Quite a bit of time has passed since the end events of the original Portal, with tongue-tied test subject Chell waking up to an Aperture Science that’s appears to be a shadow of the one she left in ruins years ago. The once-sterile testing grounds have become overgrown with flora, and the bulk of the center’s equipment lay in disarray and disrepair.
It’s a well-meaning A.I. core named Wheatley (voiced by British comedian Stephen Merchant) that rouses Chell from her century-spanning slumber, and the two soon scurry and solve their way through Aperture’s darkly dangerous remains in hopes of escaping to the surface above – a task that, as the game’s campaign progresses, proves consistently difficult, and oftentimes outrageous. You see, A.I. overseer GLaDOS didn’t take too kindly to Chell, well, killing her last time they met, and she’s dead set on “testing” every last ounce of humanity out of her, one chamber – and one passive aggressive quip – at a time. You know, for science.
The core gameplay is very much the same as it was in 2007’s Portal – shoot an orange portal here, blast a blue portal there; leap into one portal, pop out of the other – and the physics-bending fun is in fine form. While the original Portal’s puzzles were no cakewalk, Portal 2 amps up the action with a wealth of deviously designed test chambers over the course of its single-player campaign, and each of its distinctly different acts introduce some fantastic new gameplay flourishes in the form of gels, lasers, and beams.
The new puzzle elements add an incredible amount of variety and possibility to Portal 2’s test chambers, and the puzzles themselves, in perhaps the game’s greatest achievement, manage to remain consistently challenging without becoming overly frustrating. You’re bound to hit a few head-scratchers now and then, but Portal 2 never becomes unmanageable; for every truly tough stage, there’s a rewarding development, innovation, or worthwhile one-liner right around the corner.
The gameplay’s stellar pacing only adds to Portal 2’s already enjoyable plot, which takes players across, under, and through the (apparently infinite) Aperture Science facilities of both present day and yesteryear. Its A.I. inhabitants notwithstanding, the seemingly sinister yet hilariously inept Aperture itself is such an incredibly rich character in Portal’s lore, and developer Valve should be commended for not only breathing life into the facility, but, with the introduction of madcap Aperture Science CEO Cave Johnson (portrayed by actor J.K. Simmons), also for creating a cleverly implemented backstory that’s sure to hit with gamers looking to learn a bit more about the labs’ checkered past.
Portal 2 also boasts a notable graphical leap over its predecessor, and the regularly shifting environments and slick new puzzle elements present plenty of opportunities to showcase the game’s upgraded visual values. Additionally, all of the voice acting is top-notch, and each actor delivers their brilliant banter with expert timing — in fact, sticking around for all of the game’s extended dialogue sequences and seeking out the subtle sight gags are the two easiest ways to add a few hours to your initial eight to 10 hour playthrough.
The co-operative campaign, starring the previously mentioned duo of GLaDOS-created ‘bots, is another worthwhile addition, and creates opportunities for not only new puzzles (two robots, each with their own portal gun means up to four active portals in any given puzzle), but also for competition (GLaDOS will regularly try to turn players against one another with delightfully deadpan put-downs.) You’re likely to have better luck collaborating with someone on your friends’ list over a random partner paired up with you online, but Portal 2’s co-op campaign is an absolute blast either way, and by far one of the best co-operative experiences I’ve had in recent memory.
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Bigger, tougher, and funnier, Portal 2 manages to expand on its perfectly succinct predecessor in just about every way. Boasting two excellent campaigns, each rife with satisfying puzzles and even more satisfying “Eureka!” moments, Valve’s latest is an absolute must-own, plain and simple.