Tech News on G4
Portal 2 a beguiling masterpiece
May 17, 2011
By John Powell - G4 Canada
From being on display at DigiPen's career fair to being published by Valve Software, 'Portal' and its developers for that matter, have come a long, long way. The little game that impressed Valve so much they hired the game's development team, has matured into a sequel that's so more than just a curious add-on to the Orange Box.
Part of Portal's charm is its deceptive simplicity. As a human guinea pig stranded in a sterile, corporate facility, you solve an array of challenging environmental puzzles using only your grey cells and your portal gun: a device that allows you to create two doorways you or other objects can travel through.
In the original 'Portal', the obsessive overlord supervising the meticulous testing was the fiendishly evil GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System). Reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey's HAL 9000, the unforgettable antagonist (voiced by opera singer, voice actress Ellen McLain) was the true star of 'Portal'. With her emotionless, mechanical, sing-song voice cloaking the vilest of intentions, GlaDOS was a creepy and sinister villain.
Without giving too much away about 'Portal 2', GlaDOS is given a run for her microchips by a new robotic baddie: Wheatley. Marvelously voiced by Stephen Merchant from 'The Ricky Gervais Show', Wheatley is even more of an ominous threat because of the manic enthusiasm and obsession he has for his new role. It is what would happen if you gave GlaDOS legs and a chainsaw. Not good. Not good at all.
The goal of 'Portal 2' remains the same: survive tests by solving puzzles and reaching each exit. That's far easier said than done when the puzzles include such hurdles as moving platforms, buttons that activate mechanisms or release objects, laser-shooting death bots, etc. Some fresh elements added to 'Portal 2' are tractor beams that can push or pull objects, the ability to redirect lasers with special reflective boxes and special paint gels that give special properties to the surfaces they are splashed on. Orange gel helps with running and sliding, blue allows you to bounce up high and white transforms surfaces that don't support portals to surfaces that do.
Things are never as direct as they appear and most of the puzzles in 'Portal 2' require a series of phases to be completed before the overall puzzle is solved. If you work things long enough, the solutions will jump out at you. Sometimes it is just trial and error. Sometimes it is just relying on the tricks you have pick up in previous puzzles.
Although the puzzles are works of genius, there are a few that don't really play fair. They are the ones that require you to look off into the distance, through grates or even around bars to find that "portable" wall you need to locate to continue on. Unless you refer to a walkthrough, you will not be able to locate those "hidden" walls. Not cool but you have been warned.
Another new feature is the multiplayer option which continues the single player campaign story. Represented by two Laurel and Hardy robots, you and a friend can solve co-op puzzles with GlaDOS doing her darnest to turn you against each other. Communication is the key to success here.
One thing missing from the original 'Portal' game was a backstory. You never knew why you were performing the tests, where you were being held captive and how you got into the fine mess to begin with. 'Portal 2' answers all of those questions. The way the sly developers have constructed the game though is that those answers are essentially your rewards for making it further and further into the game. The more puzzles you solve, the more information you will get and the more the story evolves. Again, it is a very simple but very effective formula. What also helps is the writing is sharp and witty, the humour dry and just hysterical at times.
Not since the 'Guitar Hero' franchise has there been a series this addictive and this rewarding. "Portal 2' will bend your mind, give your brain cells a hearty workout, tickle your funny bone and take you on one hell of an adventure.
About G4 in Canada
G4 Canada (formerly TechTV Canada) launched in September 2001. G4 is the one and only television station that is plugged into every dimension of games, gear, gadgets and gigabytes. Owned Rogers Media Inc., the channel airs more than 24 original series. G4 is available on digital cable and satellite. For more information, see www.g4tv.ca.