Science. A subject that I found was boring and tedious in theory-based studies. It was, however , in practical orientated lessons I found a great sense of fullfillment. Fun-fuelled moments of adrenaline-pumping joy, followed by that brief moment where you stand and marvel at what you had just accomplished…only to want to do it again straight away. With each successful trial you complete, you find that the thirst for experiments you had at the beginning was not quenched, but instead more (without sounding dramatic) unbearable – only further testing can possibly have an impact on the dilemma you now find yourself in. So, off you set, finding more challenges that await you, only to overcome that and, for that brief second, feel that warm fuzzy feeling of joy, knowing that something tougher is just around the corner. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Portal 2.
If the original Portal was a simple experiment from Valve, not knowing the true extent of what would happen, if anything, then Portal 2 is the refined, more impressive, explosive result of years or research, hours of painstaking craftsmanship from the game developers, and a few lucky breaks (more on this later). With the original Portal it introduced the portal gun, a gun that shoots two different portals that your character, Chell, and many other objects, could pass through. It held your hand, refusing to let go of it for too long, making sure that you knew where to go, what had to be achieved, and how to achieve it. Only throughout the second half did it realise that this game, being (primarily) a puzzle game, should challenge you.
I say primarily, because this game comes under so many of those pre-defined genres; FPS, Puzzle, Adventure, Platformer. But, at the same time, it isn’t. The rules of these genres don’t seem to apply in this gorgeous world that Vavle have created. With the tag “first person shooter” attached to a game, people will always, without fail, think of Call of Duty, Battlefield, Halo, and all the other multi-player orientated games that are released annually. But in this “FPS” you don’t shoot bullets, you shoot science, always with the goal of getting you where you want to be. Likewise, in this “adventure” game the only adventure will be one of discovery, but not one found at the end of the game. Instead, it’s found in every single test chamber, the discovery being that moment you find out how to achieve your goal. To accompany you throughout these moments of discovery is the charmingly childish, idiotic Wheatley, voiced by Stephen Merchant. And, of course, everyone’s most loved cynical A.I robot, GLaDOS.
The “few lucky breaks” that I briefly mentioned earlier applies to the voice of Wheatley, Stephen Merchant. Underestimating the task, he believed this to be an “easy gig”.
He said: “When I started to mention to people who know about such things, ‘I’m doing this game, Portal 2,’ they got very excited, suddenly. More excited than anything I’ve ever done before, weirdly.”
“Gamers are incredibly enthusiastic about the stuff they love. Suddenly I realised, this is quite a big deal and what I thought was an easy gig, I suddenly felt this responsibility to try and do a good job.”
His role as Wheatley was, luckily for him, praised thoroughly. If it was anything below perfect, the Portal lovers would have raised their pitchforks and marched straight for his house.
“I have to say, I found the entire thing really exhausting,” he admitted. “More than anything I’ve ever done before, because I’m in this little recording booth, shouting down these imaginary corridors, imaginary gantries, pretending to fall off things and really trying to move around and live it as best I could. I know it sounds really pretentious, but really try to move around like this robot so my voice would feel like it was animated.”
“I guess because I wasn’t really in a set, I wasn’t in a costume, so I was using my imagination as best I could to try to imagine this would. And again, the guys at Valve were very good at painting a portrait of what the world would look like before it was designed.”
Despite the difficulty of the role, he said that the response from fans makes it all worthwhile.
“But now I’ve been very pleased by the response people have had to it. What I was really pleased by is how people seemed to respond to it in the way they do with a movie they’ve enjoyed, or a TV show they’ve enjoyed. They seemed to respond to it as entertainment.” he noted.
Wheatley’s character is designed to be instantly likeable, largely due to the childish nature in which he excitedly moves around, never has a clear sense of direction and, to be fair, is a bit of an idiot. Without giving too much away, the sudden change of character in the environment, and the dramatic role reversal of some of the main characters, truly shows that this is worthy of being a fully fledged title, rather than a small prototype, when compared to the first one.
The second (and impressively last) lucky break that paid off for Portal 2 was the inclusion of multi-player. Many were worried that the humour that was present throughout the first title, and more so throughout the second, wouldn’t be present when playing with a friend. They never needed to worry. The laughs are still present, listening to GLaDOS try and break you and your team-mate apart and, although scripted, still had me trying to out-do my friends. With the promise of multi player DLC the impact of the short co-op campaign (I say short…it’s about the length of the first Portal) is lessened, and instead of leaving the usual lot to complain how it should have been included on the disk, you can already see them kissing Valve’s feet and drooling, waiting in anticipation.
Whilst many of my gripes with this game are incredibly minor, there is one that does stand out and may disappoint a few gamers. GLaDOS returns with her cynical attitude, but because you expect it of her, it doesn’t have the same impact that the first Portal manages to achieve.
I’m not the smartest test subject in the Aperture Labs, but this game never faulted you for taking your time. In a smart (maybe subconscious) move, GLaDOS, Wheatley and Cave Johnson all provide that comic relief that stops you from getting stressed, allowing you to think more rationally about the challenge before you and, eventually, complete it.