A Matter Of Jumping Through The Portal

So the end of 2011 is here and I think it’s fair to say it’s been a pretty good gaming year with 2012 holding some exciting prospects in the way of sequels for Mass Effect and Max Payne.

AMOLAG is going from strength to strength, learning along the way and we’re looking to expand our audience further.

Wrapping up the games of 2011 for the last podcast (Episode 009) was initially a hard choice for some.
Categories of ‘what’s the best moment’, ‘best soundtrack’, ‘best visuals’ and more with what seemed like such a rich pot to choose from.

Some of the best titles of the year include Skyrim, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Battlefield 3, Rage, Batman: Arkham City which makes for some stiff competition.
For me, I was very surprised at my end choice for game of the year (seems to be a lot of peoples GOTY!), but it’s absolutely on the money.

Portal 2.

Sequel to a title that has been freely available at various times (£3.49 on Steam right now!) there was much anticipated excitement as to what the next step would be in the story and Valve didn’t disappoint.

Who can resist the taunts and actions of a deranged homicidal super computer and the ability to fire a Portal gun? Not I.
GLaDOS is back, and she’s missed you. Just a little bit!
*NOTE* Spoilers follow!

With the faint echoes of “Still Alive” stuck in my head I jumped back in as Chell and was immediately impressed with the way in which the story caters for your non speaking character and the introduction of Wheatley.
Argueably one of the best characters ever developed for a game, with the scripting for Wheatley and the amount of gesticulation from a robot with no limbs being superbly executed and voiced brilliantly by Stephen Merchant.

Acting as your guide he is possibly the best and worst companion you could have in such an environment being both hapless (maybe clueless) but hilarious. Stephen Merchant was an inspired choice and I struggle now to think of anyone else who could have voiced the character of Wheatley so appropriately.

As the dim witted robot leads you through the warren of tunnels and bridges get a real sense of being the last human alive when you’re given vast chasms to negotiate which go way beyond the seemingly closed environment of the original game.
It’s massive. Hidden behind the test labs is a facility which appears endless suggesting that you’re really just a very small part of something much much bigger. This becomes even more evident when you find the old test facility hidden below.

You are taken on a journey which plunges you down through to the origins of Aperture Laboratories and the various test labs that founded who they are today. It even feels like you are discovering their findings in the same manner they did back in the 50′s. If the US Government ever had an old secret test facility I’d imagine it to look like this. The retro styling of yesteryear is great fun to explore.

I think a mention to the character of Cave Johnson is needed here. He’s a classic American character of the 50′s era who is very much the spirit of Aperture and the voice that guides you through the relics of the old labs with his ‘can do’ attitude.
“I’ll be honest, we’re throwing science at the wall here to see what sticks. No idea what it’ll do.”
The angle Valve took in creating these characters and the narative they sit within is perfect for Portal 2.

Along with Cave we meet Caroline who turns out to be the voice of our favourite mental machine, GLaDOS.
She doesn’t let you down giving you appropriately hard tests to complete with a few tweaks and the overwhelming desire to test you to destruction.
If I had been murdered, brought back from the dead and was given the opportunity to exact my revenge as a test obsessed, blood hungry crazy AI, I think I’d be a lot like GLaDOS.

One thing that is apparent is how this could have ended up just being another platform puzzle title.
The voices and audio used throughout the game is what gives Portal 2 life.
The puzzles, although intricate and cleverly designed, become secondary to the entertaining story arc which takes you comfortably through from begninning to end and is made immersive by the rich characters you encounter.

Thankfully this doesn’t stop with the single player action.
Two forgotten test robots are brought out to add even more frivolity to the mix as you help each other to complete the test chambers.
For me they have become a legendary partnership like Bonnie and Clyde, Thelma and Louise, Little and Large…? Atlas and P-body are great to play as with their various gestures and co-op camaraderie. As well as helping you can also destroy each other for which there are achievements.
Other fans have become so enamoured with them that they’ve created real-life replicas of them. Need I say any more?

The fan following is so strong that it has generated it’s own fan-made Portal 2 short film which is nothing short of excellent.
There are comments on YouTube calling for something like this to be turned in to a feature-length film, but too many times I’ve been disappointed by the Hollywood conversion of past video games.
Surely you’d rather see Portal 3?

Either way, I don’t recall laughing so much in a game or being so engrossed in solving puzzles for a long time. I’m not telling you anymore, go buy Portal 2 from Steam immediately.

Can’t wait till the next one.

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