Portal, released in 2007, set a new precedent for three dimensional puzzle games, creating a unique style and game design that still has not been matched. Developed by a bunch of DigiPen students hired by Valve after their discovery of the team’s school project Narbacular Drop, Portal tests players’ spatial senses by asking them to solve puzzles using two mind-bending blue and orange portals. Gamers take on the role of an awakened test subject Chell Johnson, while a looming AI named GlaDOS threatens them with death and negotiates with promises of cake and parties. The game ends, predictably enough, with the apparent destruction of the rogue AI, yet a last minute retroactive continuity suggested escape from the facility was thwarted by a “party escort bot”.
Fast forward many years, and Aperture has slowly wound down over the time that GlaDOS has been in hibernation, repairing the wounds that Chell had struck against her, while the facility itself has fallen apart in the interim. Once again, you take the reigns of the first game’s protagonist, awakened by a quirky personality sphere (the small robotic orbs that made up GlaDOS’s personality in Portal) who is eager to stop sitting on his hands and escape the facility. Knowing that you were the only one to defeat GlaDOS, he hopes you can help him in his futile task.
Portal 2 shows an obvious step ahead for Valve’s Source engine, showing amazing lighting, texturing, and animation unprecedented by the company so far. The test chambers come alive, shifting and changing as you solve the puzzles within, and the non-stark-white areas beyond are given amazing character with overgrowth and rust, showing how disheveled the facility has become after so much time has passed without its robotic matriarch. Comedy talent abounds as well, as the aforementioned Wheatley character (voiced by Stephen Merchant) provides ample comic relief from the beginning of the game, and supposedly recurring throughout. There is also the invisible (and apparently long dead) Aperture founder, Cave Johnson (voiced by J.K. Simmons), who gives moral support and warnings of preying mantis-men from the facility’s loudspeakers. Arguably the most anticipated aspect of Portal 2 is the cooperative mode, which features two robots, one short, blue, and modeled after a personality sphere, who is named Atlas, and the other tall, orange, and modeled after a turret, who is named P-Body. These robots display an amazing amount of personality, arguably more so than many of Valve’s previously introduced human characters. The co-op mode comprises 35 test chambers, according to a leaked X-Box 360 achievement list, displaying that the cooperative mode is fully fleshed out and is not at all an afterthought, as many naysayers had suspected.
One of the surprising aspect of Portal 2’s looming release is the amount of amazing promotional material released thus far. A recent set of 4 (and counting) videos have been put out featuring Aperture founder Cave Johnson promoting a variety of Portal 2 devices, from the iconic turret to the co-op bots featured in the game’s cooperative mode. In addition to this, a Valve ARG (Augmented Reality Game) has been ongoing, revealing a lot of obscure information surrounding the unreleased game. This was occurring after the “Potato Sack Pack”, a seemingly unrelated group of indie games that were offered on sale with promises of a Team Fortress 2 hat, was released and were updated with several incredibly obscure pieces to the ARG’s puzzle. Many have found pieces of the puzzle in the recent videos that were released as well, adding layer after layer to Valve’s insane scheme to take over our minds and turn us into... *gasp* Potatoes.
All this, coupled with the announced Steam Cloud support for the PlayStation 3 platform, which offers unprecedented cross-compatibility between PC, PS3, and Mac, makes Portal 2 Valve’s most anticipated (and most likely most successful) release to date. It hits store shelves and the Steam storefront April 19, and is available to preorder and preload through Steam right now.