The lights are on
Originally met with no expectations, Portal's initial entry was an incredible slice of gaming nirvana packed into a budget compilation of Valve titles. Once people realized how masterfully crafted the game was, you couldn't talk about video games without someone mentioning cakes and lies. Valve could have easily crafted a sequel that repeated the gimmicks of the original Portal, and it would have sold well and been met with high praise. However, Portal 2 steps away from the limited, yet hilarious, narrative constructed in its prequel and ventures into more complicated gaming territory.
Portal left our silent hero, Chell, picking herself up out of the debris and mayhem she had created to finish GLaDOS. As abruptly as the original Portal ended, the sequel begins with the same vague sense of place and time. Portal 2 opens with Chell being awakened by one of the game's other, slightly more talkative characters, Wheatley. Here we get a glimpse of the kind of tone and mood Valve is creating. Wheatly is played by Steven Merchant, best known for his work on shows like The Office (UK) and Extras. Right from the moment he speaks, Merchant brings Wheatley to life with a kind of loving yet idiotic personality that enhances the overall story and tone of the game.
This is where Portal 2 really shines from start to finish- the voice acting and dialogue. Every voiced character produces absolutely hysterical scripted dialogue to carry the narrative forward. For every word that Chell fails to utter, one of the three other main characters speaks enough for you to not even notice her vow of silence.
You'll never actually meet Cave Johnson, played by J.K. Simmons, but he'll certainly make you laugh
It's incredible just how funny the writers of Portal 2 have crafted their characters to be. It's important to note what kind of funny this is, though. Sure, the cake being a lie is a good bit. It's clever and fun to say. But Portal 2 doesn't rely on a single tag line to make you laugh. Rather, it builds characters from scratch. Characters that have quirky or conflicting personalities. Characters that are dynamic, changing as the events of the narrative carry on. Honestly, I don't think a game has ever had me laughing out loud as much as Portal 2 has, and that is an amazing feat.
At its core, Portal is a puzzle game. Just as the first game did, Portal 2 relies on the fundamental mechanics of two portal holes. However, Valve has added several environmental obstacles to mix up their tried formula. Things like propulsion gel, which increases your speed as you glide across it, are incorporated into puzzles to add another layer of solving. Often you'll be faced with using different types of gel to shoot Chell around a test chamber and make it to the next objective. The puzzles never feel derivative or dull; every test chamber introduces new ways to think about the game's mechanics.
The single-player campaign will last about ten hours for the average player, and it seems to go by quite quickly when it's so easy to adore every line from the characters you'll encounter. The game is certainly worth an extra play-through, but if you have a friend, chances are you're going to check out Portal's cooperative missions.
Portal 2's co-op is separated from the single-player experience by both narrative and character. Rather than controlling subjects like Chell, you and a co-op buddy will be tasked with controlling two test-friendly robots. Atlas and P-Body, much like Chell, are quite silent saved the kind of buzzing sounds you would expect to come from a walking toaster. However, they do present a bit more personality by means of cooperative-based gestures.
Much like the single-player, Valve was able to maintain a powerful sense of humor during the cooperative game. GLaDOS is still watching your ever move, critiquing and belittling your every misstep. She even attempts to get into each player's head, suggesting their co-op pal isn't pulling their weight or most likely plotting something destructive.
The gameplay is just as engaging as the single-player, too. You won't ever feel like you're dragging your cooperative friend along as each player's attention and effort are needed to solve just about every puzzle. The trial-and-error approach to puzzle solving forces you to really communicate with another player, making the gameplay that much more involving and fun.
When it comes to delivering an interactive dark comedy, Portal 2 makes few missteps. There are a few puzzles that ask the player to find a random wall or angle rather than manipulate the game's awesome physics, and the cooperative missions, though fun and engaging throughout, feels quite brief when all is said and done. However, these grievances are more than made up for when you consider just how tightly constructed this game is. From a fluid, engaging, and downright hilarious narrative to some of the best puzzles gaming has to offer, Portal 2 excels in nearly every respect.