of awakening me, I get the impression that you must really, really love to test," the machine taunts as it chucks me into a tunnel. No doubt these new kinds of tests will be even meaner and brilliantly challenging than before.
I was only given hints as to what to expect beyond the portal gun play - including the gel-tec paint system that alters the nature of physics in a level - but I certainly can't wait to find out for myself. Put this intriguing little number on your 'get' list if you've not done so already.