Release Date; April 19, 2011
Publisher: Valve
ESRB Rating: Everyone

The original Portal was a complete surprise to the gaming market when it was released in 2007. Presented in a manner similar to developer Valve’s Half-Life series, Portal was a genre-bending first-person experience that was lauded for its creativity and originality. The game’s short length, however, left fans begging for more. Fortunately, the development team had plenty of ideas to implement in the world of Portal, enough for a full stand-alone sequel. Portal 2 has everything that made the original so engaging, but has been refined and expanded upon—in other words, exactly what a sequel should be.

In the first game, the player-controlled Chell, is a test subject in Aperture Laboratories. Her main tool for completing obstacle-based tests was a gun that shot portals, through which the character and other objects could traverse. At the end of the testing, Chell was forced to escape a fiery death at the hands of GLaDos, the AI in control of the entire facility. She ultimately destroys GLaDos and the game ends. Portal 2 begins with Chell waking up in a test subject’s dormitory hundreds, or possibly thousands, of years into the future. The now-crumbling facility is overrun with vegetation, and Chell must once again navigate her way through the complex to escape. Things become drastically worse when GLaDos is found and accidentally brought back to life and attempts to make Chell endure another series of life-endangering tests.

Fans of the original should know that the brilliant dark humor of the first game is brought back, only amped up to stomach-hurting levels. In fact, Portal 2 features some of the funniest moments and best writing of any video game previously released. In comparison, almost every other game on the market seems shallow and as if the dialogue was written and tacked on at the very last moment. The jokes and commentary are so rapid fire that it makes it almost impossible to catch all of them, similar to an episode of Arrested Development or Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Of course, good writing is nothing without good delivery, and the developers definitely did not skimp on acquiring incredible voice actors. Ellen McLain returns as the voice of GLaDos, while British comedian Stephen Merchant (The Office, Extras) takes the role of the loveable robot Wheatley, and J.K. Simmons (Juno, Up in the Air) voices Aperture’s CEO Cave Johnson.

While the writing and voice acting are achievements of their own, Valve is a company known for excellent, innovative gameplay, and the story is no different here. Portal 2 doesn’t reinvent the gameplay of the first game by any means, but that isn’t a bad thing. The first Portal presented such a fun, original way of solving puzzles and exploring a game world that it would have been a mistake to scrap the gameplay mechanics. Instead, the sequel expands on the idea of using portals to avoid obstacles and complete tasks by making larger, more complex stages and adding new physics-based elements. These include lasers, bridges made of light, and gels that propel the player across the level, all of which are manipulated by the player’s one and only tool. The idea of only giving the player one device (the portal-gun), and no weapons was a radical idea in the first game. How the developers used that limitation to create an experience with endless possibilities, even more so in Portal 2, is simply incredible.

Valve noticed this too, which is why they created a cooperative multiplayer experience in Portal 2 which is every bit as complex and fun as the single player. Two players play the levels, each as a robot, and must complete portal-based tests together. While the single player campaign isn’t the longest game you’ll play this year (about 10 hours) there is so much content and replay-ability between it and the co-op that it is easily worth the price of admission.

Portal 2 is a game that almost anyone can, and should, get in to. It features some of the prettiest, smartest and most innovative gameplay of any recent game interwoven beautifully with fantastic, hilarious writing. Play the single player, play the co-op with a friend, and have an awesome, hilarious time. You will not regret it.

Read More Video Game Reviews Online Phonics Reading Program