Portal 2

Developed & Published by: Valve
Rating: E10+
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3 and Mac/PC

Portal 2. Wow. Just wow. In a proof of concept, Valve shows that the innovative gameplay and story of the original Portal (originally released as part of a bundle) can carry itself as a standalone release. The sequel is an unblemished masterpiece that lives up to the hype and fully dispels the worries of fans. With a fantastic single player campaign and story, Portal 2 is by far one of my favorite games this year, if not of all time.

The game starts with the main character from the first installment, Chell, waking up in cryo-chamber 0 (disguised as a tacky motel room) deep in the bowels of the Aperture Science Testing Facility. After an extended rest, Chell is woken up by a robot named Wheatley. Chell finds that the facility has fallen apart after her climactic battle when the rogue AI GLaDOS crippled the complex. Chell and Wheatley then attempt to escape the dying Aperture Labs, inadvertently re-activating GLaDOS. From there, shit goes down, and Chell is forced to begin testing again. In the co-op campaign players control Atlas and P-Body: two robots created specifically for testing.

In Portal 2, players create doorways with a special portal gun. Chell has to solve puzzles by traveling through these titular openings to get to an exit in each level. This deceptively simple premise is more than enough to get the player through the game without getting tedious. Over time, more elements (light bridges, jump panels, lasers, robotic turrets etc) are added to the mix keeping the player on their toes. There is no inventory, what is provided in a room is all you have. The HUD is a simple targeting reticle, with lit slivers telling the player what portals are deployed. In co-op, the two players have to work together with their own individual portals to solve puzzles. The players communicate by headset and markers placed by each other through the level. Overall, both the single player and co-op campaigns have a gradual learning curve that both eases new players in, but yet avoids tedium for those more experienced.

The story is in a word: fantastic. The character development is compelling and well-paced. The immersion created by the character interaction around you is superb, and of course, the whole thing oozes with black comedy. The dialogue between characters is great, and often times you forget Chell is a mute. The companions that follow you through the game express Chell's feelings for her, and this never feels forced. I believe this is due to, in part, the voice acting. Stephen Merchant and Ellie McLain make the game, as Wheatley and GLaDOS respectively. The characters have an excellent rapport, and the acting makes the player change opinions about them flawlessly. While the game is still short--you can finish the single player in about 8-10 hours--the story is full and satisfying; I was laughing constantly.

I really have nothing bad to say about Portal 2. In my opinion, it is perfect. I've had more fun playing this game than I've had playing anything else in recent memory. This is by far the best game so far of this year. Definitely pick it up.