Portal 2 | Writer’s GOTY
If I were to write about my favourite games of 2011, this article would be ten times longer, and no one would ever finish reading it. Therefore, to spare people from slowly losing the will to live, I’ve somehow managed to cut it down to just one amazing title.
Shaking off extremely fierce competition from the likes of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Batman: Arkham City, Saints Row: The Third and many, many others, is, in my opinion, not just one of the best games of the year, but also one of the greatest of all time: Portal 2.
The original Portal was released at the end of 2007 as part of The Orange Box, a compilation of five critically acclaimed games developed by Valve Corporation. Despite also containing Team Fortress 2 and 2004’s Half-Life 2, it was Portal that gained the most attention from critics and fans.
I’m a huge fan of the original, so before playing its sequel, I was worried that it wouldn’t be able to recapture the sense of wonder that made the first title so mesmerising, and whether it would even work as a full 10-hour game (the original Portal takes less than half that time to complete).
As it turns out, my worries were completely pointless, as Portal 2 is one of the rare games of 2011 that not only met my expectations, but exceeded them in every possible way. There’s a reason why Valve are regarded as one of the best developers in the world: they make incredible games.
Looking back, Portal’s main gameplay mechanic is so unique that the first game, while utterly brilliant, almost seems like a large tutorial for the sequel. Entering one portal and exiting the other is very difficult to get your head around at first, but it’s a revelation once it clicks.
In Portal 2, Valve has revolutionised the gameplay in ingenious new ways by adding lasers, repulsion and propulsion gels, tractor beams, light bridges and more. The separate co-op campaign, starring robot pals Atlas and P-body, is further evidence of Valve’s expertise in surprising players.
The original Portal featured only one major voiced character; the murderous artificial intelligence of GLaDOS. Portal 2 also introduces the characters of Wheatley, a dim-witted personality core, and Cave Johnson, the deceased founder and CEO of Aperture Science.
Ellen McLain (GLaDOS) and J.K. Simmons (Cave Johnson) both deliver superb performances, but for me it was Stephen Merchant as Wheatley who stole the show. A special mention should also be made to Nolan North, who voices the often hilarious defective turrets and personality cores.
However, whilst the performances are all fantastic, they are only ever as good as the incredible writing. Portal 2 boasts the most consistently entertaining script of any video game I’ve ever played, with plenty of twists and turns to keep the player engaged.
In fact, the success of the game’s story is made even more impressive considering that its over-arching plot is essentially the same as it was in the first game; that is, the playable character of Chell is attempting to escape from Aperture Science and the maniacal GLaDOS.
Portal 2 runs on a modified version of Valve’s seven-year-old Source engine, which debuted in 2004 with Half-Life 2. It’s therefore surprising just how good their latest game looks, with a stunning amount of detail contained within the Aperture Science building.
The soundtrack is yet another highlight, and includes an exclusive track by indie band The National, and the catchiest ending credits theme ever, once again composed by Jonathan Coulton, the genius songwriter behind the awesome ‘Still Alive’ from the original Portal.
The PlayStation 3 version of Portal 2 is of particular note for being described by Gabe Newell, who had previously made his less-than-complimentary opinion on the PS3 very clear, as ‘the best version on any console’, due to Sony allowing Valve to incorporate certain Steam features into the game.
After completing the game, I genuinely thought it couldn’t get any better, but then in October Valve released the Peer Review DLC, which adds time and portal challenges to the singleplayer and co-op campaigns, extends the length of the latter, and, best of all, is completely free!
It’s not often I say this about a game, but there is literally nothing I don’t like about Portal 2. The graphics, gameplay, music, writing and voice-acting are all phenomenal, and everything builds to a climax that has me floored every time I play it; for me, it’s as close to perfect as a game can get.