When The Orange Box was announced a few years ago, it presented a line-up of Valve�s finest arsenal. Not only were you getting Half-Life 2 on console, a title which would have sold well all by itself, but you were getting both its expansion episodes, and its insanely popular, multiplayer cousin, Team Fortress 2. It was a fantastic deal, and worthy of a price tag double, or even triple its value at retail. At the back of theBox�s lineup was a little known entity by the name of Portal, an unassuming puzzle game which, surprisingly enough, used Portals as its base mechanic. On paper it sounded interesting, but for any gamer anticipating the Box it was nothing more than a quirky, little distraction from the main acts. Valve finally unleashed their collection on the World, and Portal became their little engine that could. Momentum thrust the game from an obscure tent in the corner of the corner of the festival onto the headline stage, bright lights and all, and within a month that quirky little puzzle game had risen to become Valve�s hottest property. The Orange Box remains one of the best reviewed titles on any gaming aggregator, and it�s thanks, in no small part, to the game with the cake.
That was four years ago, and Valve is back with Portal 2. Having broken free from it�s compilation roots, it stands proud as a full-length, and full-priced game. There is no lack of ambition here, either. As we start the game the first voice heard is that of Stephen Merchant � co-writer of The Office � taking the role of Wheatley, a dense but lovable droid who guides you out of a testing complex that�s collapsing to rubble and cinder. You jump from platform to platform, navigating through crumbled heaps of grey and brown cement. Clearly these are the beginnings of a game that wants to broaden its horizons, and expand beyond the sterile test chambers of its predecessor, igniting the notion that there lies a World beyond the Aperture Science compound.
Travelling through a hole in the wall you enter the complex, only, you�re behind the scenes. Panels jolt from walls, malfunctioning, throwing random bursts of life at you. It�s fitting, and is a perfect summary of the spontaneity contained within the complex itself. These are not the test chambers as we remember them, they�re feral from abandonment and lacking maintenance. This adds an interesting dynamic to puzzle solving, as it ends up being less defined exactly where and how you react with the environment around you.
Even in this weathered facility, puzzle solving is not beyond comprehension. And the difficulty curve is a comfortable incline, transforming slowly into a steeper and steeper hill. Opening segments act more as tutorials than true challenges, a useful way for those new to Portal to understand the central mechanic, and for those learned in its ways to brush up on their skills before being provoked properly. One intangible quality synonymous with great puzzle games is the ability to make the player feel smart; to imbue a sense of accomplishment from task completion. I had this feeling section after section while playing Portal 2. Even when it feels as if your epiphany has arrived completely by accident, the path towards that solution creates such an air of satisfaction that you�ll happily forgive yourself for tumbling over the finish line.
What envelopes the fantastic gameplay is a story with deceptive depth. While the first game kept its narrative consistently light, entertaining from start to finish, its sequel attempts to give the situation, and its characters some deeper context. In one such instance we uncover that GLaDoS, or rather, the intelligence planted within her, may have belonged to a former lover of Aperture Science CEO, Cave Johnson (voiced by the awesome J.K. Simmons). As you tread through sections of the game, hearing Johnson�s voice echo out on old recordings, GLaDoS will recall a mysterious fondness for the man, one for which she doesn�t quite understand the basis. It gives her personality, with its antagonistic wit and humour, a bittersweet face, and turns her into much more than just a malevolent machine.
It�s in this narrative depth that Portal 2 effectively distances itself from its progenitor, proving that beyond its longer length and funnier jokes, it�s a game with with genuine soul, and worth of anyone�s time. Even if the cake does remain a lie.
LOOK WHO CAME: