“All right, I’ve been thinking. When life gives you lemons, don’t make lemonade. Make life take the lemons back! Get mad! I don’t want your damn lemons! What am I supposed to do with these?! Demand to see life’s manager! Make life rue the day it thought it could give Cave Johnson lemons! Do you know who I am?! I’m the man who’s gonna burn your house down! With the lemons!” –Cave Johnson
Chell finds herself pulled out of stasis by the AI Wheatley, who informs her that the Aperture Science facility has fallen into a critical state and that they need to escape. Leading Chell through old test chambers, Wheatley attempts to work out a plan while Chell locates a portal gun. However, they inadvertently reactivate GLaDOS, who separates the two and sends Chell into a series of test chambers to continue on with where they’d previously left off. When Wheatley figures he’s got a solution, he creates a distraction, allowing Chell to escape into the maintenance passages beyond the test chambers. Chell sabotages the turret production line and disables the neurotoxin generator before heading off to face GLaDOS, successfully inititing a core transfer. Wheatley takes over Aperture Science’s main system and places GLaDOS in a potato battery powered CPU. However, he reneges on his promise to send Chell to the surface, and when GLaDOS reveals Wheatley was designed to inhibit her, he throws the pair into a shaft leading into the bowels of Aperture Science. Making her way through the old Enrichment Spheres, Chell learns that Aperture Science was once a shower curtain manufacturer for the military and received an incredible amount of funding to test their products. Helmed by Cave Johnson, Aperture Science began exploring the realm of science with a reckless abandon, and over time, the company began failing even as Johnson started developing an illness from testing products on himself. His final act was to transfer control of the company to his assistant, Caroline. When Chell reunites with GLaDOS, the two set their differences aside to return to the upper levels and stop Wheatley from destroying the facility. GLaDOS reveals that she has Caroline’s memories and begins opening up to Chell. Upon their return, Chell makes her way through Wheatley’s test chambers to stall for time and manages to elude his crude traps, eventually returning to GLaDOS’ main body. She manages to change out the personality cores and places a portal on the moon, sending Wheatley into the depths of space. Back in control, GLaDOS stabilises the facility and decides to let Chell go, figuring that killing her is too much effort. Wheatley laments his decision to betray Chell and wishes things were different. This is the adventure that Chell goes through in Portal 2, the 2011 sequel to 2007’s acclaimed Portal, a highly innovative and remarkable puzzle game built in the Source Engine with Half-Life 2 assets.
In contrast to its predecessor, Portal 2 is much livelier, and although Chell is exploring an abandoned, derelict Aperture Sciences, Portal 2 never had the same sterile, cold feeling that Portal did. Portal 2 explores a greater range of Aperture’s constructions, and in doing so, also explores a greater range of emotions. Wheatley provides an endless supply of comic relief, driving players forward with an improvisational tone even when he does take over Aperture and develops GLaDOS’ old tendency to want to kill Chell. When she falls into the depths of Aperture Science, Cave Johnson’s old recordings give insight into a once-brilliant mind and his fall from grace. The ruins of the old facility are the only remainders of his legacy, giving the entire area an air of melancholy. GLaDOS is a more multi-dimensional character, carrying out her directive per her programming but also recalling that she was once human and coming to understand why Chell chose to act the way she did. The characterisation creates a much richer experience that ultimately tells a story of regret and longing, as well as coming to peace with what has come to pass, set in the cavernous interior of Aperture Sciences. Besides an enriched story, Portal 2 features all-new mechanics to properly differentiate itself from its predecessor and Half-Life 2. Aerial faith plates propel players to new heights from fixed points, thermal discouragement beams require careful placement to activate exits, hard light bridges to reach distant points, special gels encourage lateral thinking to help players pass otherwise impassible areas, and excursion funnels provide a thrilling way of transporting player and materials across chasms. Like its predecessor, players must use a combination of their knowledge of previous mechanics to devise solutions for clearing different areas, and as Chell edges closer to escaping Aperture Science, she learns more about its storied past. In this way, Portal 2 and Portal share the same relationship that Halo 2 and Halo: Combat Evolved shared; both sequels participate in extensive world-building that enriches the player’s experience of the world, at the expense of the suspense created through the minimalist story-telling of their predecessor. In addition, the sequel’s introduction of new mechanics also changes the strategy players take in completing the game – in the case of Portal 2, the new mechanics cement the notion that the game has evolved into a separate entity from Half-Life 2 with its own distinct elements, but it also creates the caveat that some areas must be cleared a certain way, which restricts players’ freedom to solve puzzles in their own way.
Screenshots and Commentary
- An indeterminate amount of time has passed since Chell last ventured through Aperture’s test chambers, and in that time, the facility has become dilapidated, overgrown with vegetation and mould. It is through these test chambers that Chell makes her way through, and initially, she’ll find the single-portal gun and advance a short ways before locating the full portal gun. Like its predecessor, Portal 2 gradually introduces players to game elements, although players familiar with Portal will doubtlessly have itched to advance further more quickly.
- It’s been eight years since I last wrote about Portal 2 – eight years earlier, I had been staring down the MCAT, and at this point during the summer, I had just begun my MCAT course; my physics course had finally ended, and I could turn my full attention towards what would certainly be a challenge. However, in between studying, I was able to unwind by going through a friend’s Steam library: in between study sessions, I was able try a few of his games out, among them Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Portal 2. I blazed my way through the former before beginning the latter.
- Chell’s gear has changed somewhat since the original Portal: long fall boots take place of her original her knee replacements, and she dispenses with the top of her jumpsuit. I’ve seen a few Chell cosplayers at Otafest in past years: when I first attended, Portal 2 would’ve been two years old. The game’s requirements aren’t steep at all, and even in those days, my old desktop had no trouble running the game smoothly, although there was the minor annoyance that the light on top of the portal gun never lit up owing to a limitation in my old GPU. This particular matter is no longer an issue, and in my current screenshots, the light on the portal gun lights up as expected.
- Death lasers (formally, “thermal discouragement beams”) replace the high-energy pellets of Portal, and require redirection towards a receptacle in order to activate doors and lifts. Like the high-energy pellets, lasers can kill Chell, but only after prolonged exposure, and they typically must be redirected using a combination of portals and redirection cubes. Portal 2 also introduces hard light bridges, which function similarly to those of Halo. The new mechanics of Portal 2 are fun additions to the game, adding further nuance to various puzzles. Not everyone shared this sentiment, and many regarded Portal‘s simplicity as being more conducive towards creative solutions for solving a particular test chamber, whereas the new mechanics made it clearer how one could solve the test chamber and restrict novel solutions.
- The lift taking players to the next level have changed in appearance: originally, they were solid, and Portal loaded different segments similarly to Half-Life 2, but by Portal 2, they look sleeker, and the game loads new levels quite separately. The lifts are surrounded by screens that give a visual representation of how a new mechanic works, and one of my favourite animations was the one depicting the turrets in action, showing the automatic chambering and firing of rounds. In Portal, turrets could be disabled by knocking them over, and while this is still viable in Portal 2, there is a rather more entertaining way of dealing with turrets.
- Using a redirection cube allows one to focus a laser on a turret, which heats up its inner structure and eventually causes it to explode: back in Portal, the high-energy pellets could only knock turrets over, which, while functionally equivalent, was nowhere nearly as satisfying. Because Chell is completing these test chambers to occupy GLaDOS while Wheatley works out an escape plan, there’s the sense that something big is in the making.
- The new test chambers of Portal 2 have a different aesthetic than the test chambers of Portal, being composed of sliding panels rather than the metal cubes. The amount of portal-conducting surfaces are also reduced in many places. While this initially felt restricting, it’s also a bit of a clever way to subtly hint at where portals should be placed. Here, I grab ahold of a weighted cube and make my way across a hard-light bridge: it suddenly strikes me that, since the Perpetual Testing Initiative days, I’ve not actually gone back through Portal 2 until now.
- Test Chamber 20 is the only test chamber that’s completed and ready to roll: it most resembles the test chambers of Portal and every surface is capable of conducting portals. While seemingly simple, it involves redirecting the lasers into the right receptacles using a combination of redirection cubes and portals. I’ve heard that it’s possible to finish this test chamber without placing any portals, but this requires precise use of the redirection cubes. Once this test chamber is cleared, Wheatley returns and prompts Chell to go into the maintenance access surrounding the test chamber.
- Portal‘s maintenance areas had a more Half-Life feel to them, and Portal 2 modifies them to have a different aesthetic. I can’t help but wonder if the design was inspired by areas of Facebook headquarters. Once Chell’s escaped, Wheatley will have her help in sabotaging the turret manufacturing line and disabling the neurotoxin supply before taking her to face GLaDOS. Chell manages to perform the core transfer, placing Wheatley in charge of Aperture Sciences, but the additional processing power drives him insane, and he reneges on his promise to Chell. When GLaDOS insults Wheatley, he loses his cool and smashes the lift Chell is in, sending her and GLaDOS tumbling into the depths of Aperture Sciences.
- After falling into the depths of Aperture Science, some four-and-a-half kilometres beneath the surface, Chell is briefly knocked out and comes to just as a bird carries GLaDOS away. This is the loneliest it gets in Portal 2, and Chell can only count on her wits to figure out how to return to the surface: there is no Wheatley to lighten the moment up, and no GLaDOS to make snide remarks. The sense of scale at Aperture Science becomes apparent here, giving an idea of just how extensive the facilities are. When I first came here in Portal 2 some eight years ago, I was thoroughly impressed with how the older facility was presented, and it was here that the melancholy in the game became visibly felt.
- Wandering through the unused sections of Aperture Science, I would come upon the vault door that leads into the next section. Portal 2‘s designers stated they wanted to play with some visual humour, in which they would use an immensely large vault door to conceal an ordinary door. At this point during my first play-through, I was wrapping up a physics course and making more headway into the MCAT preparation course. The timing of this was excellent: I had been a little worried about a potential scheduling conflict, but with physic concluding, I was free to focus purely on the MCAT.
- By the time I’d set foot in the catwalks leading into the first of the Enrichment Spheres, Portal 2 had been out for just over a year. One of my friends had already completed the game and began using the music to test to in accompanying his videos of his Otafest experiences. Portal 2‘s soundtrack was carefully composed to fit the atmosphere of different areas of the game. The music of the Enrichment Spheres, in particular, create a light-hearted sense of science fiction that suggests a combination of whimsy and cleverness that is needed to complete this section of the game.
- I’m guessing, then, that for my friend, Otafest represents a similar challenge for visitors in that it requires an open mind and awareness of one’s surroundings to ensure one doesn’t miss anything. This turned out to be true: when I attended Otafest a year later, I planned to attend for one day and played things by ear. While it was a fun experience, I would subsequently learn that I’d missed a bunch of events and a chance to collect special pins. For future conventions, I planned ahead and would go on to have a more comprehensive experience. Here, I pass through one of the older offices, and a trophy case of Aperture’s best achievements of the day are visible.
- Besides Otafest vlogs, my friend had also made extensive cross-overs of Portal and Team Fortress 2 with The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, Lucky☆Star and Puella Magi Madoka Magica. I’ll admit that I don’t fully understand half of the intended themes in crossovers, and upon asking my best friend to take a look, and they were similarly uncertain as to what was going on. If I had to guess, they probably represent how he may felt about certain character interactions and themes in a show, brought into a context he was familiar with. Portal 2 captures the feeling of loneliness and the hubris of ambition in this section, so for me, these sections of the game were the most memorable.
- Chell eventually makes her way into the control rooms that activate the different mobility gels: these modify the properties of a surface, allowing for movement in areas that would otherwise be impassible. While it’s a lonely journey through the bowels of Aperture Science, Chell is accompanied by Cave Johnson’s hilarious, but also increasingly erratic dialogue, which gives a rather detailed history of Aperture Science, which began as a highly successful company that Johnson ran into the ground with uncertain, experimental projects. While a man of science, Johnson evidently had a stubborn pride about him, as well.
- After reaching a series of abandoned offices, Chell will find the potato that GLaDOS is stuck to; a bird had carried her away earlier, and GLaDOS becomes deathly afraid of birds for a period after she reunites with Chell. Having GLaDOS attached to Chell’s portal gun, Portal 2 suddenly feels a lot less lonely, and the two work out an alliance with the aim of getting back to the main facility so that GLaDOS can stop Wheatley from destroying everything in his incompetence.
- Once GLaDOS is back, she’ll occasionally react to Cave Johnson’s recordings: it turns out that GLaDOS was built from Caroline, Johnson’s pretty-as-a-postcard assistant with a bright personality who was also evidently competent. Upon hearing one of Johnson’s recordings, GLaDOS responds with a heartfelt and genuine “Goodbye, Sir“, hinting at her origins. It turns out that Johnson had intended to have his mind transferred, but in the event that he died before the process could be carried out, Caroline would take his place. These exchanges match the melancholy, wistful feeling one gets when traversing these test chambers. The inquisitive player can locate a picture of Caroline and unlock an achievement for doing so in this test chamber.
- I still have vivid memories of being stuck in this enrichment sphere after arriving for the first time: I had started playing Portal 2 as a bit of a study break, having hit a wall of sorts in revising the new MCAT materials, but wound up without a means of completing this test chamber. I ended up putting the breaks on Portal 2, returned to hit the books and ended up understanding the concept I was looking at. The early summer of 2012 was characterised by me being entirely focused on the physics and MCAT courses; most days entailed me going to campus to take the courses and then returning home in the afternoon to study.
- By June, my physics course had nearly wrapped up, and all that was left was the MCAT course, which ran until the end of July. I spent many a beautiful day indoors doing review problems with friends who were also facing down the MCAT or had previously done so. I constantly swung between an impatience to take the exam and a gripping panic during this time, but with support from my friends, I weathered on. Most of my days were punctuated by a great deal of gaming, which helped me to unwind and focus in between studying sessions.
- Finally, August came, and I sat the exam. When I had finished, it was as though a great weight was lifted off my shoulders. With the remaining twenty days of the summer, I spearheaded an effort that some of my colleagues had taken to submit a paper to an undergraduate journal earlier that year: we had become swamped with coursework and the paper was shelved. However, two of the remaining colleagues had expressed an interest in continuing, and since I was not officially doing summer research then, I had unlimited time on my hands.
- After receiving everyone’s drafts, I ended up writing out the entire paper and then asked that my colleagues review it as they were able. As August drew to an end, and my final undergraduate year started, we had a fully finished draft. My supervisor was happy to review it, and we ended up submitting it to the journal. It was accepted some time later, and I was invited to participate in the undergraduate research symposium with my older project from a summer earlier. Seeing the extensibility of this project led me to build my undergraduate research project off it, and for my troubles, I ended up doing very well.
- As I return further up the facility, I recall that because I had been in the midst of MCAT season and had wanted to finish Portal 2 as quickly as possible. I therefore skipped over the sections of Portal 2 where Chell and GLaDOS return to the more modern Aperture Science facilities, returning to the point after the pair reach the stairwell leading back into a more modern-looking test chamber, shaving about 15-30 minutes off my run. In retrospect, I needn’t have skipped this part, but what’s done is done.
- According to the screenshots, I finished my first run of Portal 2 precisely eight years earlier and ended up writing about the new mechanics here. At that time, this blog was really more of a side resource where I could go to write shorter articles, supporting the content at my main Webs.com page. However, as the limitations of Webs.com became increasingly apparent, I transitioned all of my writing to this blog. Here, I make use of a portal conducting gel to coat the interior of this shaft, allowing me to freely place portals in critical areas to reach further up.
- While I had finished Portal 2 and wrote about it eight years ago to this day, that same summer saw Valve introduce the addition of Perpetual Testing Initiative, adding co-op chambers for players to complete. Any owner of Portal 2 was automatically granted a special discount coupon for Portal 2 to gift to friends so that they could claim a copy of the game for 5 USD. My friend, having heard about my enjoyment of the game, sent me his coupon, and a few hours later, I was the proud owner of Portal 2. I started my journey late in August, and finished the campaign a second time just before term started.
- On my second play-through, I went through every area of the game, including the shafts leading back to the more modern facility and the crawlspace just beneath the modern test chambers. As I passed through familiar test chambers and the bowels of the facility alike, I recalled with vivid clarity the old thrill of studying for the MCAT. Three days later, my MCAT results came back, and it was to my immense relief that I’d done rather well. I wouldn’t actually use the results in later years, having developed a keen interest in software development following my undergraduate thesis, but the lessons and experiences from taking the MCAT persisted: besides being a better tester, I also relaxed considerably regarding challenges.
- I don’t believe I have any screenshots of Portal 2 left over from those days: all of the screenshots for this post were taken relatively recently. Upon returning back to the modern facilities, it’s evident that Wheatley has made a mess of things, creating illogical tests. Fortunately, there are solutions to Wheatley’s tests, and the introduction of the excursion funnels, which act similarly to the hard light bridges but also offer laminar flow, allowing players and objects to be pushed across an area.
- Despite displaying fluid-like properties, the excursion funnels are not liquid in nature. Special switches allow their direction to be switched, and they become an invaluable mechanic for crossing over large chasms opening into the deepest reaches of the Aperture Science facility. Wheatley’s tests leave massive gaps in the floor, which expose infrastructure and also give an idea as to how vast Aperture Science really is. Chell can exit the funnel at any time by means of normal movement, but careless movement at the wrong time will lead to death.
- Besides Chell herself and objects like weighted cubes, the excursion funnels can also be used to transport mobility gels great distances. Solving puzzles with a combination of the mobility gels and excursion funnels turned out quite fun: by this point in time, familiarity with all of the mechanics means that players will have no trouble figuring out what needs to be done. Of note was the part where one needed to use the repulsion gel on turrets to safely deactivate them: once coated, they begin bouncing around erratically and plummet to the depths of the Aperture Science facility.
- A distant light can be seen as Chell heads towards Wheatley with every intention of stopping him and restoring GLaDOS’ access to control Aperture Science. Traveling through this excursion funnel, with a distant light illuminating the way, players cannot help but feel that they are almost at the light at the end of the tunnel. This screenshot here perfectly captures how it felt to watch the days between myself and the MCAT count down to the doom of my time.
- The fight with Wheatley is hilarious: while he takes measures to prevent himself from being defeated the same way GLaDOS was defeated, conditions transpire against him, and Chell is given all of the tools needed to stop Wheatley, by corrupting his main core with alternate cores and prompting a core transfer. Once successful, Wheatley is sucked into space, and regrets betraying Chell, while GLaDOS stabilises the facility and allows Chell to walk free, since killing her was too much work. This brings my third play-though of Portal 2 to an end, and having gone through both Lucky☆Star and both Portal games, I turn my attention towards The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya next, which holds the answers to lingering questions I had surrounding Otafest.
Being more extensive than Portal in every way, Portal 2 ultimately is an immensely enjoyable and immersive experience overall. In particular, I was most fond of the game’s midsections, which sees Chell explore the abandoned ruins of the old Aperture Science. The sheer scope and scale of the old Enrichment Spheres are a monument to Aperture Science’s hubris: Portal 2 demonstrated that level design and voice acting alone can tell an incredibly compelling story: Cave Johnson himself never appears, having long died from being poisoned by the moon dust used in creating portal-conducting surfaces, but old heirlooms and artifacts do much in filling in the gaps. Together with the derelict state of the old facilities, one really gains a sense of the hopelessness and desperation Johnson had to bring back the glory days even as Aperture Science fell further into ruin. These missions are reminiscent of exploring haikyo: although the walls of abandoned buildings might not speak, an entire story lies beyond their silence, told in stone and mementos alike. Altogether, Portal 2 places a much greater emphasis on the human elements of the series compared to its predecessor, which, while succeeding on the merits of its simplicity, left many questions unanswered. Portal 2 answers some of these questions and suggests that behind the events of Portal, there was a human element to things, which help players to really understand the dangers of an unchecked desire for progress. Together with areas that capture the scope and scale of Aperture Science, moments that help characters grow, and a generally livelier atmosphere, Portal 2 represents a novel direction for Portal that adds nuance to the series, and while its story leaves players no closer to understanding the role Aperture Science and the Borealis plays in Half-Life 2, does offer closure for those who had lingering questions after completing Portal.