It’s finally here. Thanks to the talented team of visionaries at Valve, one of gaming’s greatest puzzlers, Portal, has a true sequel in Portal 2. The original Portal was nothing more than a fun addon to The Orange Box – but it soon became a runaway hit.  You could beat it in an hour or two, but every second was pure gold.  So then, the question on a lot of minds is whether or not Portal will survive its transformation to a full length experience.  Well, I’m happy to tell you that it has not only survived, but Portal 2 thrives on the added length, and all the extra content is, in a word, awesome.

Portal 2 starts off with a simple movement tutorial, but then gets right into the thick of it throwing you careening through the strange environments of Aperture Science.  The intro immediately shows off the enlarged environments, and just how much more this game has to offer than it’s predecessor.

While you’re still playing as the lovely Chell from the first game, you now have a jolly English-accented robot, Wheatley (voiced by Stephen Merchant), to help you through the puzzling world. Merchant was a perfect choice for the role, and really brings a lot of personality to the character and in turn, the game.  The psychotic yet lovable AI GlaDOS also makes a return, with her cheerfully bitter and violent sarcasm keeping you laughing throughout.  Chell remains silent, but the supporting cast’s dialogue is something you won’t want to miss.  There’s a certain charm to the whole game that’s unique to Portal, and Valve has nailed it yet again.

The character development is much deeper and the story much more fleshed out in this sequel, but at its core, the game is still all about thinking with portals to solve complicated puzzles. It’s good to see that Valve hasn’t strayed too far from the formula that made the original so great.

Thankfully, the game starts off with fairly simple, straightforward puzzles for anyone who’s not played the original game.  After a few levels of the easy stuff however, you get into some pretty complicated challenges.  Often you’re required to make split-second shots with the portal gun to complete a complicated set of movements and while the game isn’t really based around twitch action, there are plenty of adrenaline-filled moments throughout.  Colorful gooey gels that make you bounce and slide are just a few of the numerous new features that serve as gameplay mechanics, and they are indeed numerous.

However, it still feels very much like Portal, somehow without ever feeling repetitive or like more of the same. Well-designed puzzles were what really made the original game successful, and they are not lost in the sequel. While the puzzles might get complicated, you’ll never feel like they’re unfair; once you get the solution, you’ll be smacking your forehead wondering how you didn’t get it in the first place. This simple complexity is a delicate tightrope to walk, but Valve does it beautifully.

As mentioned previously, the entire scope of Portal 2 is vastly expanded from the original game. Environments are not only larger, but the attention to detail is astounding.  Levels will literally build themselves as you walk into the room, everything animates smoothly and all the machinery clicks into place.  Valve wants you to know that Aperture Science is alive… and it’s watching you.  The designers clearly put a lot of thought into even such simple things as the mechanical arms that slide the lab panels into place, and the game benefits greatly from it. Textures and models are well designed and detailed and you really couldn’t ask for more visually.

New to Portal 2 is Co-Op play.  Co-op is a huge addition to the Portal experience. While the nature of the game may at first seem prohibitive to the concept of multiple players, Valve makes it seem natural and intuitive.  You each have the ability to create two portals, meaning that there can be a total of four portals on the map at a time. Rather than just recycling the single-player’s puzzles, co-op requires both players to work together and correctly place all four portals to complete levels. There are no free rides however; both players have to be engaged and both are necessary to complete the game.

Working together throughout co-op has the potential to be a rough experience, especially when playing with someone you don’t actually know. Luckily, Valve knows how to create a compelling co-op experience.  You’re given the ability to set context-sensitive markers to help point out where to place a portal, tell your partner where to stand, or whatever else you need to communicate.  In addition, you can interact with your partner through gesture actions, including things like high-fives, dances, and rock-paper scissors. (Seriously) You can even smack your partner if they do something dumb like move a light bridge you were walking on (no, this didn’t happen to me. #notbitter).

In the end, if you liked the original Portal, you should buy this game. If you like puzzle games, you should buy this game. If you like gaming at all, why are you even still reading this?  You should be playing portal 2.

Here’s The Rundown:

+Beautifully detailed environments that feel alive

+ Well thought out and challenging puzzle design

+ Takes the concept of the original to new heights

+ Co-op adds to the experience

-  Story is slow at points

Portal 2 was developed by Valve and published by EA.  It was released on April 19th, 2011 for $59.99 (Xbox360 / PS3) and $49.99 (PC)  The Xbox 360 version was provided by the publisher for the purposes of review.  Brandon played through both the single player and co-op campaigns.  It was a triumph… for science.