|System: PS3, Xbox 360, PC|
|Release: April 19, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Fantasy Violence, Mild Language|
by Josh Wirtanen
Creating Portal 2 must have been an incredibly daunting task. The first Portal took the world by storm, winning the hearts of millions of gamers and creating one of the most-quoted internet memes in recent memory. ("The cake is a lie.") Valve had some pretty high expectations to meet, yet they somehow managed to pull it off. With Portal 2, they were able to bring back everything that was great about the original and expand the franchise into some drastically different territory without forsaking the core elements.
One of the first things you'll notice about Portal 2 is the look. The setting is still the Aperture Science laboratory compound, but the scenery is no longer bland and sterile. It's been quite some time since the original Portal, and things have changed drastically. Windows are broken, tiles are cracked, and vegetation has sprung up everywhere. This version of Aperture Science is insanely detailed. The beginning of each chamber even has lit panels that display animations relating to the test subjects, safety, or even the Apocalypse. (Of course, the Portal 2 version of the Apocalypse is a giant gun turret wearing a crown and mowing people down with its never-ending supply of bullets.) And to fit in with the other dilapidated background elements, many of these panels are burned out or not functioning properly.
As far as setting goes, Portal 2 is huge. The scenery is no longer confined to claustrophobic test chambers, so you'll actually get to stretch your legs and breathe. The game takes you into quite a few never-before-seen parts of the Aperture facility, like the turret factory and the pre-GlaDOS test chambers. In fact, once you finish the first couple sets of training chambers, Portal 2 takes on a very Half-Life 2 vibe. It has that magnificent sense of scale: those wide open spaces with precariously placed ledges and catwalks on the sides of enormous structures that make you feel tiny as you climb them.
Portal 2 sounds better than the original. There are, of course, some recurring audio elements from the original Portal. GlaDOS's auto-tuned voice, the sing-song voices of the gun turrets, and the satisfying "schwap" of the portal gun have all returned. However, to keep with the theme of decay, there are intentional glitches in the audio from time to time, and you can even hear birds squawking in the background.
Musically, there is a fairly robust soundtrack this time around. Incredibly well-composed synthesizer tracks always seem to kick in at the perfect times. Every once in a while, you'll even hear a few snippets of classical and jazz music (intended to soothe the test subjects).
Every character in the game is bursting with personality, a feat that could have been drastically diminished by mediocre voiceovers. Yet Portal 2 uses top-notch voice actors who are absolutely perfect for their roles. Chell's robot companion Wheatly is voiced by Stephen Merchant (co-creator of The Office), and Aperture CEO Cave Johnson is voiced by J. K. Simmons (probably best-known for his roles in Juno and Spider-Man.) These guys do phenomenal work; this is some of the best voice acting you'll hear in a video game all year.
Portal 2's story is completely insane. I don't want to dish out any spoilers here, but I'll just say there are some absolutely bizarre moments and some completely unexpected plot twists. I do find the humor to be a little too over-the-top in some places, but for the most part, the spirit of Portal is well-preserved. All the sadistic wit of GLaDOS is back, and it seems like the dark humor is even turned up another notch. GLaDOS is upset that she was murdered in the original Portal, yet she loves testing more than she hates Chell. Her bitterness is at an all-time high, and she constantly mocks and manipulates the player.